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What To Do When Your Car Overheats

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, water pumps, hoses and coolant.

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5 Steps to Take if Your Car Overheats

Having the right car insurance can protect your ride. If your car overheats, so can these common sense tips.

  • Turn up the heat. While you may be tempted to turn on the air conditioning, this is 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 it’s overheating can cause serious – and sometimes permanent – damage to your engine, so it’s best to stop driving as soon as possible. Pull over and away from oncoming traffic, then turn off the engine.
  • Open your hood (or call for help). After parking your car, open your hood to let excess heat escape – then, stay back to let things cool down. Be extremely careful and remember that a hot engine can spew boiling coolant or steam under high pressure without warning. If you’re not comfortable opening the hood yourself, there’s no shame in calling for help. Either way: 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.
  • Know when to call a mechanic. 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.

How to Prevent Your Car from Overheating

Before you head out on your next summer road trip, follow these steps to prevent your car from overheating and spending your vacation at the repair shop.

  • Check your coolant level and make sure it’s fresh.
  • Check your drive belt to make sure there is no unusual wear and tear.
  • Check your radiator. If your car’s A/C condenser sits in in front of your radiator, a buildup of leaves, bugs or mud can block the airflow.
  • Inspect your radiator cap. If the spring is too weak, it may not be able to maintain the pressure needed to prevent boiling over and overheating.

Finally, make sure to schedule a multi-point inspection on your car before heading out on any road trip or vacation. A trusted mechanic will know to check for maintenance issues that would need a quick fix to help make your drive as smooth as possible.

Get Back on the Road with Roadside Service Coverage

If you do get stuck on the side of the road, it’s good to know you’ll have help if you need it.

Emergency Roadside Service coverage from ERIE can help with mechanical breakdowns as well as lockouts, flat tires, or dead batteries. It can even save the day when your car runs out of gas.

Better yet? Adding Emergency Roadside Service coverage to your ERIE auto insurance policy only costs about $5 per vehicle per year1 and it’s available with the purchase of either comprehensive or collision coverage.

You can also purchase the coverage with ERIE’s Roadside & Rentals bundle, which includes rental car expense coverage2.

Learn more about Emergency Roadside Service coverage or talk to your local ERIE agent about adding it to your auto policy.

  • 1

    Vehicles eligible for coverage include cars, light trucks and motorcycles. The service also covers horse, livestock and other trailers that are pulled by vehicles that ERIE insures. See individual policies for specific coverage details. Certain terms and limitations may apply. Refer to our disclaimer for additional information. In North Carolina, coverage is purchased by limits ($25, $50 and $100).

  • 2

    In all states except Virginia and North Carolina, Transportation Expenses are included with Comprehensive Coverage but must be purchased separately for a Collision loss. Rental vehicle coverage is based on the type of vehicle rented, rather than a specific dollar amount. In Virginia and North Carolina, Transportation Expense Coverage is included with Comprehensive Coverage and Collision Coverage and is subject to a per day limit.

ERIE® insurance products and services are provided by one or more of the following insurers: Erie Insurance Exchange, Erie Insurance Company, Erie Insurance Property & Casualty Company, Flagship City Insurance Company and Erie Family Life Insurance Company (home offices: Erie, Pennsylvania) or Erie Insurance Company of New York (home office: Rochester, New York).  The companies within the Erie Insurance Group are not licensed to operate in all states. Refer to the company licensure and states of operation information.

The insurance products and rates, if applicable, described in this blog are in effect as of July 2022 and may be changed at any time. 

Insurance products are subject to terms, conditions and exclusions not described in this blog. The policy contains the specific details of the coverages, terms, conditions and exclusions. 

The insurance products and services described in this blog are not offered in all states.  ERIE life insurance and annuity products are not available in New York.  ERIE Medicare supplement products are not available in the District of Columbia or New York.  ERIE long term care products are not available in the District of Columbia and New York. 

Eligibility will be determined at the time of application based upon applicable underwriting guidelines and rules in effect at that time.

Your ERIE agent can offer you practical guidance and answer questions you may have before you buy.