Why is My Engine Overheating?

An overheating engine is a sure sign that something is wrong with your vehicle. Left untreated, engine overheating can cause extensive and permanent damage. If your Engine Temperature warning light comes on, you need to get your vehicle to a service center as soon as possible. 

What to Do When Your Engine Overheats

Signs your engine is overheating include the following: 

  • Reduced engine power
  • A burning, “hot” smell caused by melting rubber and plastic engine components
  • Thumping noises from the engine
  • An excessively hot hood
  • Smoke or steam from under the hood

If you detect these signs, you need to act quickly to protect your engine from further damage. Take the following steps:

  • Pull over to a safe area and turn off the engine
  • Turn off the air conditioning and turn on the heat to draw heat from the engine
  • Open the windows to dissipate as much heat as possible
  • Call for roadside assistance
  • Do not open the hood while it is still hot 

If you cannot get the car towed, wait 30 minutes for the engine to cool, until the temperature gauge indicates a normal reading. If you have spare coolant, carefully top up the coolant reservoir once the hood of the vehicle is cool. Drive slowly to the nearest service center, watching the temperature gauge. When the temperature begins to rise again, pull over, let the engine cool, and repeat as needed to reach a service center. Please don’t assume a return to normal temperature indicates the problem has resolved itself—an overheating engine is a serious issue that requires professional assistance to fix. 

Prevent Your Car From Overheating with Preventive Maintenance 

Some simple preventive maintenance helps reduce the risk of an overheating engine:

  • Check your vehicle coolant level regularly
  • Keep extra coolant in your trunk, and understand manufacturer recommendations for its safe use
  • Regularly check your temperature gauge as you drive
  • Avoid overuse of air conditioning, especially on hot days
  • Check your owner’s manual for how often you need to schedule coolant service flushes

Causes of Engine Overheating

Coolant is Too Low

Insufficient coolant levels are among the most common causes of engine overheating. Low coolant levels can result from leaks in the system or simply from not topping off your coolant correctly. A low coolant level doesn’t just increase your risk of the engine overheating—it also results in poor gas mileage, as the engine burns more fuel over a shorter period. If your coolant levels are low, drop by a Grease Monkey® service center between full-service oil changes for a complimentary top-off.

Water Pump is Broken or Clogged

A vehicle’s water pump circulates coolant throughout the engine. Old, dirty coolant can clog the water pump, preventing it from operating correctly and increasing the risk of engine overheating. Regular inspections of your coolant system reduce the risk of broken or clogged water pumps.

Cooling System Leaks 

Leaks in the coolant system are a common cause of low coolant levels. You may have a coolant leak if you need to constantly top up your coolant reservoir or if you find sweet-smelling green, blue, or orange puddles beneath your vehicle. 

Oil is Too Low

Motor oil does more than lubricate moving parts. Proper oil levels help prevent overheating by keeping engine parts cool. If your engine temperature is high, check your oil levels. Grease Monkey recommends regular full-service oil changes based on your user manual recommendations. 

Radiator Issues 

Radiator fans control engine overheating by lowering coolant temperatures. If your radiator fan is malfunctioning, the radiator may be unable to remove enough heat to prevent overheating. Grease Monkey offers radiator services to check and repair problems with your radiator, including radiation flush and fill services and damaged radiator cap replacements. 

Worn or Frayed Coolant Belts

Coolant belts drive a vehicle’s water pump, providing the energy needed to move coolant through the engine. Belts should be replaced before becoming worn or frayed, which impairs performance. Regularly checking your belts for signs of damage reduces your risk of an overheating engine. 

Hoses are Leaking, Blocked or Ruptured

Coolant systems use hoses to transport coolant throughout engines. Damaged, blocked, ruptured, or leaking hoses reduce coolant levels, resulting in high engine temperatures. Signs your coolant hoses need replacing include the following: 

  • Broken hose clamps
  • Crusty residue on or near the hose. 
  • Swollen hoses
  • Cracked or brittle hoses
  • Low coolant levels
  • Coolant leaks

Heater Core is Clogged or Blocked

Your heater core uses hot coolant to keep your cabin warm and your windscreen clear in cold conditions. When active, the heater core transfers heat from the coolant and then returns coolant to the engine cooling system. If the heater core is clogged, it cannot transport coolant effectively, which can lead to the engine overheating.  

Grease Monkey offers coolant and radiator services designed to keep your car engine running smoothly. We also provide a multi-point vehicle health inspection with every full-service oil change. Find a Grease Monkey near you so we can help you maintain a healthy vehicle temperature!

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