Common Causes of Overheating and What to Do About It

Signs Your Vehicle is Overheating

It’s the beginning of summer and you’re stuck in traffic when all of a sudden your temperature gauge is on the BIG RED “H”. Guess what? Your vehicle is overheating* and you need to do something about it RIGHT NOW.

Before we get into the causes of vehicle overheating, let’s help minimize the potential damage to your car NOW until you can get it into a shop:

1- Turn off the AC immediately

2- Turn on your defroster and your heat to HOT, fan on High.

3- No, seriously. We know it’s Summer and you’re going to be uncomfortable until you can get your car off the road, but we’re talking thousands of dollars in damage if your car continues to overheat! Roll down the windows too, it’s gonna be hotter inside your car than outside here in a minute. The heater will pull as much heat out of your engine that it can, which just might be enough to avoid ruining it.

4- If you’re stopped in traffic, put your car in Neutral or Park and raise the engine speed. You’re trying to get the coolant circulating as much as possible. Raise the engine speed by pressing the gas pedal just enough to get the RPM gauge to the 2-ish mark(2000 RPMs). It doesn’t have to be exact, but you don’t want to rev your engine a lot past that or you’ll risk even worse problems.

5- If you’re moving, albeit slowly, put the car into the lowest gear that will maintain between 2 and 3 on the RPM gauge as you are headed to a good spot to pull over. If you start going too fast for that gear shift into the next higher one to maintain the 2-3000 RPM range.

6- Get off the road ASAP and use your AAA card (you do have one, right? You can learn more about getting one here.) to call for a tow.

Doing these things should help get that temperature gauge headed back down from the “H” Mark, at least temporarily. If nothing happens to lower the temperature in about 2 minutes, SHUT THE CAR OFF right away. It’s up to you to decide if it’s safe enough to be sitting where your car stops, but we’ve seen lots and lots of ruined engines because people decided to drive “just a little farther” with an overheating vehicle.

Still with us? Now we’re going to tell you the likely reasons WHY your car just overheated and what to do to prevent it from happening in the first place.

If your vehicle is overheating, your engine is screaming for attention and your cooling system needs help. A vehicle can overheat at any point where the cooling system no longer is effectively absorbing, transporting and dissipating the heat created from your engine burning fuel.

Here are some of the most common reasons a vehicle’s cooling system begins to fail:

1. Leaks in the Cooling System

Leaks are the #1 reason a vehicle begins to overheat. Leaks in hoses, the radiator, water pump, thermostat housing, heater core, head gasket, freeze plugs and a few other things can all lead to problems with the vehicle’s cooling system.
If you suspect a leak, or have had to add coolant to the reservoir don’t wait to get it checked. A small leak can quickly turn in to an expensive repair and a serious headache.

2. Coolant Concentration

You always want to use the correct type of coolant in your vehicle. The wrong coolant or the wrong mixture of coolant and distilled water can cause your vehicle to overheat. If you’re worried about your coolant concentration and haven’t kept up on regularly-scheduled vehicle maintenance, a complete cooling system flush is in order. Coolant actually becomes corrosive over time, accelerating the wear on the cooling system!

3. Bad Thermostat

Your thermostat is a key valve in the cooling system that ensures the coolant is able to pass through to the radiator when necessary. When the thermostat gets stuck in the closed position, coolant can no longer pass through and becomes overheated in the engine. At any sign of your vehicle overheating, it’s a good idea to get the vehicle checked immediately so any possible simple repairs don’t become big problems.

4. Bad Radiator

Leaks and clogging can lead to your radiator failing and any disruption in the radiator’s function can lead to overheating since it can’t pull the heat away from the rest of the cooling system.

5. Worn Out or Burst Hoses

Hoses with cracks or even holes will leave you with a leaky engine and will disrupt the coolant’s flow. Your water pump can’t circulate coolant that’s not there due to it having leaked out from one of the hoses!

6. Bad Radiator Fan

Your radiator fan pulls air across the radiator to help reduce the coolant’s temperature but a worn fan clutch or broken fan motor can’t help to reduce the temperature and will lead to overheating.

7. Loose or Broken Belts

If a belt is loose or broken, specifically the water pump belt, it cannot help maintain the correct volume of coolant flow and can lead to overheating.

8. Bad Water Pump

Your water pump is the heart of your cooling system and if it’s not operating correctly, you vehicle lacks enough pressure to propel engine coolant throughout the cooling system. Any problems with the pump from erosion, leaks or anything else can cause your vehicle to overheat.

An overheating vehicle is a sign that needs immediate attention. In most cases the original cause is a simple, low-cost repair. Unfortunately, most people ignore the initial problem and end up paying much more for extensive damage as a result.

If your vehicle is showing signs of overheating, be sure to give us a call today and we’ll be happy to test and assess the vehicle, provide the proper service and repairs and get you back on the road as quickly as possible.

*Yes, your car IS overheating, even though you don’t see clouds of steam and vapor pouring out from under the hood. That might happen if a coolant hose bursts, but it’s far more common for an engine to overheat without any outward signs.