Car overheating: What to do & What may be causing it
In July 2022, as the government gave out heatwave warnings, service centres across the UK witnessed a 20% hike in cases of car overheating. We collectively experienced that while modern cars are well-equipped with sophisticated cooling systems, overheating is still a potential nuisance. What causes a car to overheat is when the vehicle’s cooling system cannot dissipate the heat generated by the engine. This inability to dissipate the heat can cause the engine to become too hot, leading to severe damage. A few common car overheating causes include a low coolant level, a faulty radiator, or a malfunctioning water pump.
There are several ways in which car overheating can be dangerous. For one, it can cause the engine to seize, which can be costly to repair and may even render the vehicle inoperable. Overheating can also cause the engine to catch fire, which can be a safety hazard. In addition, an overheating car can be dangerous for the driver and passengers, as it can cause the vehicle to break down on the side of the road, potentially leaving them stranded.
We’ll discuss, in detail below, what causes a car to overheat & how long a vehicle can overheat before incurring irreversible damage.
What causes a car to overheat?
There are several possible causes of car overheating, including:
1. Low coolant level
Low coolant levels are a common factor that causes a car to overheat because the coolant is responsible for maintaining the suitable temperature of the engine. If there is not enough coolant in the system, the engine will be unable to regulate its temperature, becoming too hot. Low coolant levels can lead to severe damage to the engine, including warping or melting metal parts.
2. Faulty radiator cap
A damaged or defective radiator cap can result in a car overheating because it is responsible for maintaining the optimum pressure in the cooling system. If the radiator cap is not functioning correctly, it may not be able to keep the correct pressure, which can cause the coolant to boil at a lower temperature. This can lead to overheating because the coolant cannot absorb enough heat from the engine to keep it at a safe operating temperature. In addition, a faulty radiator cap can cause coolant to leak out of the system, leading to low coolant levels and overheating.
3. Faulty water pump
A faulty water pump can overheat your vehicle because the water pump is responsible for circulating coolant throughout the engine. The coolant is responsible for absorbing heat from the engine and carrying it away, so if it is not circulating, the engine will be unable to regulate its temperature correctly, becoming too hot. If the water pump is not functioning accurately, it may not be able to distribute the coolant effectively, leading to overheating. A faulty water pump can also cause low coolant levels, further contributing to overheating.
4. Clogged radiator
If the radiator is clogged, it will not effectively dissipate heat, and the coolant will not be able to cool the engine properly. This can cause overheating and grave damage to the engine if not addressed. A clogged radiator can result from dirt and debris buildup or a malfunction in the radiator itself.
5. Failed thermostat
The thermostat is responsible for regulating the flow of coolant through the engine. If the thermostat is not functioning adequately, it may not be able to open and close as needed to allow the proper flow of coolant. This can cause the engine to become too hot because the coolant cannot circulate and absorb heat effectively. A failed thermostat can cause overheating by either not allowing enough coolant to flow through the engine or too much coolant to flow through the engine. In either case, the engine will be unable to maintain the proper operating temperature and become too hot.
6. Blown head gasket
A botched head gasket can cause a car to overheat because the head gasket seals the engine block and the cylinder head and helps maintain proper engine compression. A blown head gasket can leak coolant into the combustion chamber, leading to low coolant levels and overheating. A faulty head gasket can also cause a loss of compression in the engine, leading to poor fuel economy, a loss of power, and overheating.
7. Overheated transmission
The transmission generates a lot of heat during operation and has a separate cooling system to keep it from overheating. If the transmission becomes too hot, it can cause the coolant in the radiator to boil, leading to overheating. In addition, an overheated transmission can cause the transmission fluid to break down and lose its lubricating properties, which can lead to transmission damage and overheating. It is essential to check the transmission fluid level regularly and to have the transmission serviced if it becomes overheated to prevent further damage and the car from overheating.If you’re not sure what is causing your car to overheat, it’s best to have it inspected by a mechanic at a reputable car service centre. They will be able to diagnose the problem and recommend the necessary repairs promptly.
What to do when you find out what’s causing your car to overheat?
If your car is overheating, taking action as soon as possible is essential to avoid damaging the engine permanently. Here are some steps you can take:
1. Turn off the air conditioning and turn on the heater. Doing this will help to draw heat away from the engine.
2. Find a secure place to pull over and turn off the engine.
3. Check the coolant level and add more if needed.
4. Check the radiator cap to make sure it is not loose or damaged.
5. If the car is still overheating, try using a coolant additive to help reduce the temperature.
6. If none of these steps helps, it’s best to reach a tow truck or roadside assistance service. Continuing to drive an overheating car can cause severe damage to the engine.
How long can a car overheat before damage is permanent?
It’s difficult to say precisely how long a car can overheat before experiencing engine damage, as it can differ depending on several factors, such as the age and condition of the vehicle, the severity of the overheating, and the ambient temperature. However, it’s generally best to avoid driving an overheating car for an extended period, as it can cause grave damage to the engine.If your car is overheating, it’s crucial to take prompt action to avoid damaging the engine. Try turning off the air conditioning or the engine, turning on the heater, finding a safe place to pull over, and checking the coolant level and radiator cap. If the car is still overheating, try using a coolant additive or call a tow truck or roadside assistance service.
While most times, your vehicle’s cooling system will be able to support you, you may encounter car overheating issues. When you suspect your car is overheating, don’t panic. First, pinpoint what causes a car to overheat, then see if your particular cause is fixable by yourself. If you are overwhelmed or can’t fix the issue, it’s best to trust experienced mechanics & car service centres to provide knowledgeable advice.