Watch: What to do when your car overheats

Don't panic!
by Jason Tulio | Oct 24, 2016

One of the most panic-inducing things that could happen to you when you're out on the road is your car overheating. But don't panic! We're here to help you deal with this shocking but all-too-common problem. Watch our video for a quick primer on what to do when you notice steam coming out of your hood. 

For a full list on the right precautions and steps to take to deal with your car overheating, read this comprehensive guide compiled by our print associate editor and resident grease monkey, Paulo Rafael Subido

* Be familiar with your car and don't take any of the gauges for granted. The instrument cluster is where your car communicates vital information.

* Not all modern cars have a traditional temperature gauge that you can monitor. Be familiar with the specs of your ride and know what warning light indicates an overheating engine.

* When you notice the temperature beginning to rise, keep calm. Are you aware of your surroundings and route? Is there a gasoline station nearby where you can pull over? It’s time to plan your moves and get to a place where you can park your car safely.

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* Do not drive for an extended period of time with the temperature gauge at dangerous levels. Doing so will likely cause catastrophic damage to your engine. You must make a decision. If there is no gasoline station nearby, you may have to pull over to the side of the road, switch the engine off, and call for a tow truck to bring your car to your trusted mechanic. Trust us, this is cheaper than having to repair a damaged cylinder head, cylinders, valvetrain and engine block (in extreme cases). Keep driving and the engine will most likely seize completely and leave you with a shocking repair bill.

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* If you make it to a gas station you must assess the problem. But do not look under the hood without taking precautions. Do not open the radiator cap if the engine is off yet still hot. Pressure has built up, and an explosion of steam can burn your hands and face. We’d keep the engine running first and put and damp rag over the cap and twist it slowly to vent the pressure first. If the cap has a release valve, use that. Be warned. This procedure is very dangerous. Be smart about it.

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* Look under the hood and see if the radiator hoses are intact. Water might have escaped the system through a hole in the radiator, or a busted hose. From there you will know if the radiator is dry. If it is dry, locate the source of the leak, fix it, and then load water into the radiator.

* No leaks? Then check if the auxiliary fans are working. Did you break a fan belt (on an older car)? Is the ignition system working properly? Could the thermostat be stuck in the closed position? Is the engine oil level low? Is the radiator filled with rusty residue? Unless you are familiar with these things, only an experienced mechanic can assist you now. Repair the problem before driving off.

* A well-maintained car will probably not overheat. The chances of that are quite slim. If you have a car that overheats, you probably neglected to maintain it properly. Sorry. Your car is getting back at you.

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* Pro Tip: If your car has a heater, switch it on. Provided your engine’s cooling system is still intact and has fluid, this will dissipate some of the heat. You might have just been running the engine a little too hard, and with not enough air running through the radiator. 

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