What are the Symptoms of Engine Overheating? | What to do if My Car Engine Overheats?

The proper functioning of the engine is crucial for the optimal performance of a vehicle. Various factors can cause engine overheating, which can result in damage or failure of engine components. The primary cause of car engine overheating is often related to a malfunctioning cooling system. This article aims to discuss the symptoms and causes of engine overheating in detail.

What is Engine Overheating?

Engine overheating occurs when the engine temperature exceeds its normal operating range, causing it to become excessively hot.

Symptoms of car Engine Overheating

There are various reasons that contribute to engine overheating problems, including blown head gaskets, malfunctioning water pumps, low engine oil, defective radiators, coolant leaks, insufficient coolant, cracked engine blocks, or damaged hoses.

Signs of Engine Overheating

The following are the major symptoms of engine overheating:

  • Temperature Gauge Showing High Temperature
  • Steam from Engine
  • Hot Coolant
  • Poor Acceleration
  • Engine Noise
  • Burning Smell
  • Thumping Noise
  • Cracked Engine Block
  • Coolant Temperature Warning Light
  • Blown Head Gasket

1) Temperature Gauge Showing High Temperature

The vehicle contains multiple warning symbols and lights. Every car is equipped with a temperature gauge installed on the dashboard, which displays the engine’s temperature. This gauge serves as a simple and effective way to monitor engine temperature.

Temperature Gauge

Under normal conditions, the gauge’s needle remains near the center, indicating that the engine is operating at its optimal temperature and functioning properly. If the needle moves toward or into the red zone, it signals that the engine is more than normal and is overheating.

2) Steam from Engine

When an engine overheats, you may observe steam coming out from under the hood. The steam or smoke occurs when the hot coolant boils and produces steam. It indicates potential issues with coolant circulation, a clogged reservoir, or a defective radiator cap.

Steam from engine

3) Hot Coolant

Coolant plays a crucial role in circulating throughout the engine, absorbing heat, and maintaining its normal operating temperature.

If the coolant is hot, it indicates that the engine is overheating due to an improperly functioning cooling system.

4) Poor Acceleration

A decrease in vehicle power may also occur due to engine overheating. The engine’s power may be reduced for various reasons, but overheating is a common cause.

Poor Acceleration due to engine overheating

As your engine overheats, the pistons within the engine cylinders expand, limiting the crankshaft’s rotational area. As a result, the engine cannot generate enough power to meet the car’s acceleration needs.

5) Engine Noise

A clicking noise coming from the engine compartment may show that its moving parts are dry and they need sufficient lubrication for cooling. If the engine coolant isn’t properly flowing throughout the engine, the engine oil can become too hot.

Engine Noise

Overheated engine oil loses its viscosity, diminishing its ability to lubricate the parts effectively. As a result, the metal components come into direct contact with one another, generating clicking noises.

6) Burning Smell

The engine comprises various parts made of diverse materials like rubber, metal, and plastic.

Burning Smell

As your engine overheats, the engine parts can become damaged, producing a distinct burning smell that permeates the cabin. Overheated oil can also emit an odor, indicating engine overheating.

7) Thumping Noise

The cooling system’s thermostat is responsible for regulating coolant flow between the valve and the radiator, ensuring efficient engine operation. If the thermostat becomes blocked, the coolant can get trapped within the engine block, where it turns into the superheated coolant.

When cold coolant comes into contact with the superheated coolant, a loud thumping noise can be heard in the engine. Replacing the thermostat typically resolves this issue.

8) Cracked Engine Block

cracked Engine Block

A damaged engine block is a primary symptom of engine overheating. Engine blocks or cylinders often crack because of excessive temperatures.

9) Coolant Temperature Warning Light

The coolant temperature warning light is a significant indicator of engine overheating. When this light is illuminated, it suggests that your vehicle’s coolant level is insufficient, causing the engine to overheat.

Coolant Temperature Warning Light

If the coolant temperature warning light comes on, immediately switch off the engine, check the coolant level, and add more coolant.

10) Blown Head Gasket

Blow Head Gasket, signs of engine overheating

The head gasket, which is designed to withstand excessive temperatures and pressures within the engine, can also become damaged or blown when the internal temperature surpasses its tolerable limit.

Read More: Bad Intake Manifold Gasket Symptoms and Causes

Causes of Engine Overheating

Your engine overheats due to one or more below-given causes:

  • Blown or Leaked Head Gasket
  • Coolant Leak
  • Faulty Water Pump
  • Heavy load or high-performance driving
  • Low Engine Oil
  • Blocked Cooling Passages
  • Leaky Hoses
  • Bad Radiator
  • Insufficient Maintenance

1) Blown or Leaked Head Gasket

The head gasket is placed between the cylinder block and cylinder head, preventing oil and coolant from entering the combustion chamber. Coolant or oil can enter the combustion chamber and burn with the air/fuel mixture when the head gasket is damaged or leaking.

This causes the engine to work harder to achieve the desired performance, leading to a shortage of oil or coolant and eventual engine overheating.

2) Coolant Leak

If you notice a small puddle of coolant underneath your vehicle, it indicates a coolant leak, which can result in engine overheating.

Without enough coolant in the cooling system to regulate the engine’s temperature, the engine will overheat quickly. If you don’t address this issue in time, this can cause serious damage to the engine components.

3) Faulty Water Pump

The cooling system’s pump is in charge of circulating coolant throughout the engine. If the water pump goes bad, it will be unable to flow the coolant effectively. As a result, the coolant will not absorb the engine’s heat, causing the engine to overheat.

4) Heavy load or high-performance driving

Towing heavy loads or engaging in high-performance driving may put extra strain on the engine, causing it to produce more heat and potentially overheat.

5) Low Engine Oil

Engine oil plays a vital role in cooling the engine’s moving parts. It absorbs their heat and keeps their temperature stable. If the moving parts become dry, they can collide and become damaged. A lack of oil is a leading cause of engine overheating.

Read More: What Happens if You Add Wrong Engine Oil?

6) Blocked Cooling Passages

Debris or sediment buildup in the engine’s cooling passages may block the coolant flow, which may cause the engine to overheat.

7) Leaky Hoses

Hoses transport coolant from the reservoir to the engine and back to the radiator. If these hoses have leaks, the engine may not receive enough coolant, leading to overheating.

Regular inspection and maintenance of the hoses are essential. Replace any leaking hoses as soon as they are detected.

8) Bad Radiator

The radiator employs a fan to dissipate heat from the coolant, cooling it down. If your car’s radiator is damaged, the coolant won’t cool properly. Hot coolant can’t effectively absorb engine heat, causing the engine to overheat.

9) Insufficient Maintenance

Regular engine maintenance is crucial for its optimal performance. It not only improves the engine’s performance and lifespan but also helps prevent overheating.

Read More: Why Car Shakes at Idle 

What to do if my car engine overheats

  1. Turn off the engine: When your engine overheats, park your car in a safe location and turn off the engine. Don’t try to continue driving with an overheated engine because it may lead to severe damage.
  2. Wait for a few minutes: Wait for a few minutes and let your engine cool down by opening the hood.
  3. Open the hood: Open the hood; your hood and surrounding parts may be hot. Therefore, don’t finger any parts until their temperature becomes normal.
  4. Check the coolant level: As your engine is cooled, properly inspect the coolant level in the coolant tank. If it’s low, check the cooling system for a leak. Add more coolant according to the requirements if needed.
  5. Inspect for leaks: Inspect the system to find any visible coolant leak around the thermostat housing, water pump, hoses, and radiator. If you finally locate the leaks, you need to fix them as soon as possible.
  6. Inspect the radiator fan: Check the radiator fan to ensure its optimum working. If your fan is damaged or running at the desired speed, it may be contributing to the overheating issue.
  7. Restart the engine: Restart your car engine and notice the engine temperature on the temperature gauge. If this gauge is within the normal range, you can comfortably continue driving and drive your vehicle to the nearest service station. If the temperature starts to increase again, turn off the engine and contact a professional.
  8. Call a tow truck: If the issue continues or you notice severe engine damage, it is ideal to contact a tow truck and have your car taken to the nearest workshop.
  9. Preventative maintenance: To stop future engine overheating problems, make sure to keep up with regular maintenance, including replacing worn hoses, checking coolant levels, checking oil levels, and ensuring the radiator fan is functioning correctly. Regularly inspect your vehicle’s cooling system and address any issues promptly.

FAQ Section

How do you prevent an Engine from Overheating?

Follow the below-given tips to avoid car engine overheating:

  • Regularly maintain your engine
  • Check the drive belt of your vehicle to ensure that there is no unusual wear and tear
  • Ensure sufficient coolant level
  • Fix the coolant or oil leaks as soon as possible
  • Ensure the proper lubrication of the engine parts
  • Ensure the proper maintenance of the engine cooling system
  • Keep an eye on the temperature gauge of your car
  • Check the coolant level and engine oil level before driving the vehicle
  • Inspect the engine parts such as hoses and radiator. If they are damaged, immediately fix them
  • If your head gasket is blown head, immediately it as soon as possible  

Can an engine survive overheating?

If your car has been experiencing intermittent overheating for a while, there could be an increased risk of a major breakdown, and it’s crucial to consult a professional. Frequent overheating may indicate significant damage to the engine. Continuing to operate an engine that consistently overheats can quickly exacerbate the problem.

How long can a car overheat before damage?

In just 30-60 seconds, overheating can cause irreversible harm to a vehicle. It is essential to take action as soon as you observe any indications of overheating. Neglecting to do so may lead to issues such as coolant leaks, impaired radiator caps, and a malfunctioning cooling fan.

How do I know if my engine is overheating?

To determine if your engine is overheating, look for these signs: rising temperature gauge, steam or smoke coming from under the hood, a sweet smell from the engine, and reduced engine performance.

How to Fix a Overheating Car Engine?

  • Replace or repair the blown head gasket
  • Fix the coolant leak
  • Replace the damaged water pump
  • Avoid high-performance driving
  • Check your engine oil and coolant regularly and add more if needed
  • Clean the clogged cooling passages
  • Fix the leaky hoses
  • Repair or replace the radiator  
  • Ensure proper maintenance of your car engine

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