Engine Overheat: Common Causes and Symptoms

It is common knowledge that internal combustion engines generate a lot of heat as they operate. In normal situations, there are two ways in which a car engine cools down while it is running. The main way is from being exposed to coolant fluid, also known as antifreeze. This fluid is formulated to regulate the temperature of the engine so that it does not get too hot. Furthermore, it helps prevent scales and corrosion in the engine as well.

The second way an engine cools down is from the oil that flows through it. This oil serves as a lubricant for the hot engine components but also serves as another coolant as well. As long as you have enough coolant and oil flowing in your vehicle, you should never need to worry about your engine overheating.

However, there are so many problems that could arise which might compromise these cooling liquids. You could have a leak or damaged component in any number of places that could result in your engine overheating. It is not a good idea to drive for too long with an overheated engine or else there could be irreversible damage caused to it.

5 Common Causes

Below are the top 5 causes of an overheated engine. Once you understand these common causes, you will know where to look so that you can fix the cause of the problem right away. It is better to do this sooner rather than later or else your engine might never function the same again.

1) Coolant Leak – Your engine depends on coolant to stay cool as it is running. There is an entire cooling system which keeps the coolant flowing smoothly. You have a water pump, radiator, thermostat, hoses, and a head gasket that make this all happen. If any of these components gets damaged or worn out, they might leak coolant out from them. This will result in an overheated engine.  If the leak is small, you might be able to temporarily patch it up until you have time to bring your vehicle to the shop and replace that component.

2) Clogged Hoses – If your engine is overheating but there is no coolant leak, then you might have a clogged coolant hose. This might happen if sediment or dirt from the road inadvertently got into the hose. This will block the coolant fluid from being able to flow through the system properly.

3) Bad Water Pump – The water pump is the component which propels the coolant fluid so that it can flow in the cooling system. If the water pump is damaged or worn out, your engine will overheat from it. Check the impeller vanes or bump shaft because these are commonly the reasons for the water pump going bad. There may even be leaks too.

4) Faulty Radiator – The radiator is what transfers heat out of the hot coolant so that it can cycle back into the engine and cool it down again. If you have a bad radiator, the coolant liquid is going to stay hot. This means the engine is going to stay hot as well. Sometimes a radiator might have a broken fan which prevents the hot air from escaping. Other times, there are leaks or clogs in the radiator. All this leads to an overheated engine.

5) Wrong Coolant – You might not see any leaks or faulty components at all, but still notice your engine overheating. If you put new coolant fluid in your vehicle recently, then perhaps you used the wrong cooling fluid. The best thing you can do is flush your entire cooling system and then add the right cooling fluid back into the system.

Read also: Throttle Position Sensor: Function, Failure Symptoms, and Replacement Cost

5 Common Symptoms

Below are the top 5 symptoms of an overheated engine. If you notice at least a few of these symptoms present in your vehicle, then you should act fast and resolve the issue before it is too late.

1) Temperature Gauge is Red – Your vehicle should have a temperature gauge on the dashboard. This gauge is supposed to tell you the temperature of the engine. In normal situations, the needle of the gauge will be in the black area. This indicates a normal temperature. But if the needle is in the red area, this indicates that you have an overheated engine.

2) Temperature Light – A lot of people don’t pay attention to their temperature gauge unless something motivates them to do so. That is why your temperature light will illuminate on the dashboard whenever your engine is starting to overheat. You can then verify this problem by simply looking at your temperature gauge. If the needle is close to red, then you have your confirmation of the problem.

3) Steaming Hood – As the engine gets hotter, steam will emit from the hood of your car. This can be attributed to the hot coolant. If you have a faulty radiator and the coolant isn’t able to cool down, then it will start to boil. This boiling coolant will cause steam to come out of it.

4) Burning Smell – An engine contains many components made of different materials, such as metal, rubber, and plastic. Once the engine overheat, all these materials will burn. In addition, they will emit a very distinct burning odor that can be smelled throughout the entire passenger cabin. The oil will also burn and create a smell too. If you smell anything like this, then you know your engine is overheated.

5) Bad Engine Performance – An overheated engine will not be able to function properly on the road. If you try to demand more power from an overheated engine, you won’t get it. The acceleration will be weak at best, and all the other symptoms listed above will be present.

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