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What to do When Your Vehicle Overheats

Vehicle technology evolves every year. The goal of many of these changes is the same: to get you and your passengers to your destination safe and free from worry. This certainly goes for heating and cooling systems. Still, regardless of current technological advances, overheating can happen.

In this article, we are going to look at reasons why your vehicle may be overheating and what to do if it does overheat.

Why Your Engine Overheats

When your engine is working, it creates heat. A lot of heat. Your cooling system is in place to help remove excess heat from your engine. Too much heat can lead to the failure of certain components and render your vehicle inoperable. It can even lead to expensive repair bills.

More often than not, an overheating engine is the result of blocks or leaks in your cooling system or related components. No matter how technically advanced these components may be, failure is always an option. From gaskets, to thermostats, to hoses, and beyond, really hot days and/or prolonged period of stop-and-go traffic can be taxing on your vehicle's cooling system. Regular maintenance should keep your odds of overheating to a minimum.

Still, when your temperature gauge starts to climb above its normal operating levels, it's time to take notice. To that end, the right response can mean the difference between replacing a $20 part or a blown head gasket, which will always run well into the thousands-of-dollars range.

How to Tell When Your Engine is Overheating

While it seems there are endless differences between modern vehicles, some signs of engine overheating are common from vehicle to vehicle. They include the following:

  • Steam emanating from under the hood of your vehicle.
  • The temperature gauge rising well beyond normally functioning levels or the temperature warning light on your dashboard coming on.
  • Noticeable smells coming from under the hood of your car. Oil leaks will smell like something burning, while leaking coolant will have a somewhat sweet smell.

It's always a smart move to have a handful of essential tools and supplies in case of breakdowns. When it comes to an overheating engine, here are the most helpful supplies to have in your trunk:

  • A few quarts of oil
  • A gallon of coolant
  • A simple tool kit
  • Some gloves
  • A towel

What to do When Your Engine Overheats

Now that we know the signs of engine overheating and what to keep on hand in case it happens, let's look at some actionable tips to keep you and your vehicle safe when your engine is overheating.

Turn Your Heater On

I know what you're thinking: that seems like the exact opposite of what you should be doing. It's not, though, and here's why. Turning your heat up provides an escape route for some of the heat buildup by allowing it into the passenger compartment of the vehicle. You may want to open your windows, as well, as the heat could start to border on uncomfortable.

When you do this, you should keep an eye on the temperature gauge to see if it starts to drop. If your warning light goes off, that is another good sign.

Stop Driving

If turning on the heater is not helping to alleviate the overheating, you should pull over and turn the engine off. This is the absolute fastest way to get the engine to cool off. This is also when you should consider calling roadside assistance. This is a common coverage option with most auto insurance providers. Your Mopar Vehicle Protection warranty also offers roadside assistance.

Play the Waiting Game

If you don't have roadside assistance, your next step should be to simply wait. Engines don't cool as soon as you turn them off, so be prepared to wait at least 15 minutes before you do anything. This means that you absolutely should not open the hood of the car. If coolant is spraying from the cooling system, it could be reaching temperatures well over 230 degrees—more than enough to cause serious burns.

Check Coolant Levels and Add More if Necessary

Again, after you have waited at least 15 minutes, you can approach the hood of the vehicle. Before you open it, though, feel to see if it is cool to the touch. If it is not, wait longer. When it is finally cool enough to touch, put on your gloves and put your towel (or rag) over the radiator cap and open it slowly for just a quarter turn. This helps to relieve the pressure, which can increase when the radiator is hot. Then, fill the coolant reservoir up to the full line if it is not already there.

Some coolant comes pre-mixed so you should check to see if that is the case with yours. If it is not premixed, you'll want to add equal parts coolant and water to the reservoir.

Finally, tighten the radiator cap again, restart your vehicle, and watch the temperature gauge. If it stays in the normal range, proceed to your destination while keeping watch on the temperature. If it starts to increase beyond the normal operating range, pull over again and arrange for your vehicle to be taken to a mechanic. If the temperature gauge is okay, then you should still keep an eye on it for a week or two; there could be a slow leak leading to this problem.

Get Your Vehicle to a Mechanic

While adding more coolant might be a fix that gets your vehicle back on the road, it is likely just a temporary solution as it doesn't address the underlying problem causing the coolant leak. When you speak to the mechanic, tell her exactly what has been happening in detail. While this could be a common fix for a mechanic, details are important and could unveil an uncommon problem that could save you and the mechanic valuable time and trouble.

In Conclusion

No vehicle malfunction is convenient, but an overheating engine is one of the most common and, therefore, one of the most easily fixed. Still, heat is an issue and the risk of getting burned—physically, not metaphorically—is higher with an overheated engine than it is with most other malfunctions.

If you follow the step above and have a Mopar Vehicle Protection plan, you may also have access to roadside assistance if needed and even pay only your deductible on qualifying repairs. If you are considering a Mopar Vehicle Protection plan, call us at 866.943.7778 or try our Quick Quote system, which gets you a quote right away and even allows you to purchase completely online.

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