What to do when your car overheats?

With the advancement in technology and the development of more advanced engines, car overheating seems like a thing of the past. Overheating is more common in summers because the Air Conditioning is on full blast and the coolant is working at its full force to keep the engine cool. Modern cars are equipped with heat sensors and fans that are controlled by many computers whose job is to ensure that the engine stays in the optimum temperature and does not overheats. However, that does not mean that you should not know some of the basics and do’s in case the car overheats.

Why do engines overheat?

What to do when your car overheats?

The engine overheats because the cooling system of the vehicle is not working efficiently or properly and the engine’s heat is not able to escape from the engine compartment. There can be numerous reason why the engine can overheat. However, most of them involve some fault with the radiator fan, gaskets, water pump, leakage, hoses or a clogged radiator. 

What are the signs of overheating?

There are many signs of overheating and identifying an overheated engine is not difficult. Below are some signs of overheating:-

  • Strange odour can enter the cabin and you should be able to notice it. It can be a sweet smell or a burnt one depending on the liquid that is leaking.
  • The temperature gauge would start rising and go towards hot. Usually, it is denoted with a red area in the gauge or “H”.
  • Steam or smoke could be seen coming out from the hood.

What to do when the car overheats?

Turn on the heater

Yes, turning on the heater when the engine is overheated might seem counterintuitive but there is a good and effective reason for it. When you turn on the heater, the heat from the engine is drawn out and is directed into the cabin. This may heat up the cabin but the cooling system of the engine has to work less as it is now less strained.

Turn off the air conditioning

Turning the air conditioning off is a very crucial step. The air conditioning puts a lot of strain because it is powered directly by the engine. Turning the air conditioner off will take a lot of load off the engine and will help it cool down at a faster rate.


As soon as you find a safe place to park your car, you should pull over.  Then turn off your car for at least 15-20 minutes. This will allow the engine to cool down. Observe the temperature gauge as the temperature of the engine starts decreasing. This time will also give you a chance to call the roadside assistance, your friend, mechanic or someone that might help you in repairing the car or tow it.

Open bonnet

What to do when your car overheats?

Once the engine has been somewhat cooled down, you can open the bonnet very carefully. You should use a towel or some thick cloth to open the bonnet because it will be hot. Opening the bonnet will let fresh cool air to ventilate the engine bay better. Thus, fastening the engine cool down. This may also give you a chance to look what has gone wrong with the engine but remember not to touch anything because the engine bay will still be hot and you can burn yourself.

Restart the engine

If no one is coming for your help then you might need to go to the nearest mechanic or service centre yourself. Only restart the engine when the temperature gauge is on “C” or blue area. Remember your cooling system is still not working properly so the engine temperature will eventually increase. So, you need to keep an eye on the temperature gauge and repeat the above-stated process when the temperature gauge starts going towards “H” or the red area. Keep doing this and you will reach the nearest service centre that will be able to assist you and take care of your car.

A common mistake that people do when the engine overheats is open the bonnet instantly. You should not do this because you will end up burning yourself from the hot steam that will escape instantly from the engine bay. Most importantly don’t panic and think what you are gonna do next. You should keep an extra bottle of coolant and water in the boot which can come in handy in situations like these. Also, remember when your car is repaired, test it thoroughly and ensure that the engine is not overheating. This will make sure that you are not stranded again.