Why Is My Car Overheating? What to Do When Your Car Engine Overheats

As we head into the warm summer months, it’s more likely for car engines to overheat. If your car starts to overheat it’s important to know the signs to look for, what might be causing it, and what to do next so that you’re not stuck on the side of the road Googling “Why is my car overheating?!”

Here are some tips and tricks to help you be prepared if your car overheats. That way you can spring into action, keeping yourself, your passengers, and everyone around you safe.

How to Identify If My Car is Overheating

So you think your car is overheating, but you’re not totally sure. Every vehicle and situation are different, but here are some telltale signs to look out for:

  1. Smoke coming from the hood – So this actually isn’t smoke, it’s steam! If you see steam coming from your engine, your engine is likely overheating.
  2. The engine temperature gauge – On your dashboard, you likely have an engine temperature gauge that tells you the temperature of your engine’s coolant. Some gauges have actual temperatures, others have a range of numbers, and some just have H for high/hot or C for cold. If your gauge is showing that your engine coolant is within the high or red range, your engine is overheating.
  3. Strange smells coming from the engine – If you smell something different (e.g. sweet, burnt, stinky, etc.) be sure to call an expert. This could be an indication that your coolant is leaking, which could lead to your engine overheating. It could also indicate a different problem, hence why it is important to speak with an expert.


Why My Car is Overheating

So now that you know the signs of an overheating car, you may be wondering why do cars overheat? While there are a variety of specific reasons, what makes a car overheat is an issue with the cooling system. Your engine is working hard to power your car, and with that hard work comes heat. Enter your cooling system! Your car’s cooling system is there to ensure that your engine can continue operating even while producing excessive heat.

Typically, the issue with the cooling system is likely a leak, blockage, or some other issue related to the hoses and gaskets that make up the system. As mentioned above, the sweet smell of coolant is one way to identify a leak in your cooling system and the potential for your engine to overheat.

Be sure that you’re getting your coolant and oil levels checked regularly as well as all hoses, pumps, and gaskets in your cooling system. It’s normal for there to be wear and tear within these parts of your car, so replacement and repair may be needed. Just be sure you catch any issues before you’re caught in a situation where your car keeps overheating.

What to Do When My Car is Overheating

You know what to look for and why it’s happening, now let’s chat about what to do if your car is overheating. First things first, turn off the A/C. Your A/C puts a lot of stress on your car’s cooling system. Now it is working to cool your engine and the car’s cabin. 

The next important step in cooling down your engine is turning on the heat. I’m sorry what?! Turn on the heat in the middle of the summer? Yep, you heard that right. Turning on your heater will actually help to pull the hot air from around your engine and push it into the car’s cabin. This might make you toasty, but it will help to cool down your engine too.

Once you’ve turned off the A/C and turned on the heat, it’s time to pull over. Be sure that you’re doing so in a safe place (i.e. exit the highway/freeway and pull over into a parking lot rather than pulling off onto the shoulder). Turning off your engine is the safest way to cool it down when it is overheating.

Do not open your hood right away. Your engine has heated up to a dangerous temperature, and opening the hood too soon could put you at risk for burns from the hot steam. Wait at least 15 minutes to allow your engine to cool down after you’ve turned it off. If you’ve got coolant on hand, you can add some additional coolant after you’ve waited for the engine to cool.

Last but not least, if your car is overheating, you need to get it serviced. Even if you add coolant, there may be a leak, which would just result in your engine overheating again. At GT Automotive, our experts can identify what is causing your car to overheat and the best course of action to get you back on the road in no time. If you’ve got questions about your overheating car or want to bring it in for an inspection, give us a call today!