The most common causes of engine overheating are fortunately all very preventable. Keeping your vehicle’s motor running smoothly and at the proper temperature is almost always a matter of staying on top of maintenance, not ignoring warning signs and making sure not to push things too hard under extreme driving conditions.
Check out these three common causes of engine heating issues and how to avoid them.
1. Low Coolant
The simplest and most common reason for an engine to overheat is a lack of coolant in the motor itself. A failing head gasket can cause the engine to consume coolant. A leaking radiator or hose can drop antifreeze on the ground. A pinprick hole somewhere in the system can end up spraying coolant once pressurized. Whatever the issue is, a low coolant situation is not something you can ignore. If you discover that your vehicle is low on antifreeze, fill it up as soon as possible before doing any more driving — and then start searching for the leak. Regularly inspecting the level of antifreeze in your overflow tank will help prevent you from being surprised by a sudden overheating issue caused by coolant loss.
2. Failing Cooling Fan
A faulty cooling fan can also cause overheating issues. This important component is either electrically operated, or it makes use of a mechanical clutch in order to spin and draw air over your radiator to keep temperatures low. It’s especially important when you are sitting in traffic or stopped at a red light, as there’s very little natural air flow in these situations to help the radiator do its job. If you notice that your engine starts to overheat when the vehicle is stationary, but that the needle on the temperature gauge drops once you’re underway again, that’s a sign that your cooling fan may no longer be doing its job.
3. Worn-Out Coolant
Just like any other fluid in your vehicle that’s constantly exposed to heat, your car or truck’s coolant wears out over time. The additives mixed in with the antifreeze need to be replaced on a regular basis. If you go too long between coolant flushes, you could end up with sludge inside your coolant passages that restrict its flow. As causes of engine overheating go, this one is relatively simple to remedy: Completely drain and refill your cooling system with fresh antifreeze as soon as possible. If the deposits have built up significantly, you may need to do this more than once or have the engine professionally flushed.
If you stay alert for warning signs and follow the maintenance schedule for your vehicle, then you shouldn’t have to worry about your engine overheating.
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Photo courtesy of Flickr.
Having been bitten by the car bug at a young age, I spent my formative years surrounded by Studebakers at car shows across Quebec and the northeastern United States. Over ten years of racing, restoring, and obsessing over automobiles lead me to balance science writing and automotive journalism full time. I currently contribute as an editor to several online and print automotive publications, and I also write and consult for the pharmaceutical and medical device industry.