Knowing the warning signs that your engine is overheating can save you from seriously damaging your car. Bowers Automotive of Colorado Springs often receives vehicles that have been driven for too long with an overheated engine. When your engine overheats, the pistons powering your car can expand and seize in the cylinder bore. If you continue to run the engine in this state, you can end up cracking the engine block and cylinder heads, resulting in a very expensive trip to the mechanic.
Your engine can overheat for a number of reasons. Some of the most common causes of this are mechanical failures such as broken fans or blown head gaskets. Problems with your car’s radiator and cooling systems, such as leaking coolant or a stuck thermostat can also result in your engine reaching a dangerously high temperature. Luckily, there are a number of warning signs that your engine is overheating. If you respond quickly, you will have the best chance of minimizing serious damage.
When the engine is running, you can expect the hood to emit heat and feel warm to the touch. This is completely normal. If however, your car’s hood is extremely hot, this could be cause for concern. You should be able to comfortably place your hand on the hood for 10 seconds without burning it.
Temperature Gauge or Light
On your dashboard, you should see a warning light or gauge indicating the temperature of your engine. If the light flashes on or the gauge reads near maximum, it means there is excessive heat generating in your engine. However, this warning light cannot always be trusted to alert you of an overheating engine. It functions by measuring the temperature of the coolant, so in the case of a huge coolant leak, there would be nothing for it to measure.
If your engine is making an audible ticking noise, it means that your engine oil is failing to lubricate the moving parts sufficiently. When engine oil is overheated, it loses its lubricating properties and behaves more like water than oil. At high temperatures, if the mechanical parts of your engine are clacking against each other audibly you can expect them to undergo wear and tear at a much higher rate than usual.
Coolant Leaking on the Ground
If you notice a puddle of coolant under your car, it could be a sign of a leak somewhere in your cooling system. It also could indicate that your engine has overheated and boiled the coolant within the radiator, causing the overflow tank to release excess liquid to relieve the high pressure created. In either situation, your car’s cooling system no longer has the correct amount of coolant flowing through the engine, so it will be prone to overheating.
There is a distinctive odor emitted when the engine heats up enough to start burning oil. As the temperature increases, the rubber seals, plastic valves, and bits of resin holding the whole engine together may begin to melt, releasing fumes that you would not normally smell otherwise. Most people describe this unusual odor as a ‘hot’ smell. It’s also possible that leaking coolant containing ethylene glycol will fill your car with sweet-smelling, but toxic fumes. Any unusual odors are a bad sign and should not be ignored.
Steam Coming from the Hood
Steam billowing out from underneath your hood is a sure sign that your engine is overheating. As soon as you notice, pull over and turn off the engine. Coolant that has reached its boiling point will convert into steam and build pressure within the cooling system. When it escapes from your car’s radiator cap or coolant reservoir, you will see it coming out from the front and sides of the hood.
The thermostat in your cooling system controls the valve allowing the flow of coolant to the radiator, ensuring efficient engine function. If this valve gets stuck, the trapped coolant in the engine block will become superheated. When cold coolant comes into contact with the superheated coolant, you will hear a loud thumping noise coming from the engine area. Getting the thermostat replaced usually fixes this issue.
Reduced Engine Power
An overheated engine may not be able to deliver enough power to keep your car moving at the rate you want it to move. If you sense the power in your engine is lacking, pay close attention to odd smells or noises that can corroborate engine overheating. Keep an eye on the dashboard temperature gauge or light and pull over if you think the engine is struggling.
If you notice one or more of these signs, there is a high chance that your engine is overheating. The wisest thing to do in this situation is to safely pull over as quickly as possible and turn off your engine. This will allow the engine to cool down naturally and prevent further damage. If you are going to raise the hood to allow excess heat to escape, remember to do so with caution, as escaping steam can easily burn you.
It is best not to touch anything under the hood until the engine has fully cooled down. Attempting to check the coolant level will likely result in a bad burn if the pressure has built up from excess heat. As you wait for the engine to cool, call a trusted local mechanic for advice. With a description of the symptoms, they should be able to advise you on whether to bring the car in yourself or have roadside assistance pick it up.
At Bowers Automotive, we can offer a complete range of auto services including engine repair and replacement, cooling system diagnostics, and electrical repair. We urge our clients and all drivers to pay close attention to any warning signs that your engine is overheating. Promptly addressing the issue will usually allow you to avoid complete engine failure. Save time and money by keeping your car regularly maintained and if you do notice any of the signs, just bring your vehicle to the shop.