Close up of a temperature gauge in a car spiking to the red

What to Do If You Have an Overheating Engine

How to Handle an Engine Starting to Overheat

An overheating engine is never a good sign and should always be taken seriously. At the same time, it’s important to not panic. Instead, you should be aware of what you should do if you have an overheating engine.

  1. Stay calm – Panic can lead to rash decisions as you likely won’t be thinking clearly. As soon as you notice an overheating engine, you should first stay calm and stay alert to your surroundings.
  2. Turn off the air conditioning and crank the heat – By turning on the heat, you are pulling away some of the heat from the engine. This step will be a bit uncomfortable for you, but it could be enough to save your engine.
  3. Pull over to a safe location and turn off the engine – The best way to protect your engine is to not run it. Find a safe place away from traffic to pull over and turn off the engine when you park.
  4. Let the engine cool – While it seems like a good idea to let out the heat by opening the hood, it’s very dangerous to do. Opening the hood too early can lead to burns as a result of the intense heat and steam. Instead, you need to let the engine cool on its own. At minimum, you should wait 15 minutes.
  5. Add coolant if possible. Otherwise, call for help – drivers that don’t have coolant with them or aren’t comfortable adding it themselves should call for help, like a family member, close friend, or towing company. If you have coolant with you and wish to add some yourself, open the hood after the engine cools. Locate the radiator cap and slowly open it with a towel to release pressure. Once the pressure is gone, fully remove the cap and top it off to the full line with coolant. Do the same with the reservoir and replace the caps. Then, turn on the engine and see if the temperature gauge is back to normal and your engine light is out. If so, cautiously drive to the nearest mechanic so they can see what the problem is. If your engine starts overheating again, repeat this process and contact a towing company.
Woman checking her engine with steam coming from it

Many times, overheating engines are caused by low coolant levels. To help prevent this situation from occurring, you should regularly be checking your coolant levels and topping off as needed. If you notice that your coolant levels are dropping quickly or topping off doesn’t help, you should see a mechanic as soon as possible. Letting an overheating engine linger can cause costly engine damage and, in severe cases, engine failure.

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