Seeing the temperature gauge creep up? An overheating engine is serious trouble. When ignored, it can lead to extensive repair bills and even complete engine failure.
This article explores the most common causes of engine overheating to help you in your troubleshooting efforts as well as signs you need to be watching for to recognize the early stages of overheating before any damage occurs.
6 Common Causes of Engine Overheating
Below are the top 6 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.
Telltale signs of this are a cold lower radiator hose and/or cool upper hose.
Read Also: 3 Symptoms of a Clogged Heater Core
#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 or even a faulty radiator cap. 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 antifreeze (or an internal oil leak is mixing with coolant).
The best thing you can do is flush your entire cooling system and then add the right cooling fluid back into the system.
#6 – Low Engine Oil
As stated earlier, motor not only acts as a lubricant between the moving components inside an engine, it acts keeps internal temperatures at bay.
If your engine has too low of an amount of oil (or old oil that’s deteriorated enough), excess friction will be the result which drastically raises the engine temperature. This can ultimately result in overheating and internal engine damage.
5 Common Symptoms of Engine Overheating
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 (a transmission temp gauge will be similar). But if the needle is in the red area, this indicates that you have an overheated engine.
#2 – 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.
#3 – 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.
#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.
See Also: Symptoms of Burnt Transmission Fluid
#5 – Poor 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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