What to Do When Your Car Overheats

When your car overheats, there's usually a sense of panic. It's overwelming. All of the sudden, lights on your dashboard start flashing, a peculiar aroma captures the air, and all you can see is smoke. The possibilities are pretty open. Is it a simple overheating issue? Is your car leaking excessively? Do you need to get it towed? These are questions that I am going to simplify for you guys.

I've never been a car expert or tried to learn excessive knowledge about cars. I mean, it's not like I've even been driving that long. But for the time I have been driving, I've dealt with only (and I mean only) old, run-down cars. Therefore, I've been forced to learn about cars.

The first time I dealt with an overheating issue was with a 2001 chevy malibu. The car started smoking, and it was a metallic, sweet smell. It was terrifying. Not to mention, it was leaking excessively from the bottom left side. We tried to drive it a little more to the driveway and it just kept leaking even more. Upon further inspection, we found out there was more than just one issue. The car wouldn't take any water or coolant. There was a hole in the hose and the engine was janked. We eventually had to get it towed and fixed up at the shop, but the car fell apart a few months later. Yikes.

The second overheating issue happened the other day, just as we entered the Disney parking lot, except with a 1998 chrysler concorde. As it was overheating, it had the same symptoms. Smoking with a weird smell, leaking, and flashing lights. "Shit. I don't wanna get a new car again," I thought. Regardless, we went onto Disney and enjoyed our time for 16 hours as the car rested. We called Triple A but decided to take matters into our own hands.

We put a little bit of water in and drove to the closest gas station with no smoking or leaking. That was a good sign. After putting coolant in and driving the 18 miles home, there were no issues. We got an oil change two days later and the car was working better than ever.

There are two similar yet different situations with two different cars. You really have to test things out for yourself.

So, why do cars overheat?

Why cars overheat:
1. Hot weather.
2. You're simply low on coolant.
3. You're low on coolant, but it's not that simple, because your car won't take any of the coolant due to a leak.
4. You've been hard on the engine. Long drives in hot weather with excessive air conditioner? Your car may not be use to that.

Some will say you shouldn't drive your car without a cooling system, and those people are correct. However, there are cases where you can't get it towed. (for example, if you're trapped in a Disney parking lot.) So, what should you do in this case?

What to do in worst case scenarios:
1. If in traffic or some other scenario where you can't pull over, turn the air conditioner off so you can give your engine a rest. If it's that bad, turn the heater on to transfer the heat from the engine to the heater. It may be rough, but it can save your car.

2. Just because the car is leaking, doesn't mean there is a hole in the hose. It's actually quite common for cars to leak, even if you just keep the AC on for too long. But if the car is leaking after you put more coolant in and start driving, this could be a potential issue and you need to get it checked ASAP. Better safe than sorry, right?

3. If you don't have any coolant on you and you need to get to a gas station, use water. I've found water works quite well, especially if you only need to drive a few miles.

Important things to remember:
1. Before working on the car, wait for it to COMPLETELY cool down. For your own safety and for the cars well-being. Wait at least 30 minutes, but the cooler, the better.

2. Read your cars manual. Every car has a different approach to coolant and overheating. Make sure you read this to save your car in the long-run.

3. Even if things are A-okay after you insert the coolant, I recommend getting an oil change. The reason for your car overheating may be as simple as hot weather, but a quick fix-up and look wouldn't hurt.


You probably just need coolant, but you can be the judge of that. Inspect it yourself, figure out the symptoms, call road-side assistance  etc. Do what you gotta do to protect your car. Know your car, and then you will be able to identify the problem. I've been forced to get to know cars almost as old as I am, therefore I've been able to fix cars problems on my own.