What to Do if Your Car Overheats

Updated on March 19, 2017


There are so many things that can go wrong when you are driving your vehicle and overheating is a big one.

Hopefully you realize that while you are driving you should pay attention to your car's gauges.

I hate the people that drive around in a daze, my mom is one of them!

You should always know what is going on around you when you are driving and you should know what is going on with your car as well.

Temperature Gauge

This is what a typical car temperature gauge looks like.
This is what a typical car temperature gauge looks like.

You should always keep an eye on your car's temperature gauge, just to be safe. Different vehicles operate at different temperatures but generally the gauge should stay at or below the middle.

Many of these gauges have a red or dark spot (gray in picture above) that identifies a "dangerous" temperature. If your vehicle reaches this temperature you need to know what to do....

If Your Car Overheats

If your vehicle overheats the first thing you should do is slow down and find a place to stop.

You need to get water or coolant into your vehicle as soon as possible! But you need to know more...

First off, you do not want to shut the engine off unless it cools down to normal temperature. You may be able to get the vehicle to cool down by driving around slowly or by coasting the vehicle.

If you can't get the car to cool off don't shut off the engine.

The next step is to obtain water or coolant immediately.

Once you have water/coolant you need to add it to your radiator. To do this you will need to have the engine running, if you turned the car off start it back up. Your radiator will have a lot of pressure in it—do not just open the cap right away!

You can find your radiator located at the front of your engine as pictured here.
You can find your radiator located at the front of your engine as pictured here.
These are some typical radiator caps.
These are some typical radiator caps.

When and How to Release the Radiator Cap

You need to let off the pressure inside the radiator. Do this by turning the radiator cap until it hits the first notch; you should hear the pressure releasing. Even though the engine has cooled off somewhat, protect your hand with a rag from the hot cap. Once all of the pressure is released it should be safe to remove the radiator cap by pushing down and turning the cap the rest of the way.

Now that you have the cap off of the radiator you can begin slowly pouring water/coolant into the radiator. Note the engine should still be running.

You want the engine to be running because you can crack your engine block by pouring cold water into a hot engine. This way the hot water in the engine mixes with the cold water and warms it instead of a sudden punch of cold water. Also this will help get out any air bubbles that are in the engine.

When pouring the water/coolant the radiator will likely fill up to the top and then go down and there may be a lot of bubbles this is normal. You need to completely fill the radiator and to do so you need to make sure all the air comes out.

When the radiator is full replace the radiator cap.

You're almost done!

The Reserve Tank

After filling the radiator completely you need to also fill the reserve tank.

This is a small tank that connects to the radiator and holds extra water/coolant.

Track down your reserve or overflow tank by following the small tube/hose connected to your radiator. The large tube/hose runs to your engine block.

You need to make sure that this is full to the "max" line, if you overfill it don't worry it won't hurt anything.

This is a small radiator with the reserve tank located right next to the radiator.
This is a small radiator with the reserve tank located right next to the radiator.
Here is a reserve tank that is located on the side of the engine.
Here is a reserve tank that is located on the side of the engine.

You're Done!

Now you are done and your car should be fine, but you may have a leak in your radiator!

You should have a professional check your cooling system for leaks, especially if this is a recurring event. Every now and then a car will become low on coolant and overheat to let you know. This is "normal" but if it happens a lot you definitely have a leak somewhere!


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    • profile image

      bk 4 years ago

      some1 advised I unplug the temperature sensor switch and move on; tho the check engine light and cold temperature indicator was on, I was told it was ok since I was far in lone road

    • profile image

      Soloja 5 years ago

      Great! Thumbs up!Most people immediately shut off the engine and start pouring cold water into the radiator! So that is how I ruined my truck!This is an eye opener--sort of car cpr 101.Brilliant!

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      EasyBoy 5 years ago

      Don't pour water on the radiator cover, especially if it's made of plastic, the sudden change of temperature might crack or make it brittle

    • profile image

      Rita 5 years ago

      Thanks, great tips. I turned off the engine completely once when my car overheated , now i know better.

    • profile image

      mechanicsdaughter08 5 years ago

      great tips! you know what you're talking about

    • profile image

      tkzdg 5 years ago

      this was awesome to know

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      megan 6 years ago

      i would think its a given that the radiator cap would be hot and use a rag?

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      RAndy 6 years ago

      I encountered engine over-heating while I was on idle, I waited a while for it to cool-off, but I popped the hood and saw that the hose going from the engine to the radiator has popped out. I decided to just turn off the engine... not really sure if i did the right thing...

    • profile image

      gloria 6 years ago

      thankyou very much

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      stephanie 6 years ago

      The only thing you forgot was to say for the person to use a rag or something to get the radiator cap off because of it being hot.

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      taquisa 7 years ago

      Thanks that was great tips

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      Lauri in Orlando 7 years ago

      Thanx for the info!!!

    • Laura in Denver profile image

      Laura Deibel 8 years ago from Aurora

      Thanks for the tips! I always hate it when a vehicle has trouble...