An overheating engine is more than a minor nuisance. At best, it’ll cause permanent damage to your engine and your wallet. At worst, it could pose a danger to you and your family.

The summer months are hot in Maryland, and that means you’re going to want more information about how your engine’s cooling system works, what to do if you experience engine overheating, and give you some tips to prevent your engine from overheating. This guide will answer all of those questions and more.

How An Engine Overheats 

An engine overheats when the heat generated by the engine’s typical operation exceeds its normal operating temperature. The excess heat is usually caused by some failure in the vehicle’s cooling system. Here are a few reasons your engine could overheat.

Leaks In Your Cooling System 

If your cooling system is leaking coolant, you’ll eventually end up with not enough coolant to maintain the vehicle’s appropriate operating temperature. These leaks can be occurring in the hoses, radiator, water pump, head gasket, or elsewhere.

Broken Water Pump

The cooling system relies on the water pump to help move the coolant throughout the system. If the water pump breaks, the coolant will cease to move through the system and complete its cooling cycle, causing the vehicle to overheat.

Radiator Failure

Damage to the radiator or radiator cooling fans will make it impossible to fully recool the coolant before sending it back through the engine. This will cause higher than normal operating temperatures and eventually engine overheating.

Low Engine Oil

Engine oil is primarily used to lubricate the many moving parts in your engine, but it also draws heat from the engine and helps maintain the engine’s temperature. If the engine is operating on low oil, you’ll experience higher temperatures and possibly an overheating event.

Thermostat Failure

Just like in your house, your engine uses a thermostat to regulate its temperature. If this thermostat fails, it will prevent the system from properly regulating the temperature of the vehicle.

It can be difficult to determine which of these factors — or another one entirely — might be causing your engine to overheat. Working with a skilled automotive professional can help you narrow down the issues and identify how to fix them.

What to Do When Your Engine Overheats

If your engine overheats, it’s imperative that you take the necessary steps to ensure your safety and prevent expensive or irreparable damage to the engine. Here are some steps to keep in mind.

  1. Identify That Your Engine Is Overheating

The first step in dealing with an overheating engine is recognizing that it’s happening before it’s too late. There are three common signs of overheating: 

  • Steam escaping from underneath your hood (it looks like smoke) 
  • The temperature gauge on your dashboard is all the way up
  • Strange odors that can smell like burning (from burning engine oil) or sweet (from burning antifreeze)

Once you’ve determined your engine is overheating, do the following: 

  1. Stop Driving And Pull Over

As soon as it’s safe to do so, stop driving and pull over. If you continue to operate the vehicle while the engine is overheating, the temperature will continue to rise and cause significant damage. If it’s not safe to stop, roll down the windows, drive at low RPM, and turn on the heat. That sounds crazy, but running the heater will actually pull heat away from the vehicle’s engine. 

Once you come to a complete stop and turn off the vehicle, don’t immediately open the hood. There could be a dangerous amount of heat and pressure buildup, and remaining in your car is the safest thing you can do. 

  1. Call For Help

Once you’re in a safe place, call for roadside services and a tow truck to come and lend you a hand.

Knowing what to do and who to call for assistance can make the process of an overheating engine go from a catastrophe to a minor inconvenience. Keep the number of your trusted towing partner in your car or phone to avoid having too much time taken up by having to find a towing service to trust with your vehicle.