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Monday, July 23, 2012

Great...My Car Just Overheated!

The extreme heat and drought hitting the nation this summer is taking its toll on cars. Long trips with outside temperatures nearing or over 100 degrees means your car’s cooling system has to work harder to keep the engine cool. Along with frequent oil changes, including your car's cooling system as part of the routine maintenance on your vehicle is critical to ensure that your car's engine won’t be damaged by overheating. The last thing you want to have happen is to be stuck by the road in the summer heat while a plume of steam pours out from under your hood.

To prevent your car from overheating in the first place, the guys at Car Talk offer the following advice:

  • Make sure that the radiator core is in good shape. In areas of the country where roads are salted, the core of the radiator can literally rot away. Have your radiator core checked by an expert mechanic.
  • To prevent the radiator core from getting plugged up by gunk in your cooling fluid, have your cooling system flushed on a regular basis.
  • Visually check the hoses and belts related to the cooling system. Squeeze the hoses and look for small cracks in the rubber. Make sure the hoses are tight (grab the hose near the hose clamp and make sure it doesn't rotate).
  • Check to see that the belts have the proper amount of tension. To check the tension, push down on the belt. It should deflect about 1/2 inch. On some cars--mostly older ones--a belt turns the fan.
  • Use antifreeze in your radiator, even in the summer, because antifreeze contains corrosion inhibitors, and it actually has a higher boiling point than water.
  • If you haven't had your thermostat replaced in several years, get a new one when you're having your cooling system flushed. A stuck thermostat is a common cause of engine overheating and replacing it is cheap. 
  • Check the operation of the fan by driving the car for up to 20 minutes so the fan will kick in. Open the hood, with the engine running, and listen for the cooling fan. If the fan isn't running, it's not working. Have it fixed--sometimes the fan has gone south, and other times the problem is the coolant temperature sensor.
  • Your coolant also runs through your heater core. Have the heater core checked for leaks by a qualified mechanic.

While you are driving, the guys at Car Talk suggest that you:

  • Slow down on hot days, especially if you are pulling a trailer; to lessen the load on your engine.
  • Watch the temperature gauge.
  • If the temperature gauge shows the engine temperature rising, turn off the air conditioner and turn on the heater. The heater may make conditions unbearable inside the car but the extra radiator in the heating system may help to prevent an engine meltdown.

Also as a precaution, here are some items you should carry in your trunk:

  • An extra container of anti-freeze.
  • A roll of duct (or duck) tape for temporary patches to leaking hoses.
  • A screw driver and a pair of pliers.

If your temperature gauge goes into the red zone or you get an overheat light, stop the car and turn off the engine.

  • If you try to locate the source of the trouble yourself, use caution. Visually check for a leak but don’t try to feel for one. Steam escaping under pressure from a pinhole leak can do a lot of damage to your skin.
  • Don’t try to take the cap off the radiator. The escaping steam pressure can cause severe burns on your face and body.
  • Most modern cars have a cooling fluid overflow reservoir. It is generally made of opaque plastic and indicates where the coolant level should be when the engine is warm or cold. Use the reservoir to add new fluid to the cooling system; not the radiator cap.
  • To prevent burns, wait for the engine to cool somewhat before attempting tape repairs on cooling hoses.

If adding extra coolant or taping a hose doesn’t work, call for a tow-truck!  Don’t try to push the car to the next exit. Doing that could cause the head gasket to blow or crack your cylinder head.  A little inconvenience or time lost isn’t worth the risk of having to replace the engine. 

If you find yourself in this situation, you may consider using a driver safety app for your iPhone or Android: 
Emergency Apps for Drivers

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