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What Causes A Car to Overheat - and What to Do Next?

By Justin Stoltzfus

What Causes A Car to Overheat

Overheating engines can be a nuisance -- or even dangerous -- if a malfunction happens suddenly. But what causes a car engine to overheat? Here are the most common reasons for overheating -- and what you can do about them:

  • A Dry Engine. A lack of lubricating oil can cause an engine to overheat. It can also cause engine failure and permanent engine damage. That's why one of the first things that beginning drivers learn about their car is how to check the oil. Most vehicles have a low oil indicator that will clue you on to this kind of emergency, so pay attention for those alerts.
  • Low Coolant Levels. Leaks in a coolant system can leave an engine dangerously overheated. The simple solution is to check the coolant tank to make sure you have the right level of coolant. If you notice drips or puddles of coolant around your vehicle, you may need to act quickly to replace the fluid, and contact a professional mechanic to fix the source of the leaks.
  • Fans and Fan Belts. When the cooling system needs additional help, a cooling fan kicks on. If the fan malfunctions, it can cause the engine to overheat. Look for damaged or malfunctioning fans or on some vehicles a broken fan belt that may drive the cooling fan.
  • Lack of Pressure. The cooling system needs a certain amount of pressure to work properly. Sometimes, elements such as the pressure cap gasket can get worn or damaged and cause the system to lose pressure. If the cooling system can't push through coolant, it may not be able to stop the engine from overheating.
  • Faulty Thermostat. The thermostat is a piece of the car that controls the cooling system. If this piece gets stuck or fails to work properly then overheating can be a result. If your vehicle is mysteriously overheating and doesn't point to one of the above scenarios, there's a good chance it's due to a faulty thermostat. This should be checked out and fixed by professional mechanic.
Safety Tips: What to Do if Your Car Overheats

When you notice that temperature gauge creeping up above what's normal (usually above ½ of the dashboard indicator range) pull your vehicle over to a safe place off of the roadway. Try to assess how quickly overheating is happening. If the temperature dial goes all the way up, and water or steam starts shooting out from under the hood, it's best to call a tow truck. Also remember: do not open the radiator cap if your car overheats, the system is under pressure and you could get burned.

These tips will help you to diagnose some of the main problems that make your dashboard thermometer rise beyond safe levels and help to maintain your car for the long haul.


April 9, 2014, 11:50 AM

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