HOW TO KEEP YOUR ENGINE FROM OVERHEATING

Posted on by Defensive Driving Team | in Defensive Driving Online

A young driver, let’s call her Laura, is driving to a neighboring state to visit a friend. It’s a hot summer day, and she has her air-conditioning on. Halfway to her destination, she stops at a drive-through for a coffee. As she is about to pull away, the window attendant remarks that Laura’s car appears to be leaking. Laura pulls over but doesn’t see any dripping. She continues driving. Ten minutes later, she notices steam coming out from under the hood. In a panic, she speeds up in order to reach her destination quickly. When she arrives, she immediately gets out of the car and opens the hood to check her engine.

Luckily, Laura’s engine was okay; she simply had a leak in her cooling system. Unfortunately her parents were livid, as her actions put her at risk and could have damaged her engine beyond repair. Let’s take a look at some of the things that Laura did wrong.

First, engine overheating is often caused by a leak in the cooling system. This system circulates antifreeze (also a coolant) around the engine system in order to draw heat away from the engine as it converts fuel into thermal energy, which is used to power the car. When Laura pulled over to check her suspected leak, she should have checked the level of coolant in the antifreeze reserve tank. If the level was lower than normal, she could have added water to the system. While water isn’t a permanent replacement for antifreeze, this would have at least allowed Laura to get safely to the nearest service station.

Checking antifreeze levels regularly can help to prevent engine overheating in the first place. However, there are a number of other causes of overheating, including a malfunctioning fan, a blockage in the cooling system, and excess strain on the engine.

Second, Laura should have been paying more attention to the temperature gauge on her dashboard. When this gauge reached the red portion of the spectrum, she would have known to start taking preventive measures to cool her car. These include:

1. Turning off the air conditioning, as this strains the engine.
2. Turning on the heating system. This may seem counterintuitive. However, the heating system uses excess heat from the engine to warm air flowing into the car. Turning on the heater actually draws heat away from the engine and into the passenger compartment.
3. Shifting into neutral at stoplights and then depressing the accelerator slightly. This increases airflow across the radiator and speeds up the flow of coolant around the engine.
4. Trying to move as steadily as possible in stop and go traffic. Speeding up and stopping puts more strain on the engine.

If these steps had no effect, Laura should have pulled over and waited for her engine to cool before continuing to drive. She could also have placed a damp (not wet) piece of cloth on the engine to speed cooling.

Third, Laura should have stopped as soon as she noticed steam coming out from under her engine. This steam is actually the coolant beginning to boil off. Once the coolant is gone, the engine’s temperature will continue to increase unchecked. This can result in serious and irreparable engine damage. She should have pulled over and called a tow truck to take her to the nearest service station.

Fourth, Laura should not have opened the hood while steam was still coming out. At this point, the engine is extremely hot and pressure is building in the radiator. Opening the radiator cap could result in severe burns. She should have waited until the engine had cooled completely to open the hood.

Had she followed these steps, Laura wouldn’t have put herself and her car in serious danger; she also wouldn’t have been banned from borrowing the family car.

To learn more about this topic, or a broad range of subjects from “How To Change A Tire” to “How To Jumpstart Your Battery”, visit DefensiveDriving.com’s Safe Driver Resources website!
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