What to Do When Your Car Overheats: The Crucial Role of Coolant in Your Vehicle 

Nobody wants to see smoke rising from the hood while they’re driving. But can you avoid overheating your car in the first place? Let’s go over what happens when your car overheats, how to resolve this issue, how coolant plays a role, and how to prevent overheating in the future. 

What Happens When Your Car Overheats? 

Overheating can cause extreme (and potentially permanent) damage to your engine. Sometimes, it can even lead to a fire. 

Common symptoms of engine overheating include: 

  • red “h” on the temperature gauge 
  • thumping or knocking noises 
  • reduced power 
  • burning smell 
  • smoke or steam coming from the hood 

If you notice any of these signs, don’t ignore them. 

How Do You Fix Overheating? 

Once you notice the symptoms of overheating, go through the following steps to limit the damage as much as possible: 

  • Turn off the A/C. 
  • Turn on the defroster with the heat set to hot and the fan on high. 
  • Open the windows. 
  • If you’re stopped in traffic, put your car in Neutral or Park and raise the engine speed to get the coolant circulating. 
  • Pull over to the side (when it’s safe to do so) and call for roadside assistance. 

If none of these actions bring the temperature down within two minutes, turn the engine off. Have your vehicle brought into a NAPA AUTOPRO service centre to be checked and repaired by a professional. 

Most cases of overheating can be resolved quickly with a low-cost repair. Your service bill can end up climbing if you continue to ignore the issue, so don’t overwork your vehicle once it begins to overheat. 

What Causes Overheating? 

Your car’s engine can overheat for many reasons, including: 

  • leaks in the cooling system 
  • faulty thermostat 
  • bad radiator 
  • cracked/leaky hoses 
  • broken belts 
  • bad water pump 

Some of these causes, such as broken parts, are typically unavoidable. However, most cases of engine overheating are caused by not enough coolant or by using the wrong coolant mixture, which is easy to avoid. 

The Role of Coolant 

Coolant is essential to your engine’s performance. By absorbing heat from the engine and then dissipating it into the air, coolant helps your engine maintain a healthy temperature. 

Without enough coolant, the engine can’t regulate its temperature. Using the wrong coolant mixture can cause the liquid to solidify and block your engine, which will lead to overheating. 

To keep your engine in good health, check the coolant every six months. If it has fallen below the required level on your reservoir, it’s time to add more. Every few years, the coolant will need to be fully drained and replaced. With a coolant test strip, you can check whether the coolant is still in good condition. If the strip looks muddy and brownish, or has visible particles, the coolant needs to be replaced. 

(Note: Coolant and antifreeze are sometimes used interchangeably, but they’re not the same. Antifreeze is coolant before it’s been diluted with water. Always follow the instructions on the bottle, no matter what the product is called.) 

How Can You Prevent Overheating? 

Aside from maintaining the right coolant level and mixture, you can do more to prevent your engine from overheating: 

  • Get regular oil changes. 
  • Have your cooling system serviced each year. 
  • Park in the shade whenever possible. 
  • Open the windows instead of always using A/C.
  • Check the battery and see if it’s time for a replacement. 

For any questions about engine overheating or finding the right coolant for your vehicle, visit a NAPA AUTOPRO service centre and speak with an expert. 

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