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What to Do If Your Engine Overheats While Towing

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Many vehicles are built to handle the rigors of towing. Still, you may find yourself in a situation where the stress of towing triggers a problem that causes your engine to overheat.

What happens if your engine runs too hot while you’re pulling a weighty trailer behind you? In a case like this, it’s important to know what to do if your engine overheats while towing.

The Dangers of Driving with an Overheated Engine

Whether it’s caused by towing, cooling system failure or extremely hot weather, overheating can lead to permanent engine damage and may affect the following components:

  • Radiator Hoses
    As the temperatures rise within your car’s engine, it can cause antifreeze to boil and expand. As a result, pressure could build within the radiator hoses, which may cause them to burst.
  • Cylinder Heads and Head Gasket
    Your car engine’s cylinder heads may warp if you keep driving while your engine overheats. This can cause the engine to misfire or lose compression. It can also lead to a blown head gasket.
  • Welds, Seals, Sensors, Belts and Wiring
    There are lots of components in and around your car’s engine that are susceptible to damage from overheating, including welds and seals, which can burst if the temperature gets too high. Sensors, belts and wiring may also suffer damage that reduces their effectiveness if they are subjected to high temperatures.
  • Exhaust System
    Overheating can severely tax certain parts of your car’s exhaust system. The exhaust manifold and catalytic converter may experience heat damage if you continue to drive the vehicle while the engine overheats.

What to Do If Your Engine Overheats While Towing

Follow these steps to prevent damage to your vehicle if your engine overheats while you’re towing:

1. Turn off the Air Conditioning and Blast the Heat

If you have the air conditioning running, this can stress the engine and make overheating worse, so immediately turn off the A/C once you notice there’s a problem. Also, turn your car’s heater up to the maximum setting. This will help draw heat away from the engine, buying you some time while you plan your next move.

2. Pull Over in a Safe Location

Find a safe place with enough room for you and whatever you’re towing, and then pull over and turn off the engine. Allow the engine to cool down for at least 15 minutes. While this is happening, watch the car’s temperature gauge. The needle should move back into the normal range as the heat dissipates and the engine cools.

3. Drive to a Nearby Auto Repair Shop, or Call a Tow Truck or Roadside Assistance

Unless you were towing more than your vehicle’s prescribed limit or navigating a steep slope, the cause of your problem may be an engine issue. While your engine cools, use your cell phone to check if there is a NAPA AutoCare facility nearby. If so, you can drive to the shop when the temperature comes down and get the problem checked out. Keep an eye on your engine temperature gauge and drive gently. Stop to cool your engine off if needed. If there aren’t any repair shops close by, call a tow truck or AAA roadside assistance for help.

Remember, it’s important to pull over as soon as you can if your engine overheats. The longer you keep driving, the greater your risk of causing costly damage to your car’s engine.

Check out all the heating & cooling parts available at NAPA Online, or trust one of our 17,000 NAPA AutoCare locations for routine maintenance and repairs. For more information on what to do if you overheat while towing, chat with a knowledgeable expert at your local NAPA AUTO PARTS store.

Photo courtesy of Pixabay.

Warren Clarke View All

I'm a writer and editor who's a regular contributor with the New York Daily News and Carfax, and my content has appeared in over 20 publications. I've written content that covers industries such as automotive, medical, insurance, healthcare, real estate, plumbing, pest control, dental and hospitality.

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