Car Overheating; Causes and Short-Term Solutions

Engine overheating is one of the more common problems with cars, even more so in the summertime when we keep the air-conditioning on. It is also one of the most frustrating car troubles you can encounter because there is very little you can do without a mechanic. While car overheating is common and frustrating, it is also a pretty serious problem- it could damage your engine and other parts, it could cause smoke.

We consulted with automobile experts, and gathered a list of the main causes for car over-heating and some great tips on what you can do for a temporary fix so you can get to a mechanic.

Thermostat Malfunction

“The simplest problem can cause major overheating problems. A $20 thermostat can malfunction and close off the coolant from the radiator. Often this happens in the winter with an improper mixture of antifreeze.” (Steve Warren)

Coolant Leak

“Or a leak in a $5 hose can drain the coolant to empty from the system.” (Steve Warren)

Radiator Punctured

“Other times, the radiator itself can get punctured or rust a hole and leak. Although more costly than the other parts mentioned here, left unchecked would cause even more expensive repairs.

At times the same thing can happen to the heater core.” (Steve Warren)

Worn out Gasket

“Even worse is when it is a gasket. The head gasket is a rather cheap piece of rubber or cork that is the only thing standing between the coolant and the rest of the engine. When it wears out, radiator fluid can escape into the combustion chamber causing the tell-tale white smoke.” (Steve Warren)

Fix: Check For Leaks

“To prevent all of this, check your hoses and connections regularly. Look for signs of leaks at the radiator and hoses. Look for puddles under your car. If the heater core goes, you may see a puddle on the passenger side floorboard or even smell it coming through the vents.” (Steve Warren)

Fix: Pay Attention to Smells

“When driving, pay attention to smells. Radiator fluid smells sweet when burned, indicating coolant leaking onto the hot engine.” (Steve Warren)

Fix: Regular Maintenance

“Be sure to adhere to regular maintenance schedules. Your mechanic will have a keen eye for these problems and can find out if you are losing pressure in the system (or gaining pressure from a blown head gasket).”

Steve Warren from Maps Over Coffee, a road trip website that helps keep drivers on the road.

Issues with the Coolant

“One of the most common causes of a car overheating stems from some sort of issue with the cooling system. In most cars, the radiator is where these problems most often occur. Older vehicles can have significant degradation of the plastic reservoir that holds coolant and helps circulate it throughout the vehicle’s cooling system. If any of this plastic is damaged, it can cause a coolant leak that reduces the effectiveness of the radiator, usually to the point that the vehicle overheats.” (Thomas Hopkins)

Fix: Stop and Allow it to Cool

“If your vehicle overheats and you’re far from home, stop your vehicle and let it cool down for at least a couple of hours before attempting to drive it again.” (Thomas Hopkins)

Fix: Add more Coolant or Water

“If you happen to have extra coolant in your car, fill the radiator to capacity. While driving, keep a very close eye on your temperature monitor and pull over and stop the car as soon as it gets close to the max. If you don’t have any coolant on hand, you can fill your radiator with water to help keep it cool for at least 5-10 minutes before it all boils out. This is, in no way, shape, or form, a replacement for coolant and is an extremely temporary solution.” (Thomas Hopkins)

Fix: Temporary Crack Fix

“If there is a visible crack, a quick temporary fix is some sort of two-part epoxy putty that can be applied over the damaged plastic to prevent the crack from getting bigger and losing more coolant. Most modern vehicles should be able to handle any amount of summer heat if your radiator is working correctly. If your car can’t keep cool, there is a problem with your cooling system that needs to get checked out as soon as possible.”

Thomas Hopkins, Content Strategist for

Car Under Stress

“If you’re putting your engine under a lot of stress, such as driving up a steep hill during a really hot day, you may notice your car starting to overheat. If that happens, pull over to the side of the road and wait 10-15 minutes for the engine to cool. When you start driving again, put the car into a lower gear and drive no faster than 30-40 MPH.” (Brent Bloom)

Again- Coolant Issues 

“Another reason your car may overheat is due to a problem with the cooling system, such as leaking coolant, a broken radiator fan, or a faulty water pump. These are much more serious problems, and will require you or a mechanic to replace parts.” (Brent Bloom)

Fix: During a Long Drive, be Careful Until you can Get to a Mechanic

“If this happens during a long trip and you don’t have access to a tow, you can still drive the car. You just have to be careful. Like your car overheating on a hill, take frequent stops and drive slowly to avoid making the car work too hard and overheat. If your radiator fan or water pump is the faulty component, then you’ll have to do this until you can replace the part.” (Brent Bloom)

Fix: Get More Coolant

“If you have a coolant leak, then drive to the nearest gas station or auto parts shop and buy as much coolant that’s compatible with your car as you can. There are three types of coolant: orange, green, and blue. It’s very important you get the right one for your car! If you don’t, a chemical reaction will occur when the car begins to heat that turns the coolant into a gel-like substance. It will require a very expensive repair.

“Once you can work on fixing your car, you or your mechanic will have to find the broken component. If it’s a burst hose, broken radiator fan, cracked radiator, or water pump, then it will be an easy, fast, and inexpensive repair.” (Brent Bloom)

Blown Head Gasket

“However, the worst-case scenario is a blown head gasket. This would require a complete disassembly of the engine, making it one of the most expensive repairs a car can require. It can’t be ignored, either; the longer you wait, the worse your engine will run. You will have to decide whether to spend money repairing your car or buying a new one.”

Brent Bloom, Operations Manager at PrecisionLED

Author Profile

Amanda Thomas
Amanda Thomas
A professional auto-engineer woman, Amanda has worked with the development and design team of automotive companies to employ sophisticated technology in a reliable and user-friendly method in the vehicle’s navigation, alarm, control, and fuel usages.
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