An overheated engine is on top of the list when discussing vehicle engine problems. The car engine usually overheats due to various reasons.
But generally speaking, this incident has something to do with the engine cooling system components. This could lead to extensive engine damage which will hinder proper engine performance.
Therefore, whenever the engine overheats, stop and park your car immediately. This is not an engine problem you want to take lightly.
Before an engine overheats, there are signs that this will happen. Afterwards, there are actions that you should take towards correcting this issue.
In this post, we will look at both of those things as well as other essential subtopics. For example, what causes an overheated engine.
Symptoms of an overheating engine.
Knowledge about these signs of an overheating engine will save you from this terrible experience. But ensure that you perform a regular engine check before taking off to your desired location.
Remember that it is possible to cool the car engine before it overheats. But first, you will have to recognize the signs that appear before the actual overheating incident.
a] Overheating dashboard warning light.
Vehicle manufacturers are smart enough to acknowledge the fact that you may not know what is happening with your vehicle. Hence the reason they installed an engine monitoring system.
The on board computer usually assesses the condition of the vehicle’s systems to ensure everything is working properly. If this isn’t the case, the computer will give you a dashboard warning light that relates to the problem.
Afterwards it is up to you to investigate the problem and undertake corrective measures.
So as the car engine is about to overheat, a flashing overheating warning light will appear. This is before you even start seeing smoke from the engine.
The warning appears as a thermometer on top of a wavy line. It is a radiator fluid light that warns of critical engine temperatures.
Alternatively, people refer to it as a coolant warning. It is an indication that the engine has started overheating.
b] Temperature gauge.
Recent car models usually incorporate a temperature gauge indicator on the dashboard. The reading on that temperature gauge shows you how much heat your engine is experiencing.
Observe how the temperature gauge moves downwards away from or upwards towards the red zone indicator. This will be a clear indication that your engine is overheating.
c] Engine noises.
Car engine relies on oil in order to get lubrication. Furthermore, it also relies on oil for cooling amongst other essential roles it plays.
Oil starts to loose lubrication properties when the engine temperature exceeds the designated oil operation temperature. Because the temperature disrupts the oil’s chemical composition.
Therefore, what happens is that the moving engine parts start to make clicking and grinding noises. Due to the insufficient lubrication.
d] Unusual engine smell.
This is a situation in which drivers declare that they can literally smell the heat. The smell is from the overheated car engine parts.
Some of the common types of smells coming from an overheated engine are inclusive of;
- The smell of burning plastics that comes from overheating rubber on engine seals and valves.
- Smell that comes from burning engine oil which is slightly similar to the smell of burning fuel.
- Burnt engine coolant smell that is usually somehow sweet.
e] Vapor or smoke emissions.
Radiator fluid circulates through out the engine block and the cylinder block where it heats up. Because its circulation eliminates heat from the engine parts.
The boiling point of radiator fluid is between 223°F and 235°F. But this depends on the radiator fluid mixture ratio which consists of corrosion inhibitors, antifreeze and water.
Furthermore, the average engine operation temperature is between 195°F and 220°F. An overheating engine’s temperatures go beyond the radiator fluid’s temperature limits.
Once this happens, the radiator fluid starts to evaporate. Then you will notice some steam or smoke coming from within your engine area.
f] Reduction in engine performance.
Engine performance is equal to the acceleration power when you step on the gas pedal. In order for this to take place, there is a need for sufficient amounts of cool air.
An overheated engine tends to have more heated air than cool air. The cool air is usually denser than hot air. This means that the hot air stays above the cool air when the engine overheats.
The hot air tends to interfere with fuel / air mixture. Hence affecting the vehicle’s engine performance. Therefore before the engine overheats, observe if the engine performance is at an abnormal level.
Temporary fix for an overheated engine.
Under this section we will look at what the actions that you should take when the engine starts to overheat.
The results that will come about due to taking these actions will avert any engine damage that was about to happen.
a] Turn up the A/C heat.
The basis of this point is due to how the vehicle air conditioner functions in relation to the car engine.
Vehicle air conditioning relies on the engine’s fan belt which connects a number of rotating shafts including the compressor to the timing belt.
With respect to this, it’s safe to state that the A/C also relies on the compressor which relies on the belt drive system.
Additionally, the compressor also facilitates air flow into the combustion chamber. Therefore, a running car air conditioner puts more stress on the engine.
If the engine starts overheating, the A/C can help to cool it down. Because it can draw heat away from the engine.
Turn the A/C dial all the way to maximum heat. This will take heat away from the engine area into the vehicle’s sitting cabin.
Afterwards, ensure all the windows are open in order to carry the heat away from the vehicle. This will give buy you a few minutes in order to perform the next move.
b] Stop the vehicle and turn off the engine.
Think about it, as soon as you notice the dashboard warning, you turn up the heat on your A/C and open the windows. This won’t resolve the issue and you cannot continue with the journey with high engine temperatures.
Therefore, stopping the car and turning off the engine makes so much sense. Right? Because your motor risks undergoing permanent damage if you keep driving.
However, to be realistic, there are situations where you won’t be able to stop the vehicle for one reason or the other. In this case, slow down completely.
Ensure that the vehicle’s movement solely aims at keeping the air in circulation within the engine area. After stopping, turn the engine off to discontinue any heat generation.
c] Add more engine coolant.
The next move will involve a little investigation. After the engine cools down completely, check the engine coolant levels.
Incase low coolant levels have led to the engine overheating, then perform a top up. Remember that it could take the engine approximately 30 minutes to cool down before you can top off the coolant.
Next, remember that a coolant top off won’t make much difference if something is wrong with the water pump. Additionally, coolant top off will be in-effective where the hose is clogged or the radiator fan is broken.
d] Investigate further.
Despite whether the engine is able to restart and run smoothly, there is a need for further investigations. Do not wait for another overheated engine situation before professionals perform a thorough investigation.
Causes of engine overheating.
Obviously once you experience an overheated engine, you would like to know what caused it. There are a number of parts whose malfunction could cause this to happen.
Some of the different causative agents could require an easy fix. However, others will require a professional’s input.
But we have determined that once the engine overheats, there is a need for a professional’s assessment. Because there is a huge probability that it could happen again.
a] Insufficient coolant.
Engine coolant is an essential part of the engine cooling system. Hence the reason why it is important to perform regular engine check to assess the coolant levels.
Check the engine coolant reservoir and note the maximum and minimum level markings. Afterwards ensure that the coolant doesn’t go below the minimum level.
Incase the antifreeze levels need toping off, use a 50/50 mixture of antifreeze and water. Additionally, ensure that the coolant is not contaminated.
b] Insufficient car engine oil.
The functions of engine oil are inclusive of lubrication as well as providing a cooling effect. Lubrication of moving engine parts enables a reduction in the heat they produce.
Engine overheating could result from insufficient engine oil whereby the parts grind against each other and produce friction. Further, vehicle engine oil contamination could also cause overheating.
Because oil that’s contaminated will not function properly in the roles of lubrication and cooling.
c] Faulty drive belt and clogged hoses.
The vehicle timing belt is responsible for driving many essential parts of the engine’s intake and exhaust system valves. In case the drive belts are faulty, then these parts will not function accordingly.
This may lead to uncontrolled power output hence causing the vehicle to overheat.
Alternatively, the coolant fluid hoses may be experiencing blockage. Further, apart from blockage, the hoses could be facing an issue like becoming loose, cracked or damaged.
Hence hindering the free flow of coolant through out the engine block and radiator. This obviously affects the engine’s temperatures hence leading to an overheated engine.
d] Broken water pump.
This part of the car engine cooling system is responsible for circulating coolant through out the engine. One of the reasons why the water pump brakes down is because of contamination in the coolant.
Because coolant contamination will clog the water pump hence hindering proper functionality. The result will be an overheated engine.
e] Leaking coolant.
If the coolant happens to start leaking, you will observe a colored puddle under the car. The leak could be as a result of damage of the reservoir or hoses.
Additionally, you can identify coolant leakage through a sweet smell coming from the engine. Because drops of the leaking coolant will be falling onto hot engine parts.
Afterwards, the heat will cause the drops of coolant to evaporate. Hence leading to a sweet smell. If this goes on until the depletion of the coolant in the reservoir, it will cause the engine to overheat.
f] Faulty car engine radiator.
Once the coolant has been through the engine block, it collects the heat and moves to the radiator for cooling. Before it undergoes recirculation back to the engine block.
The car engine radiator is also known as the heat exchanger. It is equipped with a fan whose function is to draw air over the heated engine coolant.
This process eliminates heat from the coolant. Most modern vehicles use a radiator fan that is controlled electronically.
If the vehicle was to undergo electrical problems that affect the radiator fan functionality, it could cause an overheated engine.
g] Broken thermostat.
You find the thermostat between the radiator and the engine. Its main function is to act as a coolant regulator that relies highly on engine temperature readings.
The vehicle ignition system starts the engine through a spark that’s supplied to the combustion chamber at the right timing by the spark plug. Once the engine starts, the thermostat kicks in.
It restricts the circulation of the coolant to the engine block until the engine warms up. This gives the engine time to get to the right operating temperature.
Further, when the engine gets to this temperature the thermostat opens a coolant valve. This lets the coolant to circulate to the engine block.
A broken thermostat could cause the engine not to reach the best operating temperature by opening the valves too early. In fact, it could cause a delay in reaching the engine’s normal operating temperature.
Alternatively, it may cause the valve to remain closed even after the engine reaches normal operating temperature. This is what could lead to the engine overheating.
Improving engine performance while avoiding overheating.
Engine performance highly depends on the temperatures it reaches. There is an optimum engine operation temperature which should be observed.
In order to avoid overheating, here is a list of a few practices you can undertake;
- Regular car servicing by a professional.
- Ensure sufficient coolant levels.
- Regular monitoring of the vehicle’s thermostat.
- Reduce the use of vehicle A/C. Especially during hot days because it takes cool air away from the engine.
- Check coolant hose and replace the hose when necessary.
- Ensure there is sufficient car engine oil.