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How to Cool an Overheated Engine: An Ultimate Guide!

How to Cool an Overheated Engine: An Ultimate Guide!

Seeing smoke or steam coming from under your car’s hood while you are driving can be very alarming. This means that you are dealing with an overheated engine. Overheating is possible and it can happen when you least expect it. When it happens, you need to know what to do since there are right or wrong ways to deal with it. How you respond to it may save or may damage your engine. There are proper ways on how to cool an overheated engine and it includes turning off your air conditioning, turning on the heater, pulling over and allowing the engine to cool off, checking your car’s fluid and topping it off when needed. If your car has cooled down, it is best that you take it to the nearest auto service shop and have it checked to determine what caused it to overheat.

Auto Repairs Are EXPENSIVE

How to Cool an Overheated Engine: Can an Overheated Engine Be Fixed?

There are many possible reasons why engines overheat, but it usually happens when there is a problem with your car’s cooling system. Your cooling system might have a leak, faulty components, or blockage somewhere within it that can prevent heat from escaping the engine compartment. Whatever the reason may be, when the engine overheats, you need to act on it immediately and not ignore it. If you delay inspections and repairs, your engine can suffer severe damage that can become too expensive to fix.

The worst thing that could happen is when the engine suffers irreversible damage that can warrant an engine replacement. With the cost of an engine replacement, sometimes repairing your car may not be worth it, especially when your car’s market value is lower than the engine replacement cost. If this is the case, selling the car as is will be a better option.

Fortunately, engines that are overheating can still be saved if you know the proper ways on how to cool an overheated engine. Like mentioned earlier, how you respond when your engine overheats can either help prevent your engine from potential damage or make the problem worse.

Since engine overheating can happen when you least expect it, you need to be aware of the signs so you will be able to recognize it early and do some preventative measures before it can cause severe damage to your engine. Some of the warning signs your engine is running too hot include:

  • Temperature gauge or warning light.

A car is equipped with a temperature or warning light so you will know the temperature of your engine when it is running. If you notice that your warning light is illuminating or flashing, it means that the engine is running beyond its normal operating temperature.

If your car has a temperature gauge, you may notice that the gauge is over the red or its metering pin has landed on the “H”, which means hot. If you notice this as well as the illuminating warning light, it means that your car needs immediate attention. You will have to pull over and allow your car to cool off.

  • Unusual smell.

The engine of a car is basically a big metal that has small plastic pieces, motor oil, and rubber gaskets and seals. When the engine is running way too hot, these parts and the oil may emit an odor that seems to smell hot. You may notice this unusual odor even if your warning light is not on or if your car has a normal temperature gauge reading. The odor may be coming from the AC vents since the engine’s location is pretty close to your HVAC system’s fresh air intake. If you notice this distinct “hot” smell, it is an indication that your car’s engine oil is very overheated and this is not a good sign. It is best that you pull over and allow your car to cool off. Have your car checked too to determine what caused it and have it corrected.

  • Coolant leak.

 Since the coolant plays a very important role in the overall function of your cooling system, when you notice that your coolant is leaking, you will most likely experience engine overheating since insufficient amount of fluid can cause your engine to overheat. It could also happen that your engine has overheated which caused the coolant to boil inside the cooling system and the leak you see is the coolant overflow tank releasing some heat.

When your engine gets too hot and overheats, it can also cause damages or cracks to the other components which can result in coolant leaks. The moment you experience this problem, you better pull over, stop your car and don’t drive it. Better call for help since your car is no longer capable of cooling the engine down effectively. If you continue to drive it at this state, it can lead to severe damage. You need to have the affected components repaired or replaced.

  • Steam coming from the hood.

When you see a cloud of steam coming from your car’s hood that may look like smoke, it is an indication that your coolant is leaking due to overheating. It can happen when the coolant becomes too hot and starts to evaporate. It will be useful to know how to cool an overheated engine when you are in this situation.

The moment that you notice any of the signs or symptoms of an overheating engine listed above, you should safely pull over right away and turn off your engine so it can cool off. By doing so, you will be able to prevent further damage to your engine as well as the other car components under the hood.

How to Cool an Overheated Engine: What to Do if Your Engine is Overheating?

Knowing how to cool an overheated engine can help prevent further damage to your engine. It is important that you are always ready to take the steps of cooling down your engine the moment you notice any of the signs of an overheating one. By doing so, you may be able to save your engine from failing or reduce the risk of irreversible damage to your engine.

So what can you really do if you notice that your engine is overheating? The proper ways on how to cool an overheated engine include:

  • Turning off the air conditioner.

The moment you notice that your temperature gauge has gone beyond the red or is nearing it, you need to turn off your car’s air conditioner immediately. This is done so the stress on the engine will be reduced since running the air conditioner makes the engine work harder.

  • Turning on the heater.

After turning off your car’s air conditioner, you need to turn on your car’s heater to its maximum heat. Doing so will help pull the heat away from the engine and keep it from overheating until you can find a safe location to pull over and cool your engine. You can open your window to allow air to circulate. You may feel some discomfort with all the heat blasting off your heater but it is better to experience a few minutes of discomfort than having to deal with severe engine problems.

  • Pulling over and turning off your car.


Probably the safest way included on the list of how to cool an overheated engine is pulling over to a safe area and turning off the car. When your engine is overheating while you are driving, pull over to a safe place immediately and shut off the engine to allow it to start cooling. You need to keep an eye on your temperature gauge while waiting for your engine to cool down.

If you are stuck in traffic or in the middle of rush hour and you can’t pull over to a safe place yet, there is still a method on how to cool an overheated engine you can use. You just need to put your car in park or neutral and give your engine some light revs to encourage water and air flow through the radiator. The water pump and radiator fan increasing in speed can help cool off your overheated engine. Try not to alternate braking and accelerating when you are stuck in bumper to bumper traffic since it can also add stress on your engine. Let your car coast instead.

  • Checking and adding coolant.

Since overheating can be caused by issues with the cooling system, you need to check your coolant level. If its level is low, top it off. This can help protect your engine and keep it from overheating until you can have it checked and repaired. But if the overheating problem is caused by a faulty radiator fan, bad water pump, or a clogged coolant hose, adding coolant might not be able to help you.

If you have no coolant with you, you can add water to help your engine cool off. Although using water is not recommended when you are driving long distances, it can help the engine remain cool while you can’t get hold of a coolant yet. If you choose to add water into your engine, make sure that you use warm water and you only add it after the engine has completely cooled off. Using cold water may result in engine block cracks because of the rapid temperature change.

  • Driving shorter distances.


Driving for shorter stretches can help maintain the normal operating temperature of the engine when you experience overheating problems. To do this, you will just have to turn off the car, allow it to cool off, then drive again. Drive for shorter distances and repeat the process until you reach your destination or your nearest auto service shop.

Make sure that you always keep an eye on your temperature gauge so you will know when to pull over, stop your car, and allow the engine to cool off. Every time you notice that your engine is starting to overheat, pull over and allow your engine to cool off for at least 10 to 20 minutes. Keep in mind that this method on how to cool an overheated engine is not a good practice, but it is much better than driving your overheating car which can result in a total meltdown.

How to Cool an Overheated Engine: What Happens if Your Car Overheats and You Keep Driving?

When you know how to cool an overheated engine, you will be able to prevent further damage from occurring. But what will happen if your car overheats and you keep driving? If you still drive your car even when its engine is overheating, you will most likely experience these problems:

  • Warped cylinder heads.

The cylinder heads are usually made of metals like aluminum that can melt when exposed to extreme heat. If you ignore your overheating engine and choose to continue driving, it can cause your cylinder heads to warp. This can lead to misfiring, reduced engine power, and excessive burning of oil.  Driving with an overheated engine can also cause damages to your wirings, belts, seals, and sensors.

  • Damage hoses.

Coolant in your hoses can boil and expand when your engine overheats. This can result in pressure building up within the hoses until they will break loose. When this happens, it can cause severe damage to the engine and some of its components since the boiling coolant can spew all over the engine.

  • Blown head gasket.

The head gasket is considered one of the most expensive car parts to repair. You might just have to prepare for a very costly repair if you continue to drive a car with an overheated engine since it can damage your head gasket. When the head gasket has blown, the coolant will start to mix with oil and the mixture will be sent through the different parts of your engine that may lead to severe damages to your engine, its components, and the transmission.

It is important that you know how to cool an overheated engine. This way, you can respond properly and fast every time you notice that your engine is starting to run too hot. Overheating is not something you can ignore. You need to act on it immediately, find out what is causing it, and have it repaired.