What To Do When Your Car Overheats

man standing outside car

As outside temperatures climb during the warm summer months, temperatures inside your vehicle’s engine bay can near 200 degrees. In that type of heat, it’s important to keep your engine cool.

Your car’s cooling system is usually up to the task. But if the needle of your temperature gauge rises or you spot steam coming from under your hood, your car could be overheating.

When your car overheats, it often means something is wrong with one of the cooling system components, which include your fan, radiator, thermostat, hoses and coolant.

Here are some steps you can take to help track down your problem and get back on the road safely:


  • Turn up the heat. While it may seem counterintuitive, turning your heat on full blast can actually help disperse the heat coming from your engine.

  • Find a safe place to pull over. Driving your car when its overheating can cause serious – and sometimes permanent – damage to your engine, so it’s best to stop driving as soon as possible. Pull over, away from oncoming traffic, then turn off your engine.

  • Open your hood. After parking your car, open your hood to let excess heat escape – then, stay back to let things cool down. Never touch a hot engine with your bare hands!

  • Look for leaks. You may not be a mechanic, but some cooling system issues aren’t difficult to identify. Look at your radiator and hoses to see if you can find leaking coolant.

  • Fill your coolant. If you can’t find a leak, you may be low on coolant. If you’re comfortable and confident in identifying the proper parts of your engine, follow these tips from Consumer Reports for a quick fix. To check your coolant level, you’ll need to remove your radiator cap – but only after your engine has cooled off. Once your engine is cool, use a towel to slowly remove the cap. Your coolant should reach the top of the radiator. If it doesn’t, top it off. And be sure to check the plastic coolant expansion tank, if your car has one. Most cars use a 50/50 mix of water and antifreeze, but you can just add room temperature water as a temporary fix.

If your car was low on coolant, you can start it back up after topping it off. Keep a close eye on your temperature gauge to ensure that it is in a safe range. If you found a coolant leak, or your coolant was full, you may have a more complex cooling system issue and it’s time to call your mechanic.

Whatever the reason you’re stuck on the side of the road… you’ll be relieved to have ERIE Road Service coverage. With Road Service, you have 24/7 access to expert roadside assistance techs, and we’ll pay for reasonable auto towing and required labor costs at the site of the breakdown when your covered car is disabled.*

Even better? You can add it to your current coverage for just about five dollars per vehicle per year.

Learn more about how Road Service works, or ask your ERIE agent about adding it to your auto policy.

*Road Service coverage is only available when comprehensive coverage has been purchased on the vehicle. In North Carolina, coverage is purchased by limits ($25, $50 and $100). See individual policies for specific coverage details. Certain terms and limitations may apply.

When your car overheats, it often means something is wrong with one of the cooling system components. Here are some steps you can take to help track down your problem and get back on the road safely. /blog/car-overheats Erie Insurance