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What To Do If Your Car Overheats

Updated August 12, 2014

Cars are a complicated piece of machinery and lots of things can go wrong. So the car is doing something funny and you have no idea what it might be. This next series will help you with some basic diagnostics.

As you’re driving along on a hot summer day suddenly you start to what looks like smoke coming out of the front. Your stomach turns in disgust. Now what? You glance at your dashboard and see that the temperature is way into the red. Your car is overheating.

Basically put, your car is sick with a fever. Here is what you do. Get off the road ASAP and try to find a parking place near a gas station or at least a fast food place (we will get to that in a minute).  If the situation is severe enough, or you’re on the highway and don’t have an exit ramp nearby then pull over to the side of the road.

Open the hood of your car. Fortunately you realize this is not smoke but just steam and it is coming out of the cap of the radiator. If you look to the left of the radiator there is generally a plastic over flow area. You might see steam coming out of it and there might be boiling water in it as well.

DO NOT take the lid off the radiator cap or overflow. The scalding spray of steam WILL burn you. Don’t even try it with a rage or glove. The heat will shoot right through (trust me, I know…) Now you are just going to have to sit and wait for it to cool down some.  I have heard rumors of people spraying water on the engine and radiator to cool it but I have never heard this confirmed by anyone.

After at least 15 minutes (if not longer) turn your car on and check the temperature. If it is not in the red and steam has lessened you can try to open it.  Take a rag and open the overflow area, if you can’t find it try the radiator cap (if feels to hot still the wait longer.)  If you are near a gas station or fast food place go get some water and pour it into the overflow or the radiator. It will probably steam up. Do this until the car cools back down. If at a gas station you can buy some coolant to fill it with. If it has cooled back down this will give a little bit of driving time. Not much but if you are close to home you can probably make it, if not then try to make it to a mechanic. Wait until the cooler parts of the day if you can. When driving keep an eye on the temperature, if it gets to high stop and pull over, you might have to do the cooling process again. Try to get to a mechanic or home though.

Jeff Jordan lives, play and frolics in sunny SoCal. He writes about volcanos, cars and wineries. One place to find a very reliable car is Enterprise Car Sales.

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Calvin Escobar
About Calvin Escobar

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