An overheating car can be a nightmare. All too many people know that feeling of that temperature gauge going up, especially when sitting at a stop light and hoping that you get moving in time for the air to cool your engine a bit. And who can discount the fear of the engine catching on fire or completely shutting down for the intense heat? There are many reasons for a car overheating, and there are just as many ways to prevent it. Here’s what you need to know about why your car is overheating.
Engine Overheating Causes:
1. Your coolant is too low
You might get a “maintenance needed” warning light, or you might get a little symbol lighting up on the dash. Sometimes you don’t get anything at all when the coolant is very low. But when your engine overheats, this is the first thing you should check. Look at your coolant level and determine whether you need to add more. Ample coolant is vitally important for your engine, as it flows through and cools everything down, especially when you are traveling at highway speeds.
2. Your cooling fan isn’t working
This can be caused by a few different problems, but it can be easy to spot. When you see the temperature gauge creeping up, pull over and look at the fan. In most vehicles, the fan is located right there on or near the radiator. If the fan is sluggish or not working at all, you have a problem. But what kind of problem? There are actually two possibilities here:
The electric fan is bad. Turn on the air conditioning and see if the fan comes on. Sometimes the air conditioning will force it into action. Another way to check is to disconnect the wiring harness from your radiator fan switch (you might need to consult your manual to do this). Insert a jumper wire into both contacts and see if the fan comes on. Your fan motor might have burned out, and you could need a new one.
The radiator switch is bad. When your car reaches a certain temperature, it tells the fan to switch on. But if the switch is bad, then your car never gets the message, and continues to cool the engine as if you were idling – not driving. To test the switch, go through the same actions as above. If the fan comes on when you attach the jumper wire, you need a new radiator switch.
3. Your fan belt is broken
If your fan belt is broken, your car will overheat rather quickly. A broken fan belt might also mean that other parts of your engine aren’t working properly. A fan belt is more common on older cars, and the good news is that it’s very cheap and easy to fix. You can usually tell if your fan belt is broken simply by looking at the engine.
4. The thermostat is staying closed
When your car begins to heat up, a thermostat keeps track of the temperature. When that temperature gets to a certain point, the thermostat opens to allow more coolant to flow through, thus cooling the engine. But when it stays closed, the car seems to think it is still idling, and that means that it uses a minimal amount of coolant. The result is overheating, especially when you are driving fast on the highway.
5. Your radiator is clogged up
Do you have more than 50,000 miles on your car? If that’s the case, then the radiator might be filled with gunk that keeps it from operating properly. Flushing a radiator can be done every year, takes just a little bit of time, and helps ensure that your radiator never gets clogged up to the point of overheating. If you already have the problem, go to a service station to get help to flush the radiator.
6. Your coolant is leaking
If you notice that your car continues to overheat no matter what you do, look underneath the car when you stop and park. If you see a great deal of liquid underneath your car, you could have a coolant leak. This can be confirmed by checking the coolant levels; if they are low even though you recently filled it up, you’ve found the problem. Go to a service station to have the problem repaired as soon as possible.