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A mechanic checking car coolant system and opening radiator cap of a car

Keep your engine cool if you want it to keep going.

If your vehicle’s engine overheats, getting stranded while you wait for it to cool off could be the least of your problems. Overheating can be a sign of trouble with your radiator or coolant system, and some of those problems can lead to severe engine damage.

It’s not safe to drive a car that’s overheated. In fact, doing so could result in major engine damage that would be more expensive to fix than an older vehicle is worth.

Coolant tank inside the hood of a car's engine

Why is my car overheating?

Engines overheat because of problems with the coolant (antifreeze), thermostat or the radiator itself. Common issues include a leak in the radiator system due to corrosion or a tear in a hose, blockages in the radiator, head gasket failure or hoses that prevent the coolant from circulating properly, a broken or stuck thermostat or broken radiator parts like the water pump or radiator fan. 

An overheating engine can cause antifreeze to boil and engine heads to warp. Many other engine components are also unable to withstand the extreme temperature of boiling antifreeze. Repairs are extremely expensive, if they’re possible at all.

open hood of a car with an overheated engine

What to do if your vehicle overheats...

If your vehicle’s warning system tells you the engine is overheated and you cannot pull over immediately, take the following steps:

  • While still driving, open all the windows to release excess heat.
  • Turn off the air conditioner.
  • Turn on the cabin heat to release heat from the engine.
  • When possible, put your transmission in Neutral and rev the
    engine to distribute antifreeze.

    After you pull over:

  • Turn off the engine and keep the windows open.
  • Open the hood to release engine heat.
  • Do not remove the radiator cap until the engine has cooled
  • Add coolant to your radiator reservoir (if you have some in your
    vehicle) or use water - only as a last resort.
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