Article originally published Jul 15, 2022

SPRINGFIELD, Mo. — High temperatures means hot cars. If your car gets too hot, it runs the risk of overheating its engine. Let’s get into a few things you can do to keep that from happening.

Southwest Missouri is seeing some high temperatures this July, dancing around the 100-degree mark, and we’re expecting it to stay that way for a while. These high temperatures can cause stress on your vehicles, leading to problems from overheating and other issues.

One of the best ways you can avoid problems such as overheating is following your vehicle’s recommended maintenance schedule, said Kirk Roelfsema, the lead automotive technology instructor at Crowder College.

It’s similar to your body’s health — there is rarely a quick trick that can bring your body or your vehicle back up to full health. You must take care of each over time.

“Maintenance, maintenance, maintenance,” Roelfsema told OzarksFirst. “Just regular maintenance.”

Roelfsema recommended that if people can, they should park in garages when the heat goes up. He added that when people plan to drive, they should pull away from the garage or parking space and look for any fluids on the ground.

“If you can see that there’s a drip on your floor, you better pay attention to it,” Roelfsema said. He said that drips of coolant or oil on the floor are your vehicle telling you that something is wrong.

Once your vehicle overheats, continuing to drive it without addressing the issue is rolling the dice on how many more miles you can get out of it. Odds are, you’re not going to like the number you get.

“You’re going to be spending a lot more money,” Roelfsema said about those who continue to drive overheating engines without getting them repaired.

However, you can do some things to help your vehicle make it through the summer without engine overheating. Below are some of the most common reasons for engine overheating.

Coolant Leaks

Coolant — which is the same thing as antifreeze — has one primary job, and you may have guessed it from its name. It keeps your engine cool. Really, it helps keeps your engine at an even temperature when the temperature outside is either too high or low, which is why it gets renamed antifreeze during the winter.

Without coolant, you may have some problems when the weather passes 90 or 100 degrees. If your engine is started to overheat, the first thing you should do is check your coolant levels. Most modern vehicles have transparent plastic coolant reservoirs that make it easy to open your hood and visually inspect.

If you find your coolant reservoir is low, fill it up to keep your engine cool. Afterward, be sure to check your coolant levels daily to see if the level is going down too fast. If you find that it has dropped down faster than usual, you may have a leak somewhere. You shouldn’t be able to notice a difference in the levels day to day — engines evaporate coolant around 0.25% every four months, or 1 inch per year.

If you do have a leak, you may be able to find its location yourself fairly easily, but stopping the leak may take a little familiarity with mechanic’s tools. Keep feeding your coolant reservoir to full until you can get the leak fixed. Use a 50/50 mix of coolant and water.

Water Pump Issues

Your engine has a water pump that helps keep your engine cool. Its name is a little misleading — it’s actually sending coolant through your engine system. If for some reason your water pump isn’t doing its job correctly, your engine might not be receiving enough coolant, which can lead to overheating. Your water pump may have failed or the timing belt that runs it may have failed.

Oil Leaks or Bad Oil

Oil keeps your engine’s components lubricated. Without proper lubrication, these components rub together, creating friction and heat. This creates excessive wear and tear, and can lead to overheating. It can also lead to a severely damaged engine, which can easily be more expensive to replace than a vehicle is worth. This is why one of the first lessons many of us are taught when we start driving is to get regular oil changes.

Oil also helps take heat away from your engine, cooling it down. Over time, this heat breaks the oil down, making it more sludge-like and viscous. This makes it more difficult to travel through your engine’s system, which leads to higher heat, and — you guessed it — overheating.

Like your coolant, oil levels should be monitored to make sure your vehicle has the fluids it needs to run smoothly. Check your oil level with the dip stick under your hood. If it’s dropping faster than it should, have a mechanic inspect your system for leaks. The oil filter should also be checked to ensure it isn’t clogged.

Radiator Problems

Radiators are integral parts of your engine’s cooling system. Don’t worry about checking your radiator fluid — you already did that when you checked your coolant. Coolant, antifreeze, and radiator fluid are all the same thing.

Instead, check your radiator (it’s more than likely near the grille) for debris or obvious damage. Your radiator may have a broken fan that keeps hot air trapped in your system.

On-the-Road Tips

Once you have your vehicle healthy and ready to face the hot days — or if you’re still working on fixing the problems — use these tips to avoid engine overheating.

  • Stay on top of your vehicle’s recommended maintenance.
  • Leave vehicle repair to the professionals if you’re not confident under the hood.
  • Store coolant and water in your vehicle.
  • If you have an oil leak, keep a container of new oil in your vehicle.
  • Avoid air conditioning as much as you can comfortably stand.
  • Keep an eye on the engine temperature gauge on your instrument cluster.
  • When in doubt about your vehicle’s maintenance schedule or parts, always refer to its owner’s manual.