What to do if your car engine is overheating

What to do if your car engine is overheating

You’re sitting in a traffic jam and your engine’s temperature gauge starts going into the red. This is not a good sign! So what do you do if your engine is overheating and why is it happening?

There are two main reasons for this:

  • Your engine coolant level is too low
  • The engine cooling fan has a fault

Checking the engine coolant levels

Your engine could be overheating because the coolant levels are too low.

As confirmed car geeks, we have to say that ideally you’d check your coolant as part of your regular monthly car maintenance checks. Obviously, that doesn’t always happen because life is busy and your car might just be a means of transport, rather than your pride and joy.

How to check the coolant in your car engine

So how do you know if the engine light is coming on because your coolant levels are low? There’s no dashboard alert for this so you need to get under the bonnet and take a look for yourself.

Here’s the step by step:

  1. Wait for your engine to cool before you check anything.
  2. Open up the bonnet and locate your coolant tan. Look for a spherical container with a blue lid (see picture).
  3. You should be able to see the level without opening the bottle. Find the level markers and check if the coolant level is below the “min” line.
  4. If it is lower than the minimum, you’ll need to top it up with the right engine coolant for your vehicle (more on that below).
  5. The system is pressurised to you’ll need to take care when opening the lid of the coolant reservoir. There is a danger of scalding from the escaping steam, so use gloves, a rag or some material to protect your hands.
  6. Once the coolant container is open, top up the levels with coolant but do not overfill the container. The level should be between the marker lines, and never filled to the top.
  7. Replace the cap and you’re done.

Types of engine coolant

There are two types of engine coolant: pink and blue.

  • Pink coolant is used in more modern cars. Year 2000+ because it’s better for aluminium-based engines.
  • Blue coolant is generally more suitable for older cars up to 1999. Older engines have more steel which is why blue coolant is better.

The correct type of coolant for your car will be in your car’s handbook.

You can top up the coolant in your engine yourself using the steps above. It’s always advisable to keep some coolant in the boot of your car in case of emergencies.

However, if you’re really stuck and need to top up the coolant urgently, you can use plain drinking water as a short term stop gap. Coolant is always the better choice for your engine, but we’re all caught short sometimes!

How to know if your engine is overheating because of a faulty cooling fan

The engine warning light is on, and you’ve checked the coolant levels and all is fine. In that case, it might be that your engine is overheating because there is a fault with the engine cooling fan.

There’s an easy way to diagnose whether there’s an issue with the engine cooling fan. First, here’s what the engine cooling fan should be doing if your temperature warning light is on.

When you turn off the car and come round to the bonnet, you should hear a whirring sound of the engine cooling fan. This means it’s doing its best to bring the temperature down as fast as it can.

If you don’t hear the sound of the fan hard at work, then there’s likely to be a fault with the engine cooling fan.

What to do if your car has a faulty cooling fan

The best course of action is to take your car to a garage and get it checked out. The only long term solution is to have the fan fixed or replaced if necessary.

If you’re on the road and can’t turn back, there are a couple of temporary solutions that should get you to your destination. But only if there is sufficient coolant in the engine so check this first!

Driving steadily at normal speeds will cool the engine down purely because of the air flow through the engine. Even if it’s 30C outside.

If you’re stuck in a jam and can’t move continuously, you can cool the engine down temporarily by putting the heater in the car on max and car fan on max. This sounds really counter intuitive, and you’ll be pretty uncomfortable inside the car, but it will cool the engine down providing there is enough coolant to do this.

Count on VFR Motors for fan fixes and advice

We’re always here to provide car-related advice and quality repairs. So if you think there’s a problem with the engine cooling fan, or just need pointing in the direction of the coolant tank, give us a call.

For car repair in Leicester, get in touch using our contact form or give us a call on either of these numbers: 0116 3190 118 or mobile 07850 881 911.

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