Whether under the blazing heat of the summer or in torrential rains, you car runs the risk of overheating. With pistons moving up and down the cylinders for hours at a time, it can get pretty heated under the hood. It all becomes too much to bear sometimes and the car begins to overheat.
If you're on the move and you see the temperature gauge climbing towards the red mark, don't panic. Here's what to do when it happens to you.
1. Turn off your air-conditioning
As it is, the engine is working overtime to keep running despite the high temperatures. Shutting off your aircon reduces the load on the engine, thus less stress for the engine. You may notice that the temperature needle may start going back to the middle if you do so. If not, it's time to take drastic measures.
2. Turn on your heater or blower
If your car is equipped with a heater, turn it on as the heater works by drawing engine heat into the cabin. It also passes hot coolant into the heater core to disperse it even more, lowering engine bay temperatures. Turning on your blower also helps drawing out heat from the engine bay. Heat may be the last thing your body needs but it may be enough to cool down the engine. If all else fails, it's time to give the engine a break.
3. Pull over to the side of the road
If temperatures continue to rise, there's no point in continuing your trip with an engine begging for rest. You won't be doing your engines any favors and it won't cool down if you keep it running. Not only that, you will be risking even more damage and spend more in the long run. Bring out your car's early warning device (EWD) and turn on your hazard lights when you pull over. If you can, limp your car to a gas station and ask for assistance.
4. Pop the hood and cool it down
Once stopped, wait a few minutes before shutting the engine off. You can make the cool down faster by spraying water on top of the radiator. For some cars, the auxiliary fan keeps running when the car is in ignition. Keep spraying the radiator with water until temperatures go back to normal. Do NOT spray water directly on the engine or else the internals will get warped.
5. Release pressure
Before you add water and coolant into the radiator, it is important to know that the heat has built up a lot of pressure in the radiator. Opening the radiator cap fully releases scalding steam and water, which could possibly injure you. To get rid of pressure, unscrew the radiator cap slightly to let more heat and pressure out of the cooling system. It is safe to open the radiator once the hissing sound stops.
6. Add water and coolant
With the engine cooled down, it is now safe add water in your radiator. With a bit of water in the system, turn on your engine to let the the fluids circulate. This gets rid of air pockets in the system to help the radiator cool down the engine more efficiently. Keep the engine running and top up until “MAX” mark, as seen on the water tank. While you're at it, top up the water reservoir as well.
7. Bring it to a shop ASAP
The car may be running well after filling the radiator with water but it's not over just yet. Overheating means something in the cooling system has gone wrong. This may be the main fan, auxiliary fan, thermostat, a crack in the radiator or split pipes. It is best to get it repaired as soon as possible as the problem will keep on occurring if you continue to drive the car regularly. Prolonged cooling issues may damage gaskets, piston rings, and even crack the top half of the engine. Trust me, it's cheaper to fix the cooling system than rebuild the engine.
There you have it, seven steps on how to deal with an overheating engine. In addition, if your car is reaching a decade old, it's best to prepare for breakdowns. Keep a big bottle of water, gloves and rags as it gets very dirty under the hood. Of course, prevention is better than the cure and it pays to follow manufacturer recommendations such as a 50:50 mix between coolant and water. Also, check if the car's rubber hoses are still in good condition. Keep your car in tip top shape and you'll have hassle free motoring for more miles to come.