- Steam is pouring out from under the hood of your car.
- The needle on your temperature gauge is rising to concerning levels.
- A strange smell is coming from the engine.
These are all signs that your car’s engine could be overheating. …And of course this only happens while you’re on your way to an important meeting. Do you continue on, or do you stop and call your mechanic right away?
Often it’s hard to tell the difference between “No big emergency, just call the mechanic at your earliest convenience” and “Pull over and call the mechanic now“. The last thing you need are massive car repair bills, having to go without your car for a few days, or worse, putting yourself and others at risk by continuing to drive.
Usually something out of the ordinary like steam, gauge changes/alerts, and funky smells are not normal and are indicative of a bigger problem, so when in doubt call your mechanic. And if you take your car into a trusted shop — (shameless plug alert) like JL Motorworks — they’ll tell you honestly how quickly you should get in to have it inspected.
What Could be Causing Your Engine to Overheat
The underlying problems can be relatively cheap and easy to fix, or they could be more serious and costly.
- Steam or water vapor could indicate a coolant leak, which could be as simple as leaks in hose connections, or as serious as a damaged radiator.
- Temp gauge rising could be a fan belt, electric fan, or radiator fan switch issue.
- Other potential culprits include bad water pump (or seal shaft on water pump), bad head gasket, damaged heater core, or malfunctioning thermostat.
We always recommend getting your car in at the first sign of a potential problem, so it can be accurately diagnosed and hopefully head off additional (more expensive) problems at the pass.
So if you experience steam pouring out of your hood, your temperature gauge rising, and/or a smell coming out of the engine, something is probably wrong. We can’t say it’s super serious just yet (we hope not!), but we do recommend getting your car into a trusted mechanic right away to find out.
In the meantime, here’s what we recommend doing if your car starts overheating.
What to Do if Your Car Overheats
1. Turn off the A/C.
Your car’s air conditioner puts a significant amount of strain on the engine. Cutting off the A/C will give the engine a break and might help it cool down a bit.
2. Crank up the heater.
This may seem weird (and outright ridiculous in the summertime), but cranking up the heat to full blast will transfer some heat away from your car’s engine.
3. Pull off to a safe location, turn off your car, and wait for it to cool.
Get cozy, because this usually takes about 30 minutes. Watch the temperature gauge to see when it moves from hot to cool. Do NOT attempt to open your hood while it’s still hot.
4. Check your coolant levels.
(Coolant is a 50/50 mixture of water and antifreeze.) The coolant reservoir is usually a clear plastic tank located under the hood, near the radiator. If you’re unsure, check your car’s manual for a diagram of where this will be.
If your coolant tank is empty, you might be leaking coolant. Check under the car to see if any coolant is dripping out.
If the coolant tank is full, it could be a mechanical or electrical issue. Call your mechanic right away to get a diagnosis.
If you have experienced overheating before, have an older car, or live in an area that gets quite hot in the summertime (as the Long Beach and La Habra areas do), you might want to keep a stash of water and coolant in your trunk in case of emergency.
JL Motorworks has quick and accurate diagnostic procedures, so if you’re in the Long Beach or La Habra areas, call to get your overheated vehicle in today and we’ll let you know what the problem is and what your options are.