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Posted: 01/19/2023

Car Overheating? Find Out Why and How to Fix It

Of all the possible problems you can have with a vehicle, finding out your car is overheating is one of the most worrisome. Overheating in vehicles can lead to a litany of problems, almost all of which are far more expensive to fix than the problem causing the overheating to begin with. 

When your engine turns at thousands of rotations per minute,  heat builds quickly, and without the proper resources to dissipate this heat, your engine can be destroyed in a matter of minutes. From failing head gaskets to cracked engine blocks, warped cylinders, and that dreaded engine knocking noise, your pocketbook will thank you for taking preventative measures to stop your car from overheating. 

What are the signs of a car overheating? How can you prevent it from happening? Read on to learn more.

Signs of a Car Overheating

The sooner you know about your car overheating and take action, the more money you’ll save on expensive repairs. But what signs should you be looking for? Keep an eye out for the following signs and symptoms to diagnose and correct the problem early.

  • Engine temperature gauge is climbing towards the “H”

  • Steam or smoke coming from underneath the hood

  • Strange odors or smells

  • Hood is hot to the touch

  • Coolant underneath the vehicle

  • Emergency notifications in newer vehicles

  • Thumping/ticking sound

  • Heater suddenly blows cold

What to Do When Your Car Overheats While Driving

If you’re out for a drive, or just headed to work on your morning commute, what should you do when you notice your engine overheating? First things first, turn off the A/C and crank up the heat! This may be counterintuitive, but it lets the engine disperse some of that heat into the cabin of the car, meaning less hot air is surrounding the engine and filling the engine compartment. 

Find a safe place to pull over, the sooner the better. Engine damage is still less costly than possibly injuring yourself or others in an accident, so be sure to pull over only where it’s safe and you’ll have room to open the hood to inspect the engine compartment. 

Briefly touch the hood before opening it, as there’s a good chance that built-up steam or smoke will spew out the front of the hood, where you’re standing, so if the hood is hot, wait a few minutes before you pop it open. 

Possible Causes of Car Overheating, and How to Fix Them

So we’ve established that your car is overheating, meaning that the next step to determine is why your car is having this particular issue. No matter the cause, the overall problem is that your engine is not dispersing heat quickly enough. There are several systems in place to ensure that this doesn’t happen in the regular life of the car, so we can immediately narrow the list down to a few things. 

Once you’ve determined that it’s safe to open, go ahead and open the hood, but give extra time before you check the coolant reserve. It’s a pressurized system, so opening it just after heating can lead to a small explosion of very hot coolant which will mostly be directed at you. Don’t open this less than 45 minutes after you noticed the car overheating, for your own safety.

Failing Coolant System as a Cause of Car Overheating

The amount of fluid left in the reservoir, once you’ve opened it, should be indicative of the underlying issue. If there’s very little, or none at all left, it’s quite likely you have a leak somewhere within your coolant system. It could be a leak, or it could be a failure somewhere within the coolant system itself. We’d recommend trying an Engine Coolant System Pressure Tester to determine the extent of attention you’ll need to pay toward the cooling system. You could simply be out of coolant, as some older vehicles are prone to using up or leaking coolant. 

Water Pump Failure as a Cause of Car Overheating

If your coolant system appears to be without problems, the next most likely candidate to be replaced would be the vehicle’s water pump. These vary by make and model, so be sure to select the right one for your vehicle. The water pump pushes coolant from the radiator through the rest of the coolant system, then into the engine, and back around to the radiator, dissipating the heat by spraying a mix of coolant and water throughout its fins, which dissipates the heat into the air while returning the coolant to the system.

Radiator Failure as a Cause of Car Overheating

If it’s not the water pump, it may be the radiator, another vital part of the coolant system. If the water pump isn’t broken, there’s a good chance that the radiator itself has issues that must be resolved. 

If you’ve made it this far down the list and haven’t resolved the issue, the problem may be a little less intuitive to solve. 

Thermostat Failure as a Cause of Car Overheating

The thermostat on your vehicle determines how much coolant is being pushed through the coolant system at any given time, and if it fails, it may lead to the engine overheating despite the rest of the coolant system working exactly as intended. 

Belts & Hoses as a Cause of Car Overheating

Once we’ve cleared the rest of these issues, we can take a look at the belts & hoses that comprise the rest of the cooling system. If one of these belts or hoses is frayed, worn, or otherwise damaged, it can cause a failure to operate at a speed that will keep your car in the correct heat range. There’s a variety of different types of belts & hoses that could be the problem, and sometimes the problem can come from unexpected places, so be sure to check all of your belts.

Heater Core Failure as a Cause of Car Overheating

Finally, if the problem still hasn’t been resolved, it may be the fault of the heater core, which can become plugged and compromised. The heater core is auxiliary to the coolant system, as it’s responsible only for keeping warm air flowing into the car’s cabin when you turn the vehicle’s heat on. This is the same heat that’s taken from the engine by the cooling system, so a blockage in the heater core can lead to that excess heat being funneled right back into the engine. In some newer vehicles, there are two separate heater cores for dual-zone climate control, so be sure to check both of them should you suspect this to be the issue.


If you notice that your car is overheating, pull over as soon as it’s safe to do so. Give the car some time before you open the hood, then go down our list and determine what’s causing the overheating problem to begin with. After checking all of these, if you’re still not sure why your car is overheating, stop by Arnold Motor Supply and one of our experts would be happy to point you to the parts that will get your car back on the road! 

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