Car Engine Overheating? Here’s What You Should Do

Smoke rising from underneath the hood is never a welcome sight, as it may indicate that your engine is overheating. Other symptoms of an overheating engine are a burning smell and poor performance.

According to, an illuminated check engine light can also indicate overheating. Overheating can result in major damage to your vehicle. What’s more, it can cause fires.

While your engine is unlikely to reach such high temperatures that it would spontaneously burst into flames, overheating can cause automotive fluids to heat up and spill over onto hot internal components of your vehicle. This can start a fire in your engine that can soon spread.

Modern vehicles come with many features that keep your engine at its optimum temperature and prevent such situations. However, overheating can still happen.

Rarely, an overheating engine may be caused by driving in very hot weather. More often, however, engine overheating is caused by other factors.

What Causes Engine Overheating?

1. Low Coolant Levels

Engine coolant is a fluid that transfers heat from your engine and protects it from extreme temperatures. It’s important always to follow your vehicle manual’s recommendation for the right amount of coolant.

However, if you’re regularly changing your coolant and maintaining the recommended levels, but your engine still overheats, you might have an engine coolant leak on your hands. Telltale signs of a leaky coolant reservoir tank are puddles or spots on the ground underneath your vehicle.

2. Bad Water Pump

The water pump is what runs the coolant through the engine. If your vehicle’s water pump fails, coolant isn’t able to circulate, resulting in engine overheating.

A water pump can experience problems if the coolant used is contaminated. Other reasons a water pump fails include rust and corrosion, a misaligned belt, and bubble formation at its coolant inlet.

3. Faulty Radiator

Your vehicle’s radiator plays a large role in your engine’s cooling processes. To put it simply, it transfers the heat from your engine coolant to the air outside your vehicle through a fan.

Any problems with the radiator, such as a broken fan, leaky or loose hoses, corrosion, and built-up mineral deposits, can cause your vehicle’s cooling system to work incorrectly. This, in turn, leads to engine overheating.

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What to Do If Your Engine Overheats

If you’re driving when you notice the needle on your dashboard temperature gauge nearing or pointing to “H,” or if you notice steam coming from the hood of your vehicle, immediately turn off your A/C and crank up your heater. The latter will pull in the heated air from the engine to the cabin of your vehicle.

Find a safe place to pull over. Do not attempt to continue driving, as this will further damage your engine and radiator.

You could call roadside assistance, if you have access, for help in getting your vehicle to a technician or service center. Alternatively, you can wait for your engine to cool—this could take 15 minutes or more. Do not pop the hood until the temperature gauge on your dashboard shows that the engine has cooled.

Check the coolant level. If it’s low, fill it up to your vehicle manufacturer’s recommended level. You should also make sure that neither the upper nor lower radiator hose has burst or come loose.

You can try restarting the engine, but if the temperature indicator goes up again, pull over once more and contact a service center for assistance.

Overheating can result in engine failure, potentially causing an accident while the vehicle is being driven. If your car tends to overheat, it’s best to bring it to a trusted auto care center to identify the cause and perform the necessary repairs.

Auto Works of Brandon provides vehicle diagnostic, maintenance, and repair solutions, including check engine light services, to Brandon, FL, and surrounding areas. For more information about what to do if your engine overheats, reach out to us.   


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