Courtesy of dealer.com
Overheating is just the worst. It’s inconvenient, inconsiderate to fellow drivers and incredibly easy to prevent. It’s inconvenient because it always happens at the wrong time, not that overheating is something that anyone will schedule into their day. It’s inconsiderate to fellow drivers because 99 times out of 100 it’s going to slow down traffic due to rubber necking. Finally it’s incredibly easy to prevent if you stay in tune with your car. And if you do become the unfortunate victim of an overheating engine, there are things you can do to minimize the damage.
Check Your Fluids
Yes, fluids are vital to keeping the engine at proper temperature. We are talking specifically about coolant (sometimes referred to as anti-freeze). You must MUST MUST have the appropriate level of coolant in the engine cooling system to have a chance at running the engine at optimal temperatures. Make sure there is sufficient coolant in the radiator AND in the reservoir. If filling the reservoir, make sure to note and respect the max fill line. It will look much lower than normal, but that is necessary to manage the expansion of the coolant throughout the engine cooling system. Also, make sure to change coolant at your manufacturer’s specified interval.
Ensure the Cooling Fan Runs
Radiator with Cooling Fan, Courtesy of haskellracing.com
The cooling fan, attached to the back of the radiator, is most essential when you are driving slow or idling in traffic. This fan creates the air flow necessary to cool the coolant that is keeping the engine cool. When you’re driving at highway speeds you don’t really need this fan, but get into say Washington DC traffic and it turns out you take this fan for granted.
When the engine is near operating temperature, keep the engine running and open the hood. If the fan is driven by an electric motor, ensure that the fan is coming on periodically, and that it is running smooth and balanced.
If the fan is belt driven, make sure it is running smooth and balanced. It will run the whole time the engine is running. When you can, turn off the engine and check the belt for cracks, frayed edges, etc. Replace the belt immediately if you notice any of this damage.
Do not stick your hand anywhere near the fan while the engine is running. On top of that, some electric fans will run after the engine is turned off so use extreme caution. This preventive maintenance is meant to be an observation procedure only. If you see an issue, seek a professional’s help. Do not “dive in”.
Use the A/C Sparingly
The air conditioning system is a heavy load on an engine. Have you ever noticed that the car seems a little bit slower when the A/C is on? This is the A/C system sucking the available energy out of the engine. The engine has to work harder as a result, which means it gets hotter faster and causes the engine cooling system to work double time.
Inspect and Replace
Hose and Thermostat Connection, Courtesy of motorward.com
Inspection is the best preventive maintenance you can do to prevent being stranded on the side of the road. This goes well beyond just being stuck due to overheating, such as inspecting tires for nails that can come loose while driving or checking the engine oil level to make sure the engine doesn’t seize. These topics may be covered later. We’ll stay focused on preventive maintenance to prevent overheating.
Periodically inspect engine cooling system components while the engine is cold. Check the radiator, hoses, clamps and other fittings. Make sure everything is intact, with no cracks, holes or loose connections. If you observe any issue, have it serviced by a professional immediately. Any issues like this will turn into a big problem quickly.