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What to Do When Your Car Overheats

Hot weather is the most common cause of car overheat. While it’s now rare for modern vehicles to have this problem, it’s still important to know what to do when your car overheats. Apart from hot weather, there are several factors that can contribute to this car issue. It’s possible that the coolant and water levels in the radiator are low or your car’s cooling system has a leak somewhere. 

What Should I Do When My Car Overheats?

The first thing to do when a car is overheating is to find a safe place where you can troubleshoot the issue. But what if you’re climbing a steep hill or stuck in stop-and-go traffic? You may notice that the temperature indicator on your dashboard is starting to rise or the light of your malfunction indicator turns on. Here are the steps to take. 

  1. When you first notice that your car is overheating, turn off the air conditioner. You may open up the windows for ventilation in the meantime. This will decrease the strain on the car’s engine, helping it to cool off. 
  2. If that doesn’t work and the car is still having problems, then it’s time to turn on your heater and blower. When you do this, the heat gets transferred from the engine to the vehicle’s passenger compartment. While this may solve the issue, it may cause discomfort to you and the others in the car. 
  3. What if you’re stuck in traffic? Shift the car into Park or Neutral and then rev up the engine a bit. This allows water to pump as well as for the fan to speed up, drawing air and liquid through the car’s radiator. The increase in circulation of liquid and air can help to cool off the car. 
  4. In situations where you think the car’s going to boil over, move to the road’s right-hand side. Pop the hood open and allow things to cool. Keep in mind not to open the radiator cap just yet or you might hurt yourself. If the engine has indeed boiled over, do not add water until such time that the engine has cooled already. 

What if there are no leaks in the car’s cooling system? It’s possible that the thermostat may have malfunctioned. While you may not be able to fix the thermostat while you’re on the go, you can check if it is indeed the culprit. 

Park somewhere safe and then wait for the engine to cool. You may then remove the thermostat and then link the hoses again without it. Start the engine to see if there are issues. If there are no problems starting and running the car, then it’s most likely a thermostat malfunction.   

How to Troubleshoot an Overheating Car

How can you tell if your car is going to overheat? You can do this by observing the temperature gauge. See if the needle is starting to move into the “Check Engine” or red zone. 

The indicator light for the temperature malfunction on your dashboard might also light up. If you leave things as they are, the liquid found in the radiator will boil over eventually. Steam will start to roll out from the hood of the car. 

Does your car overheat frequently or loses coolant often? If this is the case, then the cooling system may have a leak. If the car overheats, a temporary remedy would be to add liquid to the cooling system, assess the water pump, replace or adjust the accessory belt, or change the thermostat. 

For a car that overheats constantly, check the pressure cap first. There could be times when the gasket on the pressure cap is already damaged, letting pressure escape. This would then lead to the cooling system malfunctioning. You can get the pressure cap tested in service stations to be sure. 

Reasons Why a Car Overheats

  • Late Timing - Sometimes, the ignition system malfunctions. Late timing can cause the car to overheat since the spark plugs fire the air/fuel mixture after the piston goes down. If your vehicle has other issues, you can expect the car to overheat often. 
  • Plugged radiator - The system won’t be able to cool efficiently with a plugged radiator because this cuts down the liquid circulation on the system. In some instances, steam-cleaning the car’s radiator would be enough to fix the problem. 
  • Accessory Belt Slipping - Check if the accessory belt is frayed or loose. If it is, it’s time to replace it. However, if you’re not sure how to do this, it’s best to let a specialist do it for you. 
  • Low Oil Level - This can cause the car to overheat because oil actually removes up to 80% of the waste heat that’s in your engine. Apart from that, oil cushions the moving parts of the car. 
  • Collapsed Radiator Hose - There could be times when the bottom radiator hose collapses beneath the vacuum that is created by the water pump. This impairs the circulation which then causes the car to overheat. 


Now you have an idea of what to do when your car overheats. It’s important to know the cause of why your vehicle is overheating so that you can address the issue with a long-term solution. If you’re not very familiar with how to fix car problems, you can always take your vehicle to an auto mechanic. It will give you peace of mind knowing that an expert will be taking care of your car. 

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