When the mercury begins to rise outside, it’s common for car engines to get overly toasty too. Thankfully, there are plenty of things you can do to make sure a temporary jump in temperature doesn’t lead to long-lasting trouble. To help you know what to do if your car overheats, here are 5 easy steps.

  • First, always carry an extra bottle of coolant (also called antifreeze) in your car, as well as a jug of water. Engines typically overheat because the coolant’s low, so topping it off will usually solve the problem. Failing that, water will also temporarily do the trick. Plus, that water could be a lifesaver on long, sweltering summer drives. Just don’t drink it all.
  • When you see the temperature gauge creeping into the red or a notification light glowing, immediately turn off your air conditioner (since the AC puts a lot of strain on your engine). Roll the windows down to cool off the way nature intended.
  • If the problem persists, crank your heater up to full blast. It could make the next few miles a pretty brutal experience, but the transfer of heat away from the engine might just save its life.
  • Should the preceding steps fail, pull over as soon as you can. Turn off the engine. If you can pop the hood from the driver’s seat, do so — but don’t risk opening it by hand until the engine has cooled, especially if you see steam wafting off the engine. It typically takes a solid 30 minutes for an engine to cool down enough for it to be safe to handle. If you’d rather let a professional handle the problem, it’s time to call for a tow truck.
  • Once the engine has cooled, check the coolant tank. It’s usually a translucent plastic tank near the radiator. If the coolant tank is empty, you may have sprung a leak. Take a quick look under the car. If you notice a drip or puddle, chances are the coolant tank is leaking.

Car Engine Overheating

Protecting cars in extreme temperatures. ABC 15 Arizona with Frank Leutz at Desert Car Care.

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