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What to Do When Your Engine Overheats

by | Jul 14, 2023

You’re driving along and out of nowhere you see smoke and steam coming from under the hood. When your engine overheats, it can be a scary and stressful situation, especially if you’re in the middle of nowhere. Unfortunately, even with routine maintenance services, overheating engines do still sometimes occur and can cause damage. This is especially true when the right precautions and the proper actions are not taken. There’s nothing like a hot engine to ruin your road trip – and your bank balance. Keep reading to learn why your engine may overheat and actions to take if you happen to be out for a drive when it happens.

What Does Your Cooling System Do?

Your cooling system keeps a certain standard temperature for the engine. It does so by circulating coolant (a.k.a. antifreeze) through your engine to your radiator, taking heat away from the engine while it works hard. Today’s engines are pretty tough, but when the temperatures go above normal, they can begin to fail. When failures start to happen, it could mean permanent damage to your engine, gaskets, hoses and even seals that are all part of the system that keeps your engine running.

Actions to Take If Your Engine Overheats

Maybe you notice the dashboard warning lights. Maybe it’s the strange smell coming from the engine. Or, maybe you see smoke coming from under the hood or your vehicle is not performing like usual. In any of these situations, follow these steps to stay safe and prevent major damage to your vehicle.

  1. Pull over to a safe area and assess the situation calmly.
  2. Turn off the vehicle. You won’t want to keep driving with an overheating engine as this could cause permanent damage.
  3. Keep moving ONLY when necessary. Find a safe, clear place to come to a complete stop. If you can’t do this, keeping your car moving slowly may still allow a constant airflow around the motor to help with natural cooling. Leaving your car at rest or idling could actually worsen the problem and create more heat.
  4. Turn on the heat. When the vehicle is still in motion, turning off the air conditioning and increasing the heat to high may help to pull additional heat away from the engine.
  5. Open the windows. Your goal is to release as much heat as possible. Rolling down and opening as many windows as possible is another way to allow heat to flow out of the vehicle.
  6. Call for help. You can call for roadside assistance from a local towing company, AAA, or another carrier.
  7. Do not try to open the hood until the vehicle has cooled down plenty. To see if it has cooled down, monitor the temperature gauge in your vehicle as it moves from HOT to COOL. This may take upwards of 30 minutes. Remember not to start the engine – in this situation, only activate the ignition to the “on” position to read the temperature gauge.

Why Do Engines Overheat?

We get this question a lot at our Tempe auto repair shop. There are some common reasons which include but are not necessarily limited to:

  • Too little or no coolant, causing a cooling system failure.
  • Cooling system leaks
  • A broken water pump
  • Radiator problems or issues with their fans not removing heat
  • Oil level too low so engine temperatures increase
  • Thermostat failure
  • Belt and hose issues
  • A plugged heater core

Schedule an appointment to see one of our automotive technicians here at Good Works Auto Repair for routine services or inspections. Most importantly, if you are in this situation, remember to pull over in a safe place, turn off the vehicle and have your vehicle towed to us where we can work to get your vehicle performing once again.

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Sat 7:30 – 5:30

480-894-0018

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2348 E. Broadway Rd
Tempe, AZ 85282

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