What to do When Your Car Overheats

What to do When Your Car Overheats
Car Repair
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Car Overheating: Steps to Take

Smoke coming out from under your car’s bonnet can be distressing for any driver. This is a common situation on a long trip or during the summer when temperatures rise to the point that they overwhelm your vehicle’s cooling system. Unfortunately, overheating can affect your car’s engine condition if left unaddressed.

As a driver, you should act fast to prevent possible damage to your vehicle’s engine. While several factors can cause your engine to overheat, you still need to know what to do before a mechanic can diagnose and rectify the issue. Your action or inaction goes a long way towards influencing the condition of your car afterwards.

So what should you do when the car engine overheats?

Why do car engines overheat?

Several things can cause a car’s engine to overheat. However, the most common is a faulty cooling system that prevents heat from leaving the engine compartment. Typically, this will happen when there is a blockage or leak in the cooling system. Another cause of car engine overheating may be a dysfunctional water pump, clogged coolant, or broken radiator fan. These can happen to any cooling system due to wear and tear, which can break components such as gaskets and hoses. Also, when the coolant level drops below the manufacturer’s recommendation, the engine might overheat as the coolant is not effective.

What are the signs that your engine is overheating?

An overheating engine can display varying symptoms depending on the type of vehicle and situation. However, the common signs that all drivers should look out for include the following:

  • The temperature gauge on your car’s dashboard moves to the red zone or “H”
  • Steam, which some people confuse for smoke, starts coming out from under the hood
  • A strange smell comes from the hood that you can easily notice

What should I do when my car overheats?

When driving, if you notice any of the symptoms of car overheating, be sure to follow the steps below:

Turn up the heater in your vehicle

This may feel like you will compound the problem, but turning on the heater forces warm air out of the engine and into the passenger section of the car, helping to reduce the load on the cooling system. Sometimes turning on the heater may be enough to cool the car, and this will be evident when the temperature gauge goes back to neutral or the check engine light disappears.

Pull over quickly

When you notice your car is overheating, the best thing is to find a safe spot on the side of the road and pull over. This is a sure way of cooling the car, as cutting off the engine stops it from working and heating further. Failure to stop when your car is overheating could seriously damage your engine and cost you a huge amount.

Open the windows and wait

Once on the side of the road, you should open your windows to let out as much of the heat as possible. It usually takes around 30 minutes or more for an overheated engine to cool, so sit tight in your car and wait for the clock to tick. Rushing to open the hood can expose you to serious injury as there is a chance of hot water or steam shooting out and spraying you, so you will be safer inside the car.

Add a coolant

After a minimum of 30 minutes, feel the car’s hood to see if it’s cool before opening it and adding coolant to the reservoir, but always wear protective gloves. Cover the radiator cap with a wet cloth, push it down to open it, and allow the built-up pressure to escape. Pour the coolant slowly and replace the radiator cap before turning on the engine.

The issue is likely to be something mechanical, either with the cooling system itself or something more serious, which requires professional attention if the coolant is full.

Contact your nearest garage

If you notice the temperature gauge moving back to normal, this only means that you’ve found a temporary solution. To be safe, drive to the nearest garage and allow a professional and qualified mechanic to look into the issue. They will inspect it and offer the necessary service to get your car back to a safe and healthy state.

Call for roadside assistance

If you have roadside assistance coverage, we would recommend that you call them as soon as you pull over. This is especially true in a remote location with no garages around. They will send a roadside mechanic to your location with all the knowledge and tools to either fix the problem and get you back on the road or take you to the nearest garage for repair.

How do I keep my car from overheating?

These are several precautions drivers should take to prevent their engines from overheating, including:

Keep track of the coolant level (cooling system leak) in your car engine and top it up when it goes below the threshold. Leaking coolant is one of the main reasons for an overheated car.

Park your vehicle under the shade in the summer to reduce exposure to extreme


Keep an eye on the vehicle’s thermostat whenever you’re on the road

Open your windows when driving to let the warm air escape, especially in summer conditions

Schedule a regular car service at a reputable garage, as this will highlight issues before they arise

Consult your car user manual whenever possible to remain updated on the

coolant service flushes

Allow your engine to cool and then call your nearest garage to book your car in and get their advice

Can neglecting overheating damage your car’s engine?

Normally, if you react urgently to cool an overheating engine, you may get away with no lasting damage to your car’s engine. If you continue driving your car without trying to cool the overheating engine and add coolant, you can easily cause damage to the engine and are likely to face significant repair costs in the future.

In Summary

An overheating car engine is a serious issue that can worsen if you don’t react fast enough. Knowing what to do when your engine overheats can easily save you thousands in repairs in the worst-case scenario. However, it doesn’t have to get to this; you can take precautions to prevent such incidents. Remember to refer to the owner’s manual and take your car for a regular service, which will check all of your vehicle’s components.

About AP Autocare

We are one of the most reputable and independent MOT, Repair and Service Centres in Bristol, and we are Bristol’s Largest Independent Multi Manufacturer Specialist.

With the skills of a main dealership but without the costs, we’re a friendly and professional garage offering competitive rates.

Our services are available for all types of vehicles, from small cars to light commercial vehicles up to 3.5 tonnes (Class 7).

Our services include:

  • Winter Car Checks
  • Servicing
  • MOT’s
  • Bodywork & Paint Repairs
  • Engine Diagnostics and Repair
  • Annual and Interim Services
  • Air Conditioning
  • Tyres & Exhausts
  • Brakes
  • Clutches
  • Remapping
  • Suspension & Steering
  • Welding
  • Battery Testing & Replacement
  • Wheel Alignment
  • Tyre Replacement
  • Remapping

We are a specialist and recognised garage for the main car manufacturers, including BMW, Citroen, Peugeot, Mini, Porsche, Audi, VW, Seat, Skoda, and Land Rover. We have main dealer-level diagnostic equipment along with main dealer knowledge and expertise. Bringing your vehicle to us for any of our services can save you up to 30% compared to the main dealer’s prices.

If your car has overheated, please contact AP Autocare in Bristol on 0117 963 8916 or contact us here and one of our experts will be able to answer any questions you may have and arrange an appointment for you.

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