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How to Handle a Car Overheating: A Step-by-Step Guide

One of the most nerve-wracking experiences for any driver is seeing their car's temperature gauge spike into the red zone or, worse, steam billowing from the hood. An overheating car can lead to significant engine damage if not addressed promptly and correctly. Here’s a step-by-step guide on what to do if you find yourself dealing with an overheating vehicle.

car overheating

Step 1: Turn Off the AC and Turn On the Heater

When you notice your car starting to overheat, immediately turn off the air conditioning to reduce strain on the engine. Then, turn on the heater to its highest setting. This might seem counterintuitive, especially in warm weather, but doing so helps draw heat away from the engine and can lower the engine temperature.

Step 2: Pull Over Safely

If the temperature continues to rise, pull over to a safe location as soon as possible. Driving with an overheated engine can cause severe damage. Find a spot with minimal traffic, turn off the engine, and put your car in park.

Step 3: Let the Engine Cool

Do not attempt to open the hood immediately after stopping. The coolant in your radiator is under high pressure and can cause serious burns if released while hot. Wait at least 15-30 minutes for the engine to cool down. While you wait, keep an eye on the temperature gauge; it should start to drop as the engine cools.

Step 4: Check the Coolant Levels

Once the engine has cooled, carefully open the hood and check the coolant level in the radiator and overflow tank. If the coolant level is low, this might be the cause of the overheating.

How to Add Coolant:

  1. Use a rag or glove to remove the radiator cap slowly, allowing any remaining pressure to escape.

  2. Add coolant (a 50/50 mix of antifreeze and water) to the radiator if it’s low.

  3. Be sure to also fill the overflow reservoir to the appropriate level.

Step 5: Inspect for Leaks

Check for visible signs of leaks around the radiator, hoses, and under the car. If you spot any leaks, it's best to call for roadside assistance, as driving with a leaking coolant system can cause further damage.

Step 6: Restart the Engine

After adding coolant and ensuring there are no leaks, restart the engine and monitor the temperature gauge. If it stays within the normal range, you can cautiously continue driving. However, keep an eye on the temperature and be ready to pull over again if it starts to rise.

Step 7: Seek Professional Help

Even if the issue seems resolved, it's crucial to have your vehicle inspected by a professional to prevent future overheating problems.

Prevent Overheating Issues: Schedule Regular Coolant System Checks

The best way to avoid overheating is through regular maintenance of your car’s cooling system. At Complete Autocare & Tire Mission Viejo, we offer comprehensive cooling system maintenance services to keep your engine running smoothly and efficiently. Our skilled technicians will thoroughly inspect your radiator, coolant levels, hoses, and more to ensure everything is in top condition.

Preventive maintenance includes:

  • Flushing and refilling the coolant system.

  • Inspecting and replacing worn-out hoses and belts.

  • Checking the thermostat and water pump functionality.

Don't wait for your car to overheat before taking action! Schedule a regular coolant system check with Complete Autocare & Tire Mission Viejo today to keep your vehicle in optimal condition and avoid costly repairs.

Contact us at Complete Autocare & Tire Mission Viejo or give us a call to book your appointment!

Stay safe on the road and remember, proactive maintenance is the key to preventing overheating issues.


This blog is for informational purposes only. We do not encourage you to handle an overheating car yourself. For your safety and to prevent potential engine damage, we strongly recommend taking your vehicle to a professional auto shop. Always consult with a certified technician to ensure proper diagnosis and repair of your cooling system issues.

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