Overheating occurs when the proper functioning of the vehicle’s engine cooling system is obstructed. When a conscious driver notices the temperature dial on the dashboard move to the right, he swings in to saving mode. Some other drivers are informed by those driving by or walking past about steam sipping out of their bonnets. Whichever way one gets the information about an overheating situation, knowing what steps to take could save you from unplanned/avoidable expenses (like ‘knocking’ the car’s engine).
Causes of overheating
There are four major factors responsible for overheating in a vehicle.
- Electrical system failure
- Mechanical system failure
- Leakage/loss of cooling fluids
- Air in cooling system
Most vehicles are liquid-cooled, and heat extraction from this liquid is done through an exchanger called a ‘radiator’, which is made possible by a fan that is powered either electrically or mechanically. A faulty fan will create an inefficient heat exchange, resulting in engine overheating.
A stuck thermostat can also cause overheating. Thermostats regulate the engine temperature by allowing/blocking cooling fluid from moving in the engine’s internal plumbing system for cooling purposes.
A non-performing water pump can also unduly pressurise the cooling system by not moving at the required speed to aid proper cooling.
A blown out fuse/a burnt out wire may also cause your fan to stop working, resulting in excessive heat build-up within the engine core and causing overheating. A faulty Engine Coolant Temperature sensor may also give wrong information about the cooling system and trick the driver into assuming a wrong position on the vehicle’s health.
Leakage of coolant may be external or internal. The external leakage may be as a result of blown out gasket, hose breakage/removal and a faulty radiator cover (or forgetting to cover the radiator).
Trapped air in the cooling system also causes overheating.
What to do when overheating occurs
Wind down your window, turn on your vehicle’s heater and turn your fan to its highest position while driving (you will find these on the Air Conditioner knobs, usually). This action will bring about a drop in the engine’s temperature, as more heat is being taken away from it.
Try to find the nearest place to park your vehicle, stop your engine, lift your bonnet and allow external air to cool the engine.
Open the radiator when the vehicle is cooled and start to run an inspection on the possible causes of your vehicle’s overheating. Start with inspection of your radiator hoses, radiator cover, check for leakages, coolant level, check if your fan is working, check if you have any melted wire or blown out fuse.
Having inspected your vehicle’s overheating situation, the next step is to try and correct the situation. If you are knowledgeable about vehicle usage/management, you may be able to correct the electrical issues and those that relate to fluid/engine coolant. You may find some information on your vehicle’s specific overheating correction procedures on the internet too.
However, it’s advisable to get a vehicle technician to inspect and correct the system after treating the vehicle to these ‘first aid’ measures.
Nonetheless, as a general rule for vehicle usage, be aware of your vehicle’s health always.
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