Imagine yourself driving home, taking the road you know like the back of your hand, when all of a sudden you see a smoke-like gas leaking upwards from the hood of your car. As you stare in confusion, you’ll most likely notice the temperature gauge in your dashboard is at “H” (hot) or the red line. This can be a highly stressful moment for those who have never been in a situation like this. The key to keeping your day turning into a headache is simple; stay calm. By knowing what could be going on, you’ll reduce the potential of unnecessarily stressing yourself out and will have a firmer handle on the situation, avoiding a costly engine repair.


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What's Possibly Happening Underneath The Hood?

It’s important to understand what’s going on under the hood, for example, that smoke-like gas is actually just vapor, a sign that the cooling system is overheating, which will affect the engine. As you drive, your engine produces a tremendous amount of heat that, if not properly cooled, can cause a handful of problems. Knowing the root cause of an overheated car can save stress, time, and money. Overheating from thermal stress can cause deformities inside the engine components, and unfortunately, there are many reasons this can happen, such as:

  • Cooling system leak
  • Faulty radiator fan
  • Broken water pump
  • Clogged coolant hose
  • Thermostat malfunction

How Do I Know It's My Engine?

When dealing with a potentially overheating engine, check to see if any other symptoms are showing. The most noticeable symptom besides obvious, faulty car performance, is visible signs of vapor coming from inside the hood of the car.

DO NOT open the hood without letting the car cool off; you don’t want to feel boiling coolant or steaming vapor high five your skin, especially if your car overheats in the middle of nowhere where medical help would be hard to find. Composure is key; check your dashboard and see if the temperature gauge indicates it is at the red line or “H.” If all signs lead to your engine overheating, make sure to leave your car off for a minimum of 15 minutes, especially if you plan on checking under the hood yourself.

If you find yourself smelling anything unusual like maple syrup or a burnt odor, you might have another issue that could be leading to your car to overheat. Coolant, oddly enough, has a sweet smell that is almost like maple syrup and candy, while oil has a burnt odor. If you can detect these odors while inside your car, you could have a clog or leak in the hoses that pass coolant from the engine to the radiator.

What Should You Do Now And What Happens Next?

If left unaddressed, the overall performance of your engine will decline, along with making the price of repairs climb up. It’s best to avoid this by taking steps to help relieve your engine until a qualified Wrench mobile technician can properly diagnose the issue. While waiting for help, make sure you have done these steps; it could save you a fortune in the long run:

  • Kill the A/C and turn up the heat. This helps transfer heat from the engine and distribute it to the inside of the car.
  • Pull over somewhere safe and turn off the car.
  • Check the coolant levels, consider adding some coolant but keep in mind this doesn't mean it will fix the problem.
  • After waiting and monitoring the gauge for a minimum of 15min, drive to the nearest auto repair shop, keep an eye on the temperature. You might need to pull over and let the engine cool off if overheating keeps occurring.

Once you’ve contacted Wrench to come and diagnose the issue at hand, the technician will check:

  • The temperature gauge: (if the vehicle has one) to see how far over the midpoint it is, verifying the engine is overheated.
  • Any smoke originating from under the hood of the car.
  • Open up the internal air vents to check the heat and intensity of the air coming from the engine.
  • Listen for any unusual sounds coming from the engine. A knocking or bumping sound would indicate overheating.
  • The antifreeze level: an unusually low level could indicate a leak or could be the cause of overheating.
  • The radiator fan by lifting the hood and starting the car: if the fan is not whirring, it's potentially causing or contributing to the overheated car.
  • The car's thermostat by removing the radiator cap and starting the car, then check if the level coolant drops or not. If not, this could indicate the thermostat is stuck.
  • The front radiator hose and cylinder head gasket for any leaking coolant fluid.

A technician can validate the root cause of the overheated engine. They will create a plan of action and give you a quote, avoiding the stress of having to potentially create further issues by taking your car into an auto shop yourself just for the diagnosis.

Prevention Means Saving

Preventing an overheated car is fairly simple, depending on the complexity of the car. Taking care of and checking the inner workings of your car should become a priority if you want to avoid any unintended surprises under the hood. Some basic principles to follow include :

  • Check the coolant level in your vehicle on a regular basis.
  • In your trunk, have an extra bottle of new antifreeze and a gallon of water.
  • While driving, keep an eye on your car's temperature.
  • On particularly hot days, don't overdo your car's air conditioning.
  • At the first sign of overheating, turn on the heat to assist in cooling the engine.
  • Keep up with coolant servicing flushes by consulting your vehicle's owner's manual.

Even with following this condensed checklist, unintended surprises still happen along the way. It’s inevitable to stress over car problems, especially when overheating is involved, so don’t let the stress take over. Let Wrench take care of the rest, we come to you.


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