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How to Cool an Overheated Engine: Staying Safe When Things Get Hot

Overheated truck with hood up to cool it off.

When summer comes and drivers crank their air conditioning (AC), vehicles can overheat, even if they’re serviced regularly and running well. If you look down and notice your temperature gauge climbing, don’t panic. Here’s a quick rundown of how to cool an overheated engine and what to do to keep yourself safe.

Shut It DownOverheated

If you notice that your temperature gauge is climbing, turn the AC off and open your windows. The AC’s compressor is run off the engine, and the extra load could be what’s causing it to run hotter. If you find that the air conditioner always raises the engine’s temperature, you may have a larger mechanical issue that will need to be repaired.

Hit the Fan

This part may not be comfortable, but it will certainly help your vehicle’s engine. After you turn the AC off, turn on the heater and blowers. The heater draws heat from the engine to operate. It will raise the temperature for you as the driver, but it will also help transfer heat away from the engine.

Stop and Go Know-How

Many times, the engine’s temperature climbs when the car is stuck in traffic. If you find yourself caught in a traffic jam with a hot engine, keep your car in neutral and rev the engine up a little bit. While the person next to you may think you want to race, this will make the water pump and radiator fan (if it is turned directly by the engine) speed up, which will aid in cooling the engine.

Try to avoid riding the brakes. Believe it or not, brake drag increases the load on your engine. As traffic crawls forward, let a larger gap open before you move up. This will keep the brakes and engine from building extra heat.

Cool Off

coolant jug under the hood of a JeepIf these measures don’t help, you may have a larger problem. If you find that engine temperature climbs out of control, immediately pull your vehicle off to the side of the road and open the hood to let the heat out of the engine bay. Under no circumstances should you try to work on the engine or open the radiator. The water and coolant mix in the radiator is pressurized when it’s hot, and opening the cap can release the pressure and spray hot coolant out, causing major burns. Let the engine cool off completely before you go near it.

Even if it’s not summertime and you’re not caught in traffic, your vehicle can overheat for a number of other reasons. Turning off accessories such as air conditioning and turning on the heat and fan, or even pulling over and opening the hood, can help cool things down quickly. From there, you can bring your car to a mechanic to ensure the overheating is not caused by a more serious problem.

Check out all the heating & cooling parts available on NAPA Online or trust one of our 17,000 NAPA AutoCare locations for routine maintenance and repairs. For more information on how to cool an overheated engine, chat with a knowledgeable expert at your local NAPA AUTO PARTS store.

Image courtesy of Flickr.

Erich Reichert View All

Erich Reichert has been an editor and on-air personality in the radio control car hobby for 12 years. A certified car nut since birth, he has written for internationally published titles such as RC Car Action, RC Driver and Xtreme RC Cars, as well as Stuff Magazine, Road and Track and Super Street. He's covered everything from product reviews and tech articles to high-profile lifestyle pieces and celebrity interviews. Erich found his passion for writing after a successful career as an art director, working with brands such as Pepsico, NASCAR, MTV, Nintendo, WWE, Cannondale Bicycles and HBO. He's also a father, an avid hockey fan and an FIA race license holder who enjoys hiking, playing drums and movies.

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