What to Do When Your Engine Overheats

An overheating engine is a fairly common problem with cars. Whether it's caused by a minor, fixable problem or something more serious, failing to fix an overheating engine in a timely manner can cause significant damage to your car and cost you more in repairs down the line. Keep an eye out for signs of an overheating engine, like odd smells and smoke. Then, act quickly to get your engine's temperature and avoid damage.

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Rachel Bodine graduated from college with a BA in English. She has since worked as a Feature Writer in the insurance industry and gained a deep knowledge of state and countrywide insurance laws and rates. Her research and writing focus on helping readers understand their insurance coverage and how to find savings. Her expert advice on insurance has been featured on sites like PhotoEnforced, All...

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Written by Rachel Bodine
Feature Writer Rachel Bodine

Dan Walker graduated with a BS in Administrative Management in 2005 and has been working in his family’s insurance agency, FCI Agency, for 15 years (BBB A+). He is licensed as an agent to write property and casualty insurance, including home, auto, umbrella, and dwelling fire insurance. He’s also been featured on sites like Reviews.com and Safeco. He reviews content, ensuring that ex...

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Reviewed by Daniel Walker
Licensed Auto Insurance Agent Daniel Walker

UPDATED: Mar 11, 2022

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Things to Remember

  • Warnings of an overheating engine include temperature warnings, steam, engine warnings, or an odd smell
  • If your engine is overheating, pull over and turn off your vehicle right away
  • Adding engine coolant can help bring down the temperature before restarting the vehicle

An overheated engine is one of the most common things that can go wrong with your car. Although the source of the problem might be something relatively minor, like a leak in your car’s cooling system or a broken radiator fan, it can cause serious damage to your car engine and other parts of your car if you don’t get it fixed.

But what do you do when your engine overheats? The signs can be very worrisome, but all you have to do is stay calm and follow this handy guide. Here’s everything you need to know.

Step 1: Learn to Recognize The Tell-Tale Signs of an Overheated Engine

Unless you’re a mechanic yourself, it isn’t always easy to tell what’s wrong with your car when you start having issues. Fortunately, an overheated engine comes with some tell-tale indicators.

Your engine is likely overheated if you notice any of these signs individually or in combination:

  • Temperature warnings. When your engine overheats, your temperature light should come on. You may also notice a spike in temperature on your engine temperature gauge.
  • Steam. Overheated engines usually get a little steamed up. If you notice steam or smoke coming from under the hood of your car, your engine is too hot.
  • Odd smell. Leaking radiator fluid, a common cause of overheated engines, has a noticeable, slightly sweet smell.
  • Engine warnings. When your engine overheats, your check engine light may also come on or start flashing.

Now that you know what to look for, let’s get into what to do when the engine overheats.

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Step 2: Pull Over and Power Down

If it’s safe to do so, you should pull over right away and shut your overheating engine off. Continuing to let your engine run once it’s overheated can sometimes make matters even worse.

If you can’t pull over right away, make sure the air conditioner is turned off. Running the air-conditioner places undue stress on your car’s cooling system, which in turn can heat your engine up even more.

You should also turn on the car’s heating system. This might seem counterintuitive — how could making your car hotter possibly help in this situation? But the fact is, running the heater can pull heat away from your engine, helping it cool down until you can safely park it and turn it off.

Step 3: Call a Tow Truck

When your car engine overheats, it’s best not to drive the car until you get the situation fixed. Once you’ve pulled over and shut off your car, call a towing company to have your car taken to a mechanic for service. They’ll diagnose the engine damage and problem, quote you an estimate for repairs, and get you back on the road.

What if I can’t get a tow?

If having your car towed is not possible, it doesn’t mean you’re stranded. It’s still important for you to get your car in for service as soon as possible. You may just have to get it there yourself.

Here’s what to do:

  • Let the engine cool. As soon as you can, pull over and shut off your car. Let the engine cool for about 15 minutes. The engine temperature gauge on your dash panel will let you know when the engine has returned to an appropriate temperature.
  • Call the nearest repair shop. While you’re waiting for your engine to cool down, call the nearest repair shop. Explain the issue and let them know that you’ll be bringing your car in.
  • Add engine coolant. Adding coolant to your engine can help bring the temperature down long enough for you to get to a repair shop. If you don’t have any on hand, see if there’s a gas station or auto store within walking distance.
  • Restart the car. When the engine has cooled down, start the car and head straight to the mechanic. Pay attention to the temperature gauge and be on the lookout for other signs that the engine might be overheating again. If it does, pull over and shut it off.

If your engine overheats again before you can get to the repair shop, you might have no other choice but to call for a tow.

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You rely on your car to get you to all the important places you need to be. Whether it’s for work, for pleasure, or somewhere in between, you need a car that’s reliable and ready to go when you are.

You also need an insurance company that’s prepared to meet all of your individual needs at a price that’s right for you.

Insurance can help you save on things you need when things go wrong with your car unexpectedly, like vehicle recall checks, towing, and repairs.

References:

  1. https://www.firestonecompleteautocare.com/blog/maintenance/when-car-overheats/
  2. https://www.jiffylube.com/resource-center/what-to-do-when-car-overheats

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