How to Tell If Your Engine is Overheating

broken down vehicle

Unlike the movies, hearing a loud clanking sound or seeing steam pouring from your hood isn’t always the first indicator your engine might be a little too toasty. However, even if you’re not experiencing some of the more dramatic symptoms, the damage an overheating engine can create is very serious. Jack Carter Chevrolet has your back with some tips for identifying an overheating engine and what to do about it.

Why Do Cars Overheat?

There are many reasons a vehicle can overheat. Your engine naturally generates lots of heat when it’s in use and needs to be cooled constantly, so if that cooling system is compromised so is your engine. Whether it’s a mechanical failure or an environmental fluke, an overheated engine can cause serious damage to your vehicle. Your vehicle has a temperature gauge in your dash that should tell you when your engine is running hot, but this warning system can sometimes become inaccurate if other engine cooling factors have failed. Here are a few things you should look out for if you suspect your temperature gauge isn’t working. 

Leaky Coolant

A coolant (antifreeze) leak is probably the most common cause of an overheating problem and the main reason for a faulty temperature gauge reading. This can also happen if your coolant levels are too low. If you see a puddle on the ground underneath the hood of your car it’s worth investigating. Liquid coolant is sold as brightly coloured, sweet-smelling liquid to help you identify it.

A “Hot” Smell

As a general rule, any odd odors coming from your vehicle shouldn’t be ignored. An overheated engine may smell “hot”, like scorched metal and/or burning plastic as the parts begin to melt and the engine oil begins to burn. You may also get a whiff of that coolant as well. These fumes are toxic and should be addressed immediately.

Strange Sounds

A clicking sound can mean your engine is overheating due to a lack of engine lubricant (oil), which will make adjacent engine pieces rub together and vibrate. A thumping sound may indicate superheated coolant that’s trapped in the engine coming in contact with cold coolant. This usually means your thermostat needs to be replaced, as this is what controls the proper flow of the coolant.

Trouble Accelerating

It goes without saying that if your engine is overheating it will not perform well. If you’re having a hard time getting your vehicle moving when accelerating, you may have an overheated engine on your hands. A sluggish engine means you should watch for other signs of overheating and get it checked out ASAP.

Hot or Steaming Hood

While the hood of your vehicle is typically hot (especially in the summer), it shouldn’t burn your hand the moment you touch it. If it hurts to touch the hood for less than 10 seconds your engine may be in trouble. Likewise, if you see steam billowing out of your hood it’s time to pull over and shut off the engine as quickly and safely as possible. Steam from your engine usually means that your coolant has become so hot that it has started evaporating.

Prevention Tips

An overheated engine can sometimes cause permanent damage to your vehicle. Always make sure your coolant levels are up to par, try not to put too much strain of your A/C during very hot summer days, keep extra coolant on hand, and if you suspect your engine may be starting to overheat, run the heat to alleviate the situation until you can get to a vehicle service provider.

As always, regular scheduled vehicle maintenance is the very best way to prevent an overheated engine and costly repairs. Our certified service team at Jack Carter Chevrolet are the experts when it comes to Chevrolet, Buick, and GMC vehicles. Book a service appointment today at our state-of-the-art facility so you can hit the road with peace of mind and a healthy vehicle.