To drive or not to drive, (an overheated engine) that is the question! PDF Print E-mail


If you think your car is overheating…


  1. Regularly monitor the temperature gauge when driving, so you know where it averages under normal conditions, and will be able to determine early if it’s running higher than usual.

  2. Stop the car in a safe place (and turn off the engine) as soon as overheating is detected (by viewing the temperature gauge, a warning light, or steam coming from under the hood). Continuing to drive, even for a short distance, could greatly increase damage, up to full engine replacement in some cases.

  3. WARNING: It is dangerous to remove the radiator cap and/or expansion tank cap from a hot engine, as it is pressurized and can cause severe steam burns. A severely overheated engine can take up to several hours to cool. Now would be a good time to call for roadside assistance, as the engine can cool while you wait for them to arrive. If you have your owner’s manual handy, you could look up any warning lights that may have shown up before you shut off the engine. You may also be able to determine if your vehicle has an expansion tank (pressurized) or reservoir tank (non-pressurized), and find it’s location.

  4. Do not continue to use a vehicle when overheating or with a cooling system leak. Continued driving may cause damage, and adding coolant to a leaking system will not get you very far.

  5. Do not use cold water to refill a hot engine, as this can cause damage as well. It’s always preferable to add the manufacturer recommended coolant instead of water, however, if you have no access to coolant, water may be used as a temporary solution, until you can get the vehicle to a shop for repairs, but be sure to let them know you added water instead of coolant. If you must use straight water, let the water sit in the sun and warm up while the car cools down. If you do add coolant, be sure it’s either pre-mixed, or use a mixture of 50/50 coolant and water.

  6. Simply adding water or coolant to an overheated engine will rarely fix the problem, as there is usually a reason that the coolant was low to begin with, even if there is not an obvious leak.  You’ll need to get a professional diagnosis of the problem and have the repairs completed before you can determine if any overheat damage was sustained.

  7. Once the engine is cooled, always check coolant levels in both the overflow reservoir or expansion tank (if fitted) and the radiator. Coolant level should be at the lines indicated on the tanks and the radiator should be full.

  8. Always use the correct coolant for your car. Avoid mixing different types of coolants, unless there are no other options and it’s used as a temporary fix. Again, let the shop know anytime you’ve added anything other than the manufacturer recommended coolant.

  9. Sometimes overheating may cause scale from inside the engine to become dislodged and block the radiator, causing more cooling system problems in the near future.

  10. Most temperature gauges only operate properly when there is coolant in the system. If the coolant has leaked out, the engine could be much hotter than is indicated by the gauge and engine damage could be substantial.


It is recommended that a vehicle’s engine and cooling system be thoroughly inspected by a professional technician with any overheating condition. Unfortunately, the full extent of any engine damage may not become apparent for days, weeks, or even months afterwards. We have replaced engines on multiple vehicles where the driver thought they had only driven “a little ways” after detecting overheating conditions.


An ounce of prevention is definitely worth a pound of cure in this case. Regular inspection of your car during our oil change services, along with proper maintenances, will reduce the risk of unforeseen problems with the cooling system, as well as other vital systems on your vehicle.




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I'm trying very hard to understand this generation. They have adjusted the timetable for childbearing so that menopause and teaching a sixteen-year-old how to drive a car will occur in the same week. --Erma Bombeck.

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Ithaca, NY 14850
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