Car Overheating: What to Do and How to Prepare

We’ve all know how it goes: white smoke starts pouring from the hood, the temperature light is on, and suddenly you’re on the side of the road with your hood up waiting for the car to cool down. The summer months can be hard for even modern vehicles; the warm weather creates some additional stress on the engine, and then use of the air conditioner adds even more heat and work under the hood. Do you know what to do if your car overheats?

What to do when your car engine overheats

Image: Flickr

What to do in case of your car overheating

  • STOP DRIVING - The quickest way to be in the market for a new engine is to keep driving after your engine starts to overheat. Even driving to the next exit is too far. Pulling over immediately will save you thousands and hopefully allow you to keep your engine.
  • Call a tow truck - The $50 or so to get your car to a mechanic is much, much cheaper than risking it and driving anywhere. Best case scenario you save $50. Worst case scenario you stand by the side of the road as your car goes up in flames. AAA members get free towing up to 7 miles - time to take advantage!
  • Don't pop the hood with your hands - If you start seeing white smoke, it’s already too late for your engine. Pull over if you still have control, but only pop the hood if you have an interior-controlled latch. The heat required to boil over the water and coolant will make your hood too hot to handle. It should take roughly 30 minutes to cool down to a safe temperature so you can take a peek under there and survey the damage. And by then the tow truck should be there.

There are a few things you can do to prepare your car for summer temperatures as well.

  • Carry water and antifreeze - It’s always a good idea to carry extra water and/or coolant with you in the summer months just in case. You should also check your coolant level regularly throughout the summer, just in case you need to top off.
  • Keep an eye on your temperature gauge - As you’re driving, keep an eye on how warm your engine is getting. If you see it creeping up to the danger zone, turn off the AC and try to take it easy on the engine. Turning on the heater full blast can also help to move some of that heat out of the engine bay (it might not make for a pleasant ride, but a little discomfort is well worth the safety of your engine).
  • Keep your coolant in good condition - Sometimes when you see that your coolant is a little low, you just add water. Over time, this dilutes the water to coolant ratio so much that you’re risking a boil over. A periodic coolant system flush can help prevent this kind of car overheating.
  • Inspect belts and hoses - Belt and hose failure can lead to a blown radiator or worse. Check out this video and see what happens when the cooling system is neglected for too long.
  • Understand your car - If you know your car struggles to get up steep hills, don't do it with the AC on in the heat of summer! Not putting your car and yourself in risky situations can save a lot of damage and hassle. Go slow, turn off the AC when your car is working overtime, and remember that engines can break!

While newer cars are less prone to overheating, forgetting to check your cooling system can lead to serious problems. Schedule an appointment to have yours looked at today!

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