If you were able to take a time machine back to, say, the mid-20th Century, you would be likely to see cars stranded at the roadside with steam pouring from the engines. Blown radiator hoses and thermostats were probably the reason. It was a fairly common occurrence and most drivers experienced it at least once. Cooling system parts needed regular checking and part replacement was usual.
Coming back to today, Most modern motors now have sealed cooling systems that are much more efficient and made of more durable materials. Antifreeze and coolant mixes are more scientific and far better at keeping an engine from overheating. Hoses will last much, much longer thankfully, especially if the vehicle is regularly maintained at your local car servicing garage.
That’s not to say though that overheating never happens and the summer is the time of year when faults will be found out. There won’t be the flow of cold air through the radiator that we get in the winter; Lots of drivers would be at a loss as to what to do. Oddly enough, the causes can be more complex than in olden times, so here’s a few tips:
Watch The Dashboard
Dashboard warning lights are there for an obvious reasons. If there is an issue with the cooling system and the car is overheating, the warning light should illuminate. Usually the pictogram is of a thermometer. Stop as soon as is safe to do so. Trying to carry on will make a dodgy situation worse and the result could be seized engine and a significantly higher bill.
Turn On The Heater & Check The Fan
If the warning light illuminates, turn off any air-conditioning and turn the heater on fully. This won’t in any way solve the problem but it will hep to draw heat off the engine while to find a safe space or car repair garage to stop at. Open the windows to let the heat out. Upon stopping, open the bonnet – don’t touch anything yet – and with the engine running watch the fan to see if it is working. If the engine is hot, it should be. If it isn’t, well, that may be your problem.
Check The Coolant
Importantly, let the engine cool down before you start investigating. The overheating could be due to a loss of coolant, a radiator damaged by road debris, a faulty radiator fan, a split hose or even a blown head gasket.
When cold, the coolant level in the easily observed expansion tank should always be on the marked level. Systems are sealed so this should never change unless of course the car is losing fluid. The expansion tank is the first port of call.
Check The System
Search for any tell-tale splits or water damage on hoses and, where possible, the radiator. If the engine head gasket has blown, remove the oil cap on the top of the engine and look at the oil. If there’s a milky sludge, the problem might lie there.
What To Do
What not to do is to drive the car further. The results of continued overheating could be catastrophic for the engine. Unless you understand complex modern engines and are a very competent mechanic, the likelihood is that the car must be collected and taken to your regular car servicing garage for repair. A diagnostic check should reveal the problem.
As mentioned previously, modern cars are much more reliable and you would have to be unlucky to experience overheating problems. One thing that an owner can do however is to try and pre-empt any issue by regular weekly checks of the system.
Observe the coolant level when the engine is cold. If the coolant level is dropping or the expansion tank is empty then there’s problem. The vehicle’s handbook will have the details. Where possible, check hoses for splits or damp areas and drive belts for tension.
When in doubt, get to your local garage and get the car checked. Those drivers from the 20th Century will tell you if they could that regular car maintenance is better than standing in the rain next to an overheating car.