Ever noticed a car parked at the side of the road with the hood lifted, or your car’s temperature gauge needle going up abnormally? The engine has likely overheated and the car is stalling, not able to move. Although modern engines are pretty durable and it is rare to come across an overheated car, it is still quite possible that any of the concerned engine components could have malfunctioned.
Why does a car get overheated? What are the most common signs of a car overheating, and how can you prevent this from happening? Let’s get an in-depth look at it and understand what you can do about it.
Table of Contents
What are the Main Causes Behind Overheating of a Car?
It could either be a blown radiator, faulty fan, low coolant, or a damaged thermostat valve. Nonetheless, you should be aware of all the possible reasons that could cause your car to overheat and know possible fixes.
Damaged Head Gasket
A head gasket is one of the most important parts of the engine that prevents engine oil and coolant from mixing. Located between the engine block and cylinder heads, it acts as a seal and ensures the optimal flow of coolant and oil. If the head gasket is damaged, the coolant and engine oil would mix up, causing the engine to overheat.
The radiator is the main component that maintains the temperature of the engine, by circulating coolant throughout the engine. If the radiator is obstructed due to the buildup of contaminants and debris, the coolant won’t flow normally, and the car would overheat.
Blocked Air Intake
The air intake and manifold allow the engine to breathe and consume air for proper combustion. If the air intake is blocked, the normal flow of air would not occur and the engine would starve, getting overheated. This air also dissipated excess heat generated during the combustion and keeps the temperature under control.
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Faulty Water Pump
The water pump is an important part of the engine’s cooling system and propels coolant throughout the engine via pipes and hoses. If the water pump is faulty or clogged, the coolant would not be circulated optimally, and the engine would overheat. It is an expensive component and cannot be repaired usually, requiring replacement for reliable fixing of the problem.
Damaged Thermostat Valve
The thermostat valve regulates the flow of coolant through the system and prevents overflow. In case the valve is closed or not responding fine to the input from the ECU, the coolant flow would be disrupted. The radiator would not then be able to regulate the engine’s temperature, causing it to overheat.
A leaky radiator cannot develop the vacuum and pressure to propel the coolant through the system and if the leak is in the seals or the coolant reservoir, the coolant level will get too low. If there’s no coolant in the system or getting leaked out, the engine is bound to overheat.
Whether due to usage over time or leakage in the pipes, if the coolant level is too low, it won’t optimally circulate through the engine and fail to regulate the temperature of the system. It is one of the most common causes of engine overheating and the coolant level must be kept in check on a regular basis.
Clogged Exhaust System
A car’s exhaust system comprises the exhaust manifold, catalytic converter, Catback exhaust pipe, and muffler. If any of these parts are damaged, blocked, or clogged due to the collection of debris, or lack of proper maintenance, the exhaust gases would not be emitted properly from the system.
If there’s a blockade at any point in the exhaust system, the temperature of the engine is bound to rise and if not checked timely, can cause fatal, irreversible damage. It is important to get the exhaust system of your car serviced regularly by professional technicians.
Faulty Coolant Temperature Sensor
The engine temperature is communicated to the car’s ECU via a coolant temperature sensor located near the thermostat. If it malfunctions or gets damaged due to wear over time, your engine will eventually overheat as a result of increased fuel consumption, a loss of power, and overheating due to misregulation of the car’s engine temperature by the cooling system.
Low Engine Oil Level
Apart from lubricating the moving engine parts, and neutralizing the acids inside the engine, the engine oil also keeps the temperature in check. If the engine oil level is low, either due to leakage or excessive consumption over time, it would not be able to control the temperature and as a result, the engine would overheat.
The engine oil level can be easily checked via the dipstick located on the side of the engine bay and managed accordingly, as per the manufacturer’s guidelines.
Why Car Overheating Cause a Loss of Power?
There are certain reasons behind an engine losing lower when overheated. There are so many different components that are functioning to ensure the proper output of the engine, and if the temperature gets out of control, these parts stop functioning.
In gasoline engines, the loss of power after overheating of the engine could be due to;
- A faulty MAF sensor
- Damaged gas pump
- Problematic throttle valve and sensor
- Damaged ignition module
- Faulty fuel pressure regulator
If a diesel engine is losing power after overheating, it is most probably due to a damaged high-pressure pump.
What are Other Symptoms of an Overheated Car?
Apart from obviously knowing that your car has overheated, there are a few other signs and symptoms that indicate an overheated engine, these include;
- Raised temperature gauge – the most common and easy-to-decipher sign of a car overheating is the temperature gauge rising. It means that the engine is unable to regulate its temperature and you should not proceed with your journey in such a condition.
- Pool of Coolant under the Car – either due to leakage in the reservoir or damaged hoses, if the coolant is leaking and its level is getting low, it would form a pool of liquid under your car when parked. If your car is overheating, have a look under the engine and look for signs of leaking fluid.
- Flashing Temperature Light – If the temperature of your car is rising and the engine is getting overheated, your car would give a warning by blinking the temperature light in RED color. It is usually present in vehicles that don’t have a temperature gauge and is located next to the check engine light.
- Burning Smell from the front side – A very obvious but late sign of an overheated engine. If you sense a smell coming from the front side of the car, look at the temperature gauge and it would most probably be high. A burning smell comes when the damage is fatal.
- Steam or White Smoke from the Hood – Needless to say that if you notice white smoke coming from under the hood, the engine is overheated and you immediately need to stop before things get out of hand.
What Happens When a Car Gets Overheated?
You’d notice the following changes and expect these outcomes if your car gets overheated;
- Loss of performance, as an overheated engine cannot give an optimal outcome, and the car stalls on accelerating.
- Strange smoke rises from under the hood or coolant leaks, forming a pool of liquid under the car.
- Tickling or crackling sounds from the engine. Either due to a low engine oil level or engine parts rubbing together after overheating causes most of the fluids to evaporate, worsening the condition.
- Poor fuel economy is another outcome of an overheated engine.
- Blown or seized engine is the final nail in the coffin, and there’s nothing worse that could happen to your car, other than it catching fire, if not stopped and attended to properly.
How to Prevent Overheating of Car?
Overheating is not an unavoidable problem and by following a few important steps, you can easily prevent your car from overheating.
- Keep the car in perfect condition by maintaining it regularly, ideally at a company dealership.
- Regularly check the engine oil, coolant, and brake oil levels and keep them topped up if found to be deficient.
- Get your cooling system and radiator for any blockages, leaks, or cracks to avoid leakage of coolant or other damages.
- Get the head gasket serviced on regular basis and replace it even if slightly damaged or worn out.
- Check the air intake and exhaust system for clogs and get them serviced timely.