Common Causes of Engine Overheating

  • By Lea Naiz
  • 26 Jun, 2017
An overheating engine can be scary, especially if you are stuck in heavy traffic or are far from home. While it is impossible to guarantee that your vehicle will never overheat, understanding the common causes and how to prevent them can go a long way toward minimizing your risk. Here’s what you need to know.
Man in trouble working on overheated smoking broken down car

Cooling System
Your vehicle contains a reasonably simple but highly powerful cooling system. It is designed to keep your engine within a safe temperature range, typically 195 to 220 F. Coolant boils at 225 F, but the pressurized cooling system and the exact ratio of coolant to water can increase the boiling point to 265 F for a 50/50 coolant blend or 276 F for a 70/30 coolant blend. If the engine temperature climbs above the boiling point, your engine will overheat.

What Happens When an Engine Overheats
An overheating engine can set off a chain reaction of serious issues. Damage to major engine components, including cylinders, pistons, valves, and bearings can occur rapidly. If you continue to drive, you could end up with an entirely failed engine.

Coolant Level
Most cases of overheating are caused by the coolant level dropping too low. Coolant naturally drops over time, so it is important to check the level periodically. In addition, your vehicle may have developed a coolant leak, especially if the level drops rapidly. Leaking coolant is typically bright yellow or green.

Other Cooling System Parts
Besides a low coolant level, problems with other parts of the cooling system can also cause the engine to overheat. A clogged radiator or blown radiator fan can lead to improper cooling. If the thermostat does not open properly, it will block the flow of coolant, leading to overheating. A collapsed, crimped, or damaged hose can restrict the flow of exhaust, preventing normal cooling. Likewise, a malfunctioning water pump can have carryover effects throughout the system that cause the engine to overheat.

What to Do if Your Engine Overheats
Despite your best efforts, it is possible that your engine will overheat someday. The risks are greatest in very hot weather, though overheating could occur anytime. If this happens, immediately turn off your air conditioner and switch to the heater. Although this can be very uncomfortable for you, it redirects the engine’s heat. Try to minimize your use of the brakes, which generate heat. If you are stopped in traffic, shift into neutral or park and rev the engine to encourage air and water flow.

As soon as it is safe, pull off the road, turn off the car, and wait for it to cool down. When the engine is cool, open the radiator cap and see if the coolant level is low. If so, add coolant or plain water until it reaches a normal level. Proceed carefully, and have your vehicle checked out as soon as possible. If the coolant level seems normal, call a tow truck, as the problem cannot be fixed on the side of the road. Note: Never open the radiator cap while the engine is hot. Doing so will release boiling, pressurized water that could cause severe burns.

Preventing Overheating
The best way to prevent overheating is to have your vehicle regularly maintained. Have the belts and hoses, along with the coolant level and radiator cap, inspected according to your vehicle’s maintenance recommendations. Also keep an eye on your temperature gauge, and if it starts running a bit higher than normal, have your vehicle checked out. Ask your auto technician whether your vehicle needs a periodic radiator flush to clear out any gunk and debris.

If you are tired of getting the runaround and being treated like you haven’t got a clue, we invite you to try  Colchin Automotive  instead. Give us a call at 303-431-5421 for all of your automotive needs!

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