What To Do If Your Engine Overheats - And You Cannot Easily Pull Over

Hot weather can play havoc with your car, and some parts of Australia must contend with fierce sunshine for most of the year. In a heatwave, breakdown call outs can increase significantly, and overheating is one of the most common reasons drivers need to call for help. Unfortunately, it's not always safe or easy to pull over and call for help straight away. Learn what to do if your car overheats and you cannot immediately pull over.

Spot the warning signs

It's important to spot the signs that your car is overheating as quickly as possible. Prompt action can get you out of danger and will cut the chances of serious damage to the engine.

The most obvious thing to look for is a rising temperature gauge. If the needle starts to edge continuously towards the danger (red) zone, you need to take action. Some cars will show a warning light on the dashboard, and you may also spot steam coming from under your bonnet.

A less obvious sign is that the heater inside the car will start blowing out cool air. When this happens, your air conditioner is probably low on coolant, which could signal an imminent issue. 

Shut off the air conditioner

Cars often overheat due to a problem with the air conditioning system, so it's always a good idea to turn this off at the first sign of trouble. While the car may become rather uncomfortably hot, this step may help the engine cool down a little. Opening the windows can also help.

Turn the heater on

While the temperature outside is extremely hot, the last thing you would probably want to do is turn the heater on, but this could help your engine cool down. If you put the heater on, the engine will transfer some of the heat to the passenger compartment of the car. You and your passengers will quickly become uncomfortably hot, but this action could cool the engine long enough for you to find somewhere safe to pull over.

Improve liquid and air circulation

If you are sitting in heavy traffic and you spot the signs of overheating, there are a few things you can do to temporarily cool the engine.

Shift into neutral and rev the engine a little. When you rev the engine, the water pump and fan will have to work a bit harder. What's more, extra air and liquid will pass through the radiator. While this may only have a limited effect, the decrease in temperature could stop the car overheating further.

Some drivers mistakenly believe that if their car starts to overheat in stop-and-go traffic they should ride their brakes, but this actually increases the load on the engine, which will simply accelerate the effects of overheating. If you're in slow traffic, crawl along slowly and try not to use your brakes at all. Move up only if the gap in front of your car grows too large.

Why you should pull over as soon as you can

It's important to pull over as soon as it becomes safe to do so. If you've managed to control the temperature problem in heavy traffic or on a steep hill, it's sometimes tempting to press on and try to make it home, but this is often a path to ruin.

If the temperature in your engine increases too far, you may cause damage to some seriously expensive parts. A cracked head gasket is difficult to replace, which means the cost of labour will leave you with a significant bill. In fact, if the problem leads to warped cylinders, your mechanic may tell you to replace the engine.

If your car starts to overheat, it's important to pull over as soon as it's safe to do so. If you can't easily stop the car, make sure you know what to do to control the issue until the road conditions improve. If you do have to pull over, contact a towing service