What to do when your vehicle overheats

Thursday 9th September 2021



It is no secret that a car's engine is critical to its performance. So, when your dashboard’s warning lights flash up, followed by a flush of steam, it is likely that your otherwise dependable engine cooling system has failed. In layman’s terms, your car has overheated and, unfortunately, you will not be going anywhere fast…

So, what should you do when your vehicle overheats?

Whether your car is experiencing an issue with overheating, or if you are simply preparing yourself for the possibility in the future, here is everything you need to know to help you understand and solve the issue.

Is your car overheating?

There is a number of things to look out for if you think your car may be overheating, but the most common signs that your car is overheating include:

  • A specific warning light on your dashboard
  • The temperature gauge moving to the dreaded “red zone”
  • Steam coming from under the bonnet.

 What can cause a car to overheat?

  • Hot, summer days - when temperatures exceed 30°c, it may be the perfect time for a road-trip and a picnic. However, these high temperatures are far from ideal for our cars to endure and, in fact, research suggests that cars are 50% more likely to overheat in the summer months.
  • Coolant - coolant, also known as antifreeze, is what keeps your engine cool, so if your car’s coolant levels are too low, this means the engine temperature may not be regulated. This can then cause your engine to become far too hot when it is driven, resulting in your engine overheating.

The root of any engine overheating problems will most likely be a combination of these factors. Therefore, it’s important to take steps to minimise the chances of this happening, and to be prepared if it does happen.

What to do when your vehicle overheats

Car overheating issues are completely preventable, but you may wish to try some of the following if you find yourself in trouble and getting hot under the bonnet

  • Keep it cool - make sure you keep the car cool and the air flowing, but without using your air conditioning. The use of air conditioning can put additional strain on the engine. Therefore, it’s recommended to open your windows instead.
  • Crank up the heat - alternatively, you could blast the heater. This may seem counterintuitive, and although you may feel a bit sticky and uncomfortable, the heat will help to quickly dissipate heat from the engine.
  • Shift into neutral - if you are stuck in standstill traffic, put  your car into neutral and rev the engine slightly to help draw air and water into the radiator. In slow-moving traffic, it might be better to crawl rather than successively brake, as braking quickly increases drag on the engine and raises its temperature.

If by using these tips you are able to keep moving and get to your destination, make a point of visiting your local Formula One Autocentre where our experts can check out your car and top up your engine coolant levels if needed.

However, if nothing seems to be working and you are still experiencing issues, do not panic. Instead, pull over when and where it is safe to do so, turn on your hazard warning lights, and make sure you wait for the engine to cool slightly before opening up the bonnet (to help the engine to cool down quicker).

It will take around 30 minutes for the engine to completely cool down – so hopefully you have better reading material than an A-Z on hand, because this step requires patience! Once the engine has completely cooled, use a towel or safety gloves to add a 50/50 mixture of coolant and water to the coolant system.

What not to do

  • Do not ignore it! - ignoring the issue can lead to a severely damaged engine, accompanied by a hefty bill when you cannot ignore it any longer.
  • Keep safe - do not immediately open the bonnet or radiator caps to check out your engine - temperatures can reach over 120°C! If you’re unsure when is safe to open your bonnet, you may need to contact a breakdown company, or locate your nearest Formula One Autocentre.

How to prevent your car from overheating

When we reach the warmer months, make sure to check on your coolant levels regularly as part of your maintenance checklist, in addition to scheduling your free summer safety check. It is also a good idea to carry extra coolant and some bottles of water in the boot in case you need to top up your coolant levels.

If your engine has overheated, it could be a sign of a deeper issue. We would recommend to stay on the safe side and book a service as soon as you can to prevent further damage from occurring. Find out more from our team of experts today.

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