Repairing Your Overheating Engine

Troubleshooting an Engine That Is Overheating

engine overheating
Don't get mad, repair your overheating engine now. Getty

When the weather is warm, we rely on our car's cooling system to keep temperatures in the engine compartment under control, and keep us on the road. Your cooling system is a series of components that circulate coolant through the engine to absorb heat, then circulate air around the coolant to get it out. If any part of the system stops working, you're on the side of the road while your engine takes a steam bath.

The best medicine is preventive. You should flush your radiator on schedule to keep the system clean and well flowing. Unfortunately we aren't always lucky, and things go wrong. Let me help you figure out why your car or truck is running hot or overheating.

There are two types of overheating, and they are very different in both symptoms and your plan of attack for repairs. Check out the details of the following two overheating scenarios and get to the bottom of your hot problems. 

Your Engine Overheats Quickly on Short Trips

Your Engine Overheats After Extended Driving

If your engine is overheating shortly after you leave, or it heats up even on short trips, you should check the following possible causes and repair suggestions.

Symptom: Engine quickly overheats. Engine runs fine but gets very hot shortly after you start it. This problem usually occurs after only five minutes of running or after traveling about a mile. You may or may not notice steam coming from the hood or smell coolant.

Possible causes:

  1. Engine coolant level may be very low.
    The Fix: Refill coolant to proper level.
  2. Engine's drive belts may be broken or slipping.
    The Fix: Tighten or replace belts.
  3. The electric cooling fan may not be coming on.
    The Fix: Repair or replace cooling fan. Repair wiring. Replace cooling fan temp sensor.
  4. The ignition timing may be set wrong.
    The Fix: Adjust ignition timing.
  5. There may be a vacuum leak.
    The Fix: Check and replace vacuum lines as required.
  6. The engine may have mechanical problems.
    The Fix: Check compression to determine engine condition.
  7. The engine's thermostat may be stuck closed.
    The Fix: Replace thermostat.
  8. There may be a leak in the cooling system.
    The Fix: Repair leak and refill coolant. Cylinder head gasket(s) may be bad.
    The Fix: Replace cylinder head gasket(s).

In some cases your engine may be running fine, and may seem to be cured of its overheating problem except on extended drives or long sits in traffic. If this is the case with your car or truck, check out the following things to look out for and suggestions.

Symptom: Engine overheats. Engine runs fine but gets very hot while driving. This problem usually occurs after moderate to extended periods of driving.

You may or may not notice steam coming from the hood or smell coolant.

Possible causes:

  1. Engine coolant level may be too low.
    The Fix: Refill coolant to proper level.
  2. Engine's drive belts may be broken or slipping.
    The Fix: Tighten or replace belts.
  3. The electric cooling fan may not be coming on.
    The Fix: Repair or replace cooling fan. Repair wiring. Replace cooling fan temp sensor.
  4. The ignition timing may be set wrong.
    The Fix: Adjust ignition timing.
  5. There may be a vacuum leak.
    The Fix: Check and replace vacuum lines as required.
  6. The engine may have mechanical problems.
    The Fix: Check compression to determine engine condition.
  7. There may be a leak in the cooling system.
    The Fix: Repair leak and refill coolant.
  8. Cylinder head gasket(s) may be bad.
    The Fix: Replace cylinder head gasket(s).
  9. Car is over loaded or driven too hard.
    The Fix: Lighten the load and back off the gas.
  10. The radiator or block may be clogged.
    The Fix: Reverse flush cooling system and fill with fresh coolant.