You’re driving and suddenly notice white smoke coming from the hood of the car. It’s a sign that the engine is overheating, and you have to act fast to avoid serious damage. If you want to prevent expensive repairs, then consider the following steps.
Turn on the heater and open the windows
It may seem counterintuitive, but turning on the car heater car can help when it’s overheating. First, turn off your air conditioner since that will only make things worse by forcing the engine to work harder. Next, turn on the heater by setting it to high because this will transfer the heat from the engine to the interior of the car. Open the windows to make the interior more bearable. You may be uncomfortable for a bit, but you’ll be saving the engine.
Pull over and turn the engine off
Another way to avoid damage to the engine is to stop driving when the car is overheating. Pull over in a safe location, away from traffic, and turn the engine off. If you don’t see steam coming from the hood, and it doesn’t feel extremely hot to the touch, then you can open it. It may be tempting to start diagnosing the problem right away, but it’s important to give the car time to cool off, if necessary. Otherwise, you risk being sprayed with hot liquid or steam after opening the hood. You may need to wait 30 minutes or more for the engine to cool down.
Check the coolant levels
Once the car is cool, you can check the coolant levels. Make sure the hood feels cool to the touch before opening it. Then, put on thick gloves, if you have them available, and look for the coolant tank reservoir, also known as a radiator overflow tank. The tank is usually made from white plastic and has a black cap. The location of the cap will depend on the type of car you’re driving, so check the owner’s manual, which you should keep in the glove box. If the tank is low or empty, you should add extra coolant. Often, the reason the tank is low is because of a leak, so it will have to be repaired. Be careful while removing the cap since the coolant can get extremely hot and may burn you.
You may have heard it’s possible to add plain water when coolant isn’t available. Although this isn’t an ideal solution, you can use water during an emergency. First, make sure the water is clean and doesn’t have additives. Next, put the engine in Neutral or Park and add the water slowly. Keep in mind that your car needs a mixture of coolant and water, so you won’t be able to drive forever on plain water because it boils faster.
Check for damage
Sometimes damaged or broken hoses and other problems can cause a car to overheat. Look for any worn or frayed hoses. Check to see if one has become disconnected. If you notice damage, get it repaired right away.
Call for help
Whether you have a trusted mechanic on speed dial or roadside assistance, calling for help is one of the best things you can do when the car overheats. You may not be able to make repairs on the side of the road, so towing may be a better option.
What causes overheating?
You may be wondering why the car decided to betray you by overheating and stranding you on the side of the road. There are many reasons why an engine may overheat. Often, there’s a problem with the cooling system such as the coolant levels being too low, or a leak. Other possibilities include a broken thermostat, cooling fan malfunctions, head gasket blowing, or other problems. You may need the help of an expert mechanic to diagnose and fix the issues.
What you can do
The best way to avoid overheating is to do regular car maintenance. Check for leaks, hose problems, and make sure you top off your coolant at the beginning of the summer. Also, get an emergency kit for your car that includes extra coolant, water, tools, flashlights, jumper cables, and other necessities.