One of the most dreaded things that can happen to a driver is being broken down on the side of the road. An overheating car is one of the leading causes of vehicles breaking down, as cooling system maintenance is often overlooked. We got our mechanics in Pompano Beach to discuss what you should and shouldn’t do if your car overheats.
What Causes a Car to Overheat?
All cars overheat, from cooling system problems in Porsches to toasty Toyotas, they all share the three main causes of overheating cars:
- Lack of coolant
- Lack of coolant flow
- Insufficient heat transfer
Each one of these can be caused by several issues or failed components in your car.
Lack Of Coolant
If a car overheats, a lack of coolant is the usual suspect. The coolant deficit can actually cause both a lack of coolant flow and insufficient heat transfer.
What do we mean by that?
Your car’s coolant system is a closed system, which means air cannot enter or escape. When coolant runs low, it allows air pockets to build in the system. These air pockets have nowhere to go restricting, and sometimes completely stopping coolant flow. This is known as an airlock.
Radiators are at their most efficient when they have a steady flow of coolant through them and are free from air pockets. A lack of coolant can mean that there isn’t enough coolant in the system for the coolant pump to maintain a steady flow. Thus, making your car overheat.
Lack Of Coolant Flow
We’ve already discussed how airlocks restrict coolant flow, but there are a few other factors that can reduce flow. Some ways the coolant flow is diminished include:
- Failed components, the most obvious being the coolant pump itself
- The thermostat
A thermostat acts as a gate in the coolant system. When your car’s engine is cold it restricts coolant flow to allow the engine to reach operating temperature quicker. Once the engine is at operating temperature, the thermostat opens and allows the coolant to flow freely. When thermostats fail, they get stuck in the closed position, permanently restricting coolant flow. The next thing you know? Your car overheats, leaving you destitute on I-95, and late for the hot date you were supposed to meet at Joe’s Stone Crab in 20 minutes.
Insufficient Heat Transfer
Insufficient heat transfer can occur in two sections of the cooling system, the engine, and the radiator.
Firstly, if you have been using straight tap water in your car’s coolant system instead of distilled water or antifreeze, limescale deposits will begin forming on the inside of the coolant channels. This decreases the efficiency at which heat transfers from the engine to the coolant. This can also occur in the radiator, decreasing the efficiency at which heat transfers from the coolant to the surrounding air.
Secondly, another factor to consider is radiator damage. It’s natural for your radiator to pick up some damage from stones and sand while you’re driving. However, excessive damage to the little fins on your radiator decreases the surface area of the radiator and decreases the efficiency of your radiator. Dirt, mud, and dust can also have an insulating effect on your radiator, further lowering its heat transfer efficiency.
What NOT To Do When Your Car Overheats
The most important thing to do is to not panic. Cars overheat, it happens.
First and foremost, do not try to restart your car or continue driving as this may cause more damage to your engine.
The next big mistake people make when their car overheats is they attempt to open the coolant reservoir or radiator cap immediately after the car stops running. Do not do this under any circumstances!
The coolant in your car is both pressurized and hot (usually well-over 200℉) and opening the cap will cause the coolant to erupt and shoot out. This could burn you or anyone in the vicinity. Furthermore, the hot coolant can cause damage to parts in the engine bay.
What To Do When Your Car Overheats?
When you first see the temperature gauge creeping towards the hot side, the first thing you should do is open your car’s windows, and turn the heater and fans to max.
A car’s heater core is really just a small secondary radiator and allowing all that hot air to escape may be just enough to bring your engine temperatures down and help you get to a service station or mechanic.
When you do come to a stop, open your car’s hood to allow heat to escape, and leave the heater running if possible. This will help your engine cool down faster. Allow the engine to cool down to the point where you can comfortably touch it without getting burned. Only then should your car be inspected for low coolant or leaks.
Mechanics In Pompano Beach
At Foreign Affairs Motorwerks, we’re bonafide car people. We pride ourselves in building and racing prepping cars, and if there’s one fact that will always remain true, it’s that race cars need cooling.
With over 30 years of racing experience, we have encountered and solved any issue an overheating car could have. So, whether your car is overheating, or you have just finished a list of modifications and are scared your car might overheat, contact our auto shop or stop by our Pompano Beach location, where one of our ASE certified mechanics will be more than happy to help.