As seen on:

SMH Logo News Logo

Call 1300 303 181

Australia’s Best New Car News, Reviews and Buying Advice

What to Do if Your Car Overheats

Car overheating is a common issue that can occur unexpectedly, often leaving drivers in a state of panic. Understanding the causes and knowing how to respond to an overheating engine is crucial for preventing serious damage.

Today we’re going to explore the steps to take if your car starts overheating.

Immediate Response

When it comes to an overheating engine, quick and careful action is of the utmost importance.

  1. Pull Over Safely: As soon as you notice your car’s temperature gauge climbing into the red zone, or if you observe steam rising from the engine, you must pull over to a safe location. Use your hazard lights to alert other drivers of the situation.
  2. Turn Off the Engine: Once safely parked, turn off the engine immediately. This step is crucial to halt the production of additional heat and allow the engine to cool down.

Understanding the Causes

Car overheating can result from various issues, ranging from low coolant levels, to a malfunctioning thermostat, or even a faulty radiator. Understanding these potential causes can help you make informed decisions when addressing the problem.

  1. Wait for the Engine to Cool: Opening the bonnet too quickly can be dangerous, as hot steam may escape, potentially causing burns. Wait patiently for the engine to cool down before attempting to open the bonnet.
  2. Check Coolant Levels: After the engine has cooled, cautiously open the bonnet and check the coolant levels. The coolant reservoir, usually translucent, will have markings indicating the minimum and maximum levels. If the level is low, adding coolant may help address the issue. Again, it is very important that you only do this when the car has cooled down, otherwise it is very dangerous.

Common Problems

  1. Inspect for Leaks: Look for any signs of coolant leaks around the engine or beneath the vehicle. If a leak is detected, it may need immediate attention to prevent further overheating.
  2. Examine the Radiator Cap: As mentioned earlier, you may need to add coolant if you are running low. Carefully check the radiator cap. If it’s cool to the touch, you can open it and inspect the coolant level. Add coolant if necessary. Be cautious, as opening a hot radiator cap can release pressurised steam.
  3. Check for Obstructions: Examine the radiator and cooling system for any obstructions, such as leaves or debris, which may hinder proper airflow. Clearing these obstructions can aid the cooling process.


  1. Start the Engine with Caution: If you’ve addressed any identified issues, start the engine with caution and monitor the temperature gauge. If the temperature begins to rise again, turn off the engine and seek professional assistance.
  2. Seek Professional Help: If you’re unable to identify or resolve the problem, or if the overheating persists, it’s crucial to seek professional assistance. Calling for roadside assistance or having the vehicle towed to a mechanic is a prudent course of action.

Car overheating is a major concern that demands prompt attention and careful handling. If you ignore the issue, you could significantly damage the car, or worse, greatly endanger yourself or other road users.

By following the above steps and understanding the potential causes of an overheating engine, drivers can prevent a bad situation turning even worse. Regular maintenance and awareness of your vehicle’s condition can further reduce the likelihood of encountering such issues on the road.