Overheating engine? What to do if your car overheats

Car troubles are always a headache, but nothing quite spikes the stress levels like seeing your temperature gauge shoot up into the red. If you’ve found yourself stuck on the side of the road with an overheating car, you’re not alone. Here’s a handy guide on what to do if your car overheats, from why it’s happening to how to prevent it.

Why is my car overheating?

Before we go to solutions, let’s get a grip on why your car might be overheating in the first place.

  1. Coolant Issues: Low coolant levels or leaks are a common cause. Without enough coolant, your engine can’t maintain the right temperature.
  2. Thermostat Problems: The thermostat regulates the flow of coolant. If it’s stuck closed, your engine can overheat.
  3. Radiator Troubles: A clogged or leaking radiator won’t effectively cool your engine.
  4. Broken Water Pump: The water pump is essential for circulating coolant. If it fails, overheating can follow.
  5. Faulty Radiator Fan: The fan keeps air moving through the radiator. If it’s not working, the engine can overheat, especially when the car is stationary.
  6. Head Gasket Failure: This is a more serious issue where the head gasket blows, leading to engine overheating.

What should I do If my car’s overheating?

If you’re on the road and notice your temperature gauge climbing or steam billowing from under your bonnet, don’t panic. Here’s what you need to do:

  1. Pull Over Safely: As soon as it’s safe, pull over and turn off the engine. Continuing to drive could cause severe damage.
  2. Turn Off the A/C and Turn On the Heater: This might sound odd, but turning off the air conditioning and blasting the heater can help transfer heat away from the engine.
  3. Pop the Bonnet: Opening the bonnet will help heat escape more quickly, but to avoid burns, do not open the radiator cap until the engine has cooled down.
  4. Wait It Out: Let the car cool down entirely before you do anything else. This can take up to 30 minutes.
  5. Check Coolant Levels: Once the engine is excellent, check your coolant level. If it’s low, topping it up may solve the problem temporarily.

What should I do next?

After you’ve managed to cool your car down and possibly topped up the coolant, you need to think about your next steps:

  1. Check for Leaks: If the coolant level is low, look for apparent leaks under the car.
  2. Call for Help: If you’re not confident in diagnosing the problem or if you find a leak, call for roadside assistance.
  3. Visit a Mechanic: Even if you manage to get back on the road, it’s crucial to have your car checked by a professional as soon as possible. They can diagnose and fix any underlying issues.

How long will it take my car to cool down after overheating?

Patience is important here. It normally takes about 30 minutes for your engine to cool down after overheating, this can vary based on the outside temperature and the level of the overheating. Give it a half an hour before attempting to inspect the engine or add coolant.

What damage will my car overheating cause?

Overheating can cause significant damage to your engine. Some of the potential issues include:

  1. Warped Cylinder Heads: Severe heat can cause cylinder heads to distort, which can cause compression to drop and perhaps cause an engine failure.
  2. Blown Head Gasket: This can allow coolant and oil to mix, which is disastrous for your engine.
  3. Damaged Pistons and Cylinders: Overheating can cause pistons to seize and cylinders to get scored, leading to a drop in performance and engine damage.
  4. Cracked Engine Block: In the worst cases, overheating can cause the engine block to crack, which is often beyond repair and very expensive to fix.

How can I prevent my engine overheating?

Prevention is always better than cure. Here are some tips to help keep your engine from overheating:

  1. Regular Maintenance: Keep up with your car’s maintenance schedule. Regular oil changes and check-ups can catch potential problems early.
  2. Check Coolant Levels: Regularly check your coolant level and top it up if necessary. Also, make sure the coolant is changed according to your car manufacturer’s recommendations.
  3. Inspect the Radiator and Hoses: Look for any leaks, cracks, or blockages in your radiator and hoses.
  4. Keep an Eye on the Temperature Gauge: Be vigilant and watch your temperature gauge, especially on hot days or during heavy traffic.
  5. Carry Spare Coolant: It’s always a good idea to carry a bottle of coolant in your car, just in case.
  6. Car History Check: Ensure your vehicle’s history doesn’t include past overheating issues by utilizing a car history check.


Dealing with an overheated car can be a real pain, but understanding why it’s happening and knowing what to do can make a stressful situation much more manageable. Always put safety first by towing your vehicle over and cooling it down before taking any further steps. Regular maintenance and vigilance are essential to prevent future overheating issues. Remember, if you’re ever in doubt, it’s best to call in a professional to inspect your car. Safe driving!