The last thing you want in the summer is to get stranded on the side of the road with an overheating engine block. Unfortunately, the first warning sign most people get of their vehicle overheating comes in the form of the temp gauge spiking moments before the “check engine” light kicks on. Here are some tips on what to do in the event your car overheats and how to keep it from happening frequently.

Minimizing Damage Now

Taking the right measures when your engine overheats can prevent more catastrophic and permanent damage. At the first opportunity, pull off the road, shut the vehicle off and open the hood to allow heat to vent. If you can’t stop immediately, roll down the windows and shut off the AC to reduce stress on the engine, and turn the heater on to vent additional heat from the engine into the cabin. Though uncomfortable for you and your passengers, this greatly lowers the risk of lasting engine damage. Don’t touch the radiator cap until the engine’s cooled down, as you risk severe burns if you try to handle an overheated radiator.

Identifying Cooling Failures

Low coolant or issues with the coolant filtration systems are common culprits, but they’re not the only possible causes of overheating. Other causes include:

  • Low oil, as oil also acts to cycle waste heat away;
  • Impaired circulation caused by plugged radiator or collapsed radiator hose;
  • Malfunctioning ignition system causing spark plugs to fire late;
  • Pockets of air in the coolant system;
  • Defective thermostat.

Preventing Further Overheating

If you find that your engine overheats frequently, consult with a mechanic as soon as possible to see what can be done. While many likely causes can be diagnosed yourself, fixing them may require professional help. Additionally, avoid driving the vehicle too much after the engine cools—even though it’s stopped overheating at the time, the risk of it overheating again is much higher. Get the engine checked at the first opportunity once you’ve gotten it under control.

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