One of the most common yet most misunderstood ailments of a car is overheating. People often become aware of it only when it’s too late and the car has already suffered overheating damage. However, overheating car symptoms can be easily recognised.
“The sight of steam pouring out of your bonnet is not only alarming because it’s often a sign of potential issues with your car’s engine,” says Barend Smit, Marketing Director of MotorHappy, a supplier of motor management solutions and car insurance options. “It’s important that you know what to do to stay safe and avoid further damage to your vehicle.”
There are a number of reasons why your car could be overheating - even weather could play a role. The most common causes could be a problem with the cooling system, such as low coolant levels or an issue with the circulation. Common signs of overheating include an unusually high temperature reading, an abnormally hot bonnet, a ticking or thumping noise which could mean the engine is not being lubricated properly and/or a burning oil smell. Another clear sign is when you experience a drop in engine power.
In the unfortunate event that your car begins to overheat, carry out the following steps to prevent any permanent damage while also ensuring your safety:
- Turn off the air-conditioning: The AC puts a lot of stress on the engine. Turning it off can reduce the load on the engine quite considerably and allow it to cool down. If this works, then drive slowly without revving the engine and get the car checked for leaks or a malfunctioning pump or fan as this is a sign of the coolant not reaching all the parts of the engine. Smit points out that regular servicing and car maintenance will help identify these potential problems before you find yourself stranded on the side of the road.
- Rev the engine a couple of times: This might seem counter-intuitive but do it a couple of times. This will make the pump and the fan turn faster. If revving the engine a couple of times manages to cool the engine then there is an issue with the fan or the pump and it is best to park the car and let it cool down completely and then drive slowly to a car workshop.
- Avoid braking abruptly: Most overheating issues occur in stop-go traffic. Most drivers tend to accelerate and brake hard, stressing the engine and causing it to overheat. Instead learn to ride the brakes and keep the car going with gentle inputs on the throttle and the brake.
- Park the car and open the hood: If all the above fail then there is only one resort. Park the car to the side of the road. Turn off the engine and open the hood and wait for the car to cool down. Do not under any circumstance remove the radiator or water bottle cap while the engine is warm as the cooling system may be under pressure and could spray boiling water causing burns. Allow at least 30 minutes to an hour before starting the vehicle.
If this helps, then you might have to repeat this multiple times before being able to reach a car workshop. If it doesn’t cool down then there is a more serious issue and you might need to call for roadside assistance.
Prevention is always better than cure
“There are some things you can do to help prevent overheating,” explains Smit. “Park in the shade whenever you can. When you park in the sun, the windshield and the windows basically turn the car into a greenhouse and heat will get trapped inside the car, raising its overall temperature. As soon as the car is turned on, the cooling system can be overwhelmed.
“When you get into the car, roll down the windows to let the trapped air escape. Let the engine run for a couple of minutes before turning the AC on. Also use the fresh air setting initially to avoid recirculating the same hot air again and again.”
Below are a few other tips that will help protect your car from overheating:
- Ensure the coolant level is topped off: This is one of the biggest causes of a car overheating. Usually there is a leak and there isn’t enough coolant available to cool the engine down. Refer to the car’s manual to find out how you can check the coolant levels. If it is too low, then top it only when the car has been parked and has been sitting for a few hours to avoid being burnt or injured.
- Regularly check if the fans and the pump are working fine: Keep an ear out for any rattling noise from the engine fan. If the engine starts to heat up quicker than before then have the fan checked out immediately instead of waiting for the car to suffer from a full-blown overheating problem.
- Regularly service the cooling system: The cooling system can get clogged with time reducing its efficiency. Have it flushed regularly by a trained professional. Carry out all the necessary maintenance of the entire cooling system to keep it working at its full capacity without fail. Also make sure that the thermostat is working correctly.