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Causes of engine overheating: how to fix and diagnose it, how far can i drive without temporary fix


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For most of the modern car, the normal operating engine temperature is in the range of 75 to 105 degrees Celsius. When it reaches 80-90 degrees, the thermostat allows the cooling fluid flow through the other cooling circuit. If the temperature continues rising, the radiator fan starts cooling the engine. An engine cooling system is a complex structure with a great number of components, the malfunctions of which can lead to engine overheating.

What are the main causes of engine overheating

One of the most common reasons why your car overheats is low engine coolant level. Hoses and various fittings wear out in the course of time. Due to that the system is no longer sealed and the liquid may leak out. The circuits are now filled with air which doesn’t have the required properties to cool the engine properly. Sometimes, the radiator itself might have a leakage in case it gets damaged in a collision, for instance.

Engine coolant temperature sensor

If the coolant level is correct but the operating temperature is still rising up, there is a chance that your thermostat is stuck or clogged. It is intended to open an additional cooling circuit when the engine is running hot. A faulty device fails to perform its function, restricting the flow of the coolant. This situation is very common if people use poor-quality aftermarket spares.

An engine is cooled due to the cooling liquid flowing through its passages and picking up the heat, i.e. the coolant is continuously circulating. This circulation is ensured by a water pump. So, if the pump is broken or the pump belt is stretched or torn, they can become the culprits as they are no longer able to ensure the proper removal of excessive heat.

Another reason why the circulation of the coolant can be interrupted is a blockage. Either one of the hoses or radiator passes might get clogged. Even nowadays some drivers keep using water as a cooling liquid. If this water isn’t distilled, layers of limescale are highly likely to appear inside the system. Gradually, the heat transfer becomes less and less efficient until the flow is completely blocked.

However, there is also a chance that the problem is not related to the coolant or its circulation. An engine is cooled not only with the help of cooling liquid but with oil as well. It is used as a lubricant to minimize the friction between the engine components. In case the oil level is low, these components aren’t lubricated properly: rubbing against each other, they create excessive heat.

Low coolant level can be a sign of another problem related to the engine itself that can its cause overheating – a blown head gasket. It seals the combustion chamber and prevents oil and coolant from mixing together. In that case, coolant leaks out and the air is sucked in putting your engine at great risk.

Engine overheating

Another component of the engine cooling system that might lead to overheating is the fan. A broken fan fails to create an air flow to cool the engine and fervent it from running too hot.

What happens if your car engine overheats: possible solutions

If you’ve noticed that the temperature gauge shows that your engine is warmer than it should be. The first thing you should do is to check the coolant level. If there isn’t enough liquid, top it off. However, that is a temporary solution: if the coolant level is low, look for leakage. Examine the radiator, hoses, fittings and seals for any traces of the liquid sipping out. If some of the components are damaged, they have to be replaced as soon as possible.

Add coolant to car

If the reservoir is full but the engine is still running hot, a faulty thermostat can be the one to blame. That can be easily checked: when your engine is heated, touch the lower part of the radiator or the hose at its bottom. If they are cool, it means that the coolant flow is restricted. You’ve found the culprit. The replacement of this component will help you to avoid your engine getting overheated.

Engine thermostat

Using water as a coolant or poor-quality car chemicals increases the risk of your cooling system getting blocked. If you suspect that, you should dismantle the radiator and examine it. If any traces of debris are found, flush the radiator. It is recommended to perform this procedure once in 2 or 3 years.

In order to exclude the possibility of overheating due to the low level of oil, check it. Shut down the engine and let it cool down. Take out the dipstick, wipe the oil off it and push it all the way in. Wait for a second and then withdraw the dipstick and check the level. The oil should be between the two marks. If it is below, its amount is insufficient. Pour some oil into the car. Make sure it is between the marks. Check the engine for any leaks and traces of oil sipping out.

In case you think your pump causes the engine overheating, examine the area around it: there should be no signs of coolant sipping out. It is also a good idea to check the pulley and make sure the belt is properly tensioned. Listen to your car while the engine is running. With your bonnet lid open it is possible to hear the pump working. If you notice a low-pitched noise, it might be the bearing going bad. In case any of these symptoms are found, the pump or its belt may need replacement.

Seeing white steam coming out of the exhaust pipe is a definitely bad symptom as it means that coolant is getting into the combustion chamber. A blown head gasket separates oil and coolant no more allowing them mixing together. You should see an automotive service specialist to have the gasket replaced.

It is very easy to notice a faulty fan. When your engine reaches certain operating temperature, the fan is automatically switched on or if your vehicle is equipped with an AC, you may just switch it on. There is a number of reasons why it may not work. For example, a fuse or temperature sensor, as well as an electric fan relay, might require the replacement.

An engine is the heart of any vehicle and it should be treated with great care and attention. Overheating greatly reduces the lifespan of the unit and sometimes major repairs exceed the value of the car. Always pay attention to the warning lights and temperature gauges, check the coolant and oil levels, make sure there is no leakage if you notice any spots of liquid under your car.

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