Overheating is often first detected when your temperature meter begins to climb into the red, or your check engine light or temperature check light begins to flash. White smoke from your exhaust, boiling water in your coolant overflow tank and milky residue under your oil cap are more serious signs of engine overheating.
If you don’t know how to deal with overheating, the issue could negatively impact your engine. When temperatures rise, metals like aluminum can warp leading to openings in your cylinder head gasket. These leaks will cause oil and coolant to mix, degrading oil pressure and viscosity until your bearings and engine. Your engine can literally grind to a metal screeching halt as bearings wear, rods and pistons seize and your car dies from heat.
The first step to knowing how to deal with overheating is to not ignore the problem. Because engine performance and reliability will decrease as the problem is left untreated, the best thing you can do is take action at the first sign of trouble. This will prevent a larger much more stressful repair bill, or even worse the loss of a operating vehicle.
Even if you don’t decide to do the work, it’s better to at least know you’ve exhausted all the possible and cheaper alternatives.
How to Prevent Overheating
Overheating can occur in almost any vehicle, given the right circumstances. Most of the time it’s because you’ve been sitting in the parking lot called your local freeway for far too long, and the lack of airflow is decreasing your cooling efficiency.
There’s a few things you can do when you know how to prevent overheating. Coolant additives can be useful in lowering water temperatures, as well as cleaning or spraying the front of your radiator to improve air flow. When things like dirt leaves and debris get caught in the front bumper and build up on the face of the radiator, this decreases efficiency and decreases airflow.
Because your radiator is built to cool based on it’s large surface area, cleaning your radiator fins and making sure there’s optimum airflow will go a long way.
Check your fans
Your cooling fans help draw air through the radiator, which has fins built between the tubes in which the coolant must pass through. Without the assistance of your cooling fans or radiator fan shroud, your radiator might not cool as well as it can.
Start your vehicle up and have a friend check the temperature meter until your fans turn on. If the water temp rises above the operating temperature of the vehicle, and your fans still aren’t on, check your fan relay or fan fuses.
You can also wire in a custom fan controller that will allow you to turn on your fans sooner or faster using variable speed or voltage settings. Check our FAQ on how to wire a fan controller safely into your vehicle.
Upgrading your fans also isn’t a bad idea, because aftermarket fans usually do come with plug and play harnesses that bolt right into your factory harness.
If your radiator is leaking coolant or too damaged to do it’s job, replacing your radiator with an upgraded unit is a great way to upgrade your cooling factor. Over time your radiator can become clogged with dirt, debris, small bugs or other contaminants that will block the passages built into the radiator.
Check your Thermostat
Failed thermostats can severely impact your cooling system and prevent the flow of coolant to your radiator. To check this, start your vehicle and allow it to warm up near operating temperature. Open your hood and carefully touch the outlet water hose from your thermostat housing to your radiator.
If the temperature on your vehicle continues to rise without the outlet hose getting warm to the touch, your thermostat has failed or seized closed. Replacing your thermostat is a easy job and the cost of the part is generally not expensive, compared to a head gasket job that is.
Change your thermostat to stop your overheating issues, and if your situation is more dire try looking for lower temperature thermostats for your car. These have lower temperature rated wax pellets that will allow coolant to flow to your radiator sooner.
Check for Leaks
Not to state the obvious here but if your engine is leaking coolant or losing it at a very fast rate, this can cause your overheating problems. Checking all your radiator hoses, coolant bypass hoses as well as heater core hoses is vital to knowing how to deal with overheating.
If your radiator hoses seem ballooned or rubbery, replace them to improve your coolant seal or stop leaks. Try placing a cardboard box under your car to see where the coolant leaks seem to come from. Check for green or white residue that may be drying on your lower bumper lips or in your engine bay.
Other possible causes of engine overheating
Incorrect ignition timing – If your ignition timing is retarded or late in the combustion cycle, your spark plugs won’t be firing at the right time. This incorrect ignition timing can make the plugs fire the air fuel mixture well after the piston has traveled downward already.
This will create unburnt fuel and increase exhaust gas temperatures, which will in turn raise engine temperatures. Check your ignition timing to make sure you’re within manufacturer specification.
This is different than valve timing, which can also be advanced or retarded. For a primer on how to adjust cam gears or valve timing, check out our handy guide here.
Slipping accessory belt – Check to make sure that there’s proper tension in your drive belts, namely your water pump and / or fan belt. Lack of tension can cause the belts that drive your cooling system to slip.
If your belt lacks the proper tension or looks damaged or frayed, replace it to improve your cooling efficiency.
Air Pockets in cooling system – Check your lower radiator hose for signs of collapsing, which is a good sign that there’s some sort of air pocket that’s causing your cooling system to stand still. Without this flow, your engine will overheat and cause some serious issues. Knowing how to deal with overheating also includes eliminating these kinds of air pockets.
With the engine completely cold, start your car and open your radiator cap. Squeeze your radiator hoses to help burp or allow the air pocket to escape through the radiator cap hole.
Low oil – While it’s not as common as the other reasons on our how to deal with overheating DIY Guide, low oil can cause overheating. Oil not only lubricates but removes “waste heat” from your engine, which can compound any cooling problems. Check your oil levels and make sure your engine has the right amount of lubrication, and that will go a long way in you learning how to deal with overheating.
Have any other questions or suggestions on learning how to deal with overheating? Leave them for us below and let us know!