Cooling an Overheating Engine


We are now in the hottest days of the summer. With a heat advisory going on all throughout Southern California, we always try our best to find ways to keep ourselves, families, and pets cool. However, we do not realize the toll the hot and humid temperatures take on our cars. Working for an accident lawyer and commuting to and from work, this summer I have seen quite a few cars broken down on the road due to overheating. With that being said, today we are going over some helpful ways to cool an overheating car. If you are suffering from injuries due to the negligence of another, contact a car accident attorney in our office. Consultations are free!

Accident Lawyer | How To Cool an Overheating Engine

One of the greatest skills I have learned over the years is how to cool an overheating car. Believe it or not, knowing how to cool an overheating engine is actually an important skill for every licensed driver. Being able to diagnose and fix the issues not only helps you get back on the road quicker, it saves money, and can prevent future breakdowns and accidents. Here are some tips on how to handle an overheating engine.

Avoid Panicking

Whenever it comes to car problems, even I start panicking sometimes. However, one of the best things to do when you notice your car is overheating, is do not panic. Yes, an overheating engine is a serious issue. However, it will not cause you immediate harm. If your temperature gauge reaches the red or you notice that there is steam coming from the engine, slow down and find a safe place to pull over. If you notice white clouds and not steam coming from the engine, you will have time to pull over. However, if you are unable to find a safe place to pull over, our car accident attorney suggests the following:

  • turn off the AC and open the windows;
  • crank the heat and fans all the way up
    • this draw heat away from the engine;
  • turn hazards on and drive at a slow speed until you can safely pull over and stop

My car once overheated on the 5 freeway during the summer. I was driving from Northern California to Orange County, and I have to tell you, I did panic a little. However, panicking is not going to help you nor the car if this situation occurs.

Pop the Hood

We want to be very clear, only pop the hood on your car if it is safe to do so and there is no more steam coming out. If the hood of your vehicle is still too hot and steam is coming out, wait until the hood cools before opening. Opening the hood will move the heat away from the engine.

Start by turning off the engine but leaving the key in the ignition in the “on” position. Your lights should still be on during this time. This allows for cooling fans to continue to run without running your engine. This will help speed the cooling process. Allow the engine to cool completely before you touch the engine or open the radiator cap. Have patience, as the cooling process can take anywhere from 30-45 minutes. However, it will save you from suffering from serious burns.

Check the Upper Radiator Hose

To be honest, I had to Google where the upper radiator hose is. the radiator hose runs from the radiator to the motor and it is easy to spot, as most of this hose is exposed. Checking and squeezing the upper radiator hose can help determine whether your system is under pressure. It will also help you determine if it is safe to remove the radiator cap. If the cap feels firm and is too difficult to squeeze, the system is likely still pressurized and you should wait to remove the radiator cap. However, if the hose compresses easily when you give it a squeeze, you can safely remove the radiator cap.

*Note: make sure you use a rag or towel when you handle the hose, it can be very hot and dirty.

The pressure inside can shoot a dangerous amount of jet fluid at your face, so you want to make sure you leave the radiator cap on until it is cool. Leave the cap on as long as you can. If it feels warm to the touch, leave it.

  • an engine that is overheating may have coolant that is as hot as 260°
    • inside a sealed system, it will not boil. However, once exposed to the air it will flash boil and can cause severe burns.

Turn the Radiator Cap

When the radiator has cooled, use a thick towel or rag and carefully turn the cap. the cap will expose the fluid inside the radiator or expansion tank to the atmosphere, meaning that you need to be extra careful. If the cap does not have threads, you need to push down in it after you’ve loosened it in order to clear the safety lock. This will help to remove the cap completely.

Check Coolant Reservoir

Check your coolant reservoir tank once the engine is cool enough. This usually takes 30-45 minutes, so make sure you are patient and do not touch the reservoir until it is safe to do so. the reservoir tank looks like a white, plastic milk jug and is connected to the radiator cap. Usually there is a mark on the side that lets you know how full it should be. Do not get this mixed up with where you put washer fluid. Believe it or not, it is has happened.

Check the Engine

Did you know that the most common cause of an engine overheating is a leak in the coolant system? Our accident attorney suggests that you look for fluid on the engine or pooling underneath your car. This will be especially important if your coolant is low or empty. That being said, cooling systems need pressure to function, so even a small leak can cause problems. Ways to tell if you have a problem include:

  • coolant usually smells sweet and can show up on hoses, under the car, or around the radiator cap. It flows like water, unlike oil, which is thicker in consistency;
  • coolant is often green for older model cars, but the color can also vary depending on your car’s make and model

Refill the Coolant

After the car has cooled off, refill the coolant. If you have some on-hand, add some once the car has cooled down. Open the radiator cap and pour a little in. If you have water, mix the coolant and water together in roughly even parts and add that. Most engines are made to function with a 50/50 mixture of coolant and water.

If you are in a pinch, water can work as a substitute for coolant, though you do not want to continue to do so and not for too long.

You should be able to drive and be on your way after this. Make sure you keep a close eye on the cooling gauge.

If you are suffering from serious injuries due to an accident, contact us to discuss your case. Consultations with a car accident attorney in our office are free!