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What to Do When Your Car Overheats

When your engine is running too hot, it will overheat and severely impair the performance of the vehicle. Overheating is most common during warmer summer months, but it can happen any time of year and you need to be prepared for it.

Cooling System Issues

Overheating is usually caused by a problem somewhere within the vehicle's cooling system. Some vehicles are air-cooled while most use a fluid-based system that circulates a coolant/water mixture (also known as antifreeze) from the radiator through key engine components to keep everything running at optimum temperatures. If there is a cooling system issue that is not resolved, the vehicle will likely continue to overheat and can potentially cause major engine damage.

The water pump and head gasket are two of the most common culprits when it comes to cooling system trouble. Sometimes, it can be the result of a fluid leak coming from a crack in the radiator or a weak seal in one of the lines. If you notice leaking coolant, that's generally the first sign of more cooling system problems to come.

Car Starting to Overheat?

If your car does start to overheat and the dashboard warning lights illuminate, the first thing you should do is slow down. If your air conditioner is on, turn the temperature to warm instead of cold and turn off the A/C function. This will help suck some of the warm air away from the engine and reduce strain on the vehicle. Roll down your windows if it gets too stuffy inside.

Overheating More Than Once?

If the engine still overheats, you should see steam coming out from under the hood. When this happens, it's best to pull over immediately and let the car cool down as much as possible. If you go to check the radiator, be very careful when opening the hood. It will be hot in the engine compartment. Likewise, wait for things to cool down quite a bit before attempting to remove the radiator cap. Pressure will build up and it will be extremely hot, so it can be very dangerous to remove until the vehicle is completely cooled down. 

Sometimes, water can be added to the radiator if the coolant level seems low, but that's usually just a temporary fix that might get you to your destination. If the car continues to overheat, you will likely want to call for roadside assistance to avoid the risk of further damaging the engine.

Cooling System Inspections and Repairs

With an overheating engine, you'll want to have the vehicle inspected by a professional automotive shop as soon as you can. A good mechanic can check out all the cooling system components and identify the specific problem that needs to be repaired. It's best not to put off any cooling system repairs. Replacing a head gasket or water pump is much cheaper than having to replace the entire engine when it blows out after repeatedly overheating!

If your car overheats once, it may just be a fluke and a result of a perfect storm of exterior conditions. However, it is most likely a sign of a cooling system issue that needs to be repaired. If the car overheats more than once, then there is something wrong with the cooling system or the engine itself, and you'll want to deal with repairs as soon as you can to prevent further damage.

For all your cooling system repair and maintenance needs in the Bay Area, call San Francisco Automotive Solutions at (415) 957-1170 or schedule your service appointment online.


Car Care Tips
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