What to do When Your Car Overheats

Driving a car is one of the most convenient modes of transportation but it does demand certain things from the person behind the wheel.

As a driver you must be constantly aware of your internal and external surroundings to help you prevent and avoid road accidents and incidents. You have to make sure all passengers are buckled in and safe. And then there’s the matter of routine maintenance.

To keep your vehicle in tiptop shape you need to monitor it for possible mechanical faults as well as check your fluid levels regularly. Regardless of your best efforts, though, there may come a day when your car begins to overheat. This rarely happens in modern vehicles, but it’s still a possibility. If you own an older vehicle, however, you may know from firsthand experience how frightening it can be to have your car overheat.


But whether you’re driving an older vehicle or the newest make and model it pays to know what to do when your car overheats. In this article we’ll outline several recommendations and tips for you to follow to quickly recover from this scary situation.

What to do When Your Car Overheats

How do you know when your car is overheating? The most obvious sign of overheating in a vehicle is the warning light on your dashboard. You should already be familiar with your vehicle and know what all the signals on your dashboard represent. Once you see the needle of the temperature gauge edging closer and closer to the red danger zone, you know you’re in hot water!

If the warning light on your dashboard lights up your car is overheating. There may even be steam billowing out from under the hood. What to do? First of all, don’t worry! Keep your cool and your car will soon follow suit.

When you’ve determined that your car is overheating there are a couple of things you need to do immediately. First, if you were running the vehicle with the air conditioner turned on, turn it off. The air conditioner is an added load on the engine and by turning it off you help the cool down. You’ll also want to roll down your windows to improve air circulation in your vehicle.

This trick doesn’t work? Then try turning on the heater and the blower/fan. Be sure to turn the vents away from you as much as possible to avoid having that hot air blasting you square in the face. Make sure your windows are still rolled down. Turning on the heater transfers much of the heat from the engine into the car’s cabin and with the windows down that heat can escape your vehicle. Give this a few minutes. Watch the temperature gauge in the meanwhile for any improvements.

Still overheating? More often than not, overheating is a result of high temperatures. This is especially true if you live in an urban area like Orange County, renowned for being one of the sunniest metropolitan areas in the country. Try to avoid driving during the hottest hours of the day if at all possible.

Another cause for overheating is riding the brakes too much while driving in slow-moving traffic. Our rush-hour tip is to have you slowly, but consistently, inch your car along rather than depress the accelerator constantly in bumper-to-bumper traffic. This will avoid brake drag, known to put increased load on the engine which eventually leads to overheating.

You can also force the radiator to pump water around the engine while in traffic by shifting gears to neutral and revving the engine. As the water pumps, more fluid and air are circulated. The rotation of the fan also speeds up. This should help to cool the engine down a bit.

From the Frying Pan to the Fire

What if all hell is breaking loose?

Sometimes vehicle overheating can go to extremes. If your engine overheats to its tipping point you may notice the sound of water bubbling. This is a sign that the radiator is about to boil over. If this happens you have to act very quickly.

As soon as it is safe to do so, pull your vehicle off to the side of the road. Pop the hood very carefully, making sure you keep your face clear of the direct heat and steam that may be escaping from the engine. You will need to wait a few minutes for the engine to cool down adequately. Do NOT uncap the radiator just yet. Uncapping the radiator now could lead to serious injury.

Once you think the vehicle is cool enough you may need to add some form of coolant or water. Our tip is that you always, always, always carry about a gallon of water in your vehicle. It will come in handy for multiple uses.

If you’d shut down the engine earlier when you pulled off the road you will need to get it running again and shift the gear to neutral or park. Slowly add the coolant or the water to the radiator. Adding cold water to a hot radiator when the engine is turned off could seriously damage your radiator. Avoid this at all costs. Wait a few minutes for the temperature gauge to adjust so you know the problem is resolved.

Note that even after this quick fix you may need to find and visit one of the many qualified mechanics throughout Southern California who would be glad to help you determine the underlying cause of your car overheating. 

If you live in Orange County we recommend visiting Fladeboe Honda.

Fladeboe Honda is home to one of the best service and parts departments in the region and their friendly, certified Honda technicians will help you get to the bottom of why your vehicle is overheating or any other mechanical problems that may be giving you and your ride trouble.

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