When your car overheats, it’s often best to have a professional look at it. However, there are common reasons you can identify yourself if you know what to look for. An overheating engine can be a symptom of a few different problems, but some are more common than others.
Originally published in 2016 and updated in 2020 to reflect technical and industry changes, our auto repair experts explain the top 3 reasons why your engine overheats, and what to do next if it happens to you.
Reason #1: Cooling System Leak
Your cooling system is made up of many parts, such as the freeze plug, reserve tank, and pressure cap. This complicated system pushes the coolant through hoses under your car’s hood, which causes it to cool inefficiently. If your engine is overheating and you want to check if it’s a cooling system leak, take a look in these areas:
- Underneath your car – You might be able to recognize the look of coolant if you’ve added some to your car before; the liquid will be pink, orange, blue, red, green, or yellow. Seeing any of these colors (depending on the kind of coolant your car uses) on the ground means your coolant is leaking.
- The hoses – Sometimes the leak may not be major, and you don’t notice liquid on the ground, or the liquid leaks onto other parts of the engine so you might not notice it on the ground. However, checking the hoses for loose or flimsy components is a strong way to search for potential leaks.
If you check out underneath your car or the hoses and notice a problem, your overheating engine could be due to a cooling system leak.
Reason #2: Malfunctioning Radiator
Your radiator is a key component in your car’s cooling system—it converts the heat that the coolant drew from the engine into the air, allowing the coolant to continue cooling the engine. Thus, a problem with your radiator means the engine won’t cool properly. Some common reasons a radiator might malfunction include:
- Leaks – Like with the hoses in your cooling system, a leak from your radiator would introduce an obstacle that prevents your engine from cooling efficiently.
- Bad thermostat – The thermostat judges the temperature and decides whether the engine needs to be cooled or not. So, if the thermostat is not able to judge properly, the engine is likely to overheat.
- Broken fan – When a radiator transfers heat from the coolant into the air, it does so through a fan. If the fan is broken, or simply doesn’t work efficiently, the coolant can remain hot, preventing it from drawing heat from the engine.
Luckily, identifying a radiator problem is often easy thanks to the part’s location at the front of your hood. But the best way to identify a problem is still to let our professionals check it out for you—it’ll give you peace of mind!
Reason #3: Loose or Broken Belt
Your car’s serpentine belt performs many functions, such as ensuring the power steering, air pump, and other components work properly—and one of the components the belt powers is the water pump, which is part of the cooling system.
In terms of a malfunctioning belt, we have good news and bad news. The good news is that there aren’t a lot of ways your belt can break. The main issue to be mindful of is time—eventually, your belt can loosen and not work efficiently, or grow old and, again, not work efficiently. The bad news is not servicing the belt can cause a lot of problems, such as:
- Lack of control from no power steering
- No air conditioning
- Overheating engine, of course
- And in many cases, the battery might not charge
So, a problem with your belt can be evident. If you’re experiencing any of the above problems, the belt may be the culprit. Be sure to visit your local Christian Brothers Automotive to find out for sure!
What to Do When Your Engine Overheats
If you notice your engine is overheating, don’t panic. There are a few things you can do to help cool it down. For example, turning off the air conditioner and cranking up the heat as high as it can go helps draw heat from the engine. However, one of the best things you can do is simply pull over as soon as possible. Let the engine cool down and then pop the hood and check for signs of any of the top 3 reasons why your engine overheats.
An overheating engine is one of the most common reasons a car breaks down, but that doesn’t mean you can’t identify the reason and take steps to prevent it.
For help fixing an overheating engine, make an appointment with your local Christian Brothers Automotive today! We’ll get your car back in shape in no time.