Engine Overheating: Causes, Symptoms, & How To Fix it

The efficient working of the engine is very important for the proper working of the vehicle. The car engine overheats due to various reasons. Overheating can lead to the failure of the engine parts. Most commonly, the engine overheats due to a bad engine cooling system. This article explains the engine overheating symptoms, causes, and how to fix it. 

What is Engine Overheating?

When the car engine temperature becomes more than the normal operating temperature, and the engine becomes very hot, it is known as engine overheating.

engine overheating

There are different factors that lead to engine overheating issues. The most common reasons for engine overheating are damaged hoses, bad water pump, faulty radiator, coolant leaks, low level of the coolant, cracked engine block, or blown head gasket.

Symptoms of Engine Overheating

The engine overheating issues can be identified by different signs. The following are the most common symptoms of engine overheating:

  1. Temperature Gauge is Red
  2. Hot Coolant
  3. Steam from Engine
  4. Poor Acceleration
  5. Engine Noise
  6. Thumping Noises
  7. Burning Smell
  8. Cracked Engine Block
  9. Blow Head Gasket
  10. Poor Engine Performance
  11. Coolant Temperature Warning Light
  12. Poor Fuel Economy 

1) Temperature Gauge is Red

All cars have a temperature gauge. This gauge is located on the car dashboard. It shows the engine temperature. The temperature gauge is one of the best and easy methods to check the engine temperature.

Temperature Gauge

In normal conditions, the needle of the temperature gauge remains near the center of the gauge. This shows that the engine is working at its normal operating temperature, and everything is working fine.   

However, if this needle jumps near or into the red area of ​​the gauge, this indicates that your car engine is overheating.

2) Steam from Engine

As the engine overheats, the steam starts coming out of the car hood. This steam generates due to hot coolant.

It shows that coolant may not be circulating properly in the engine, the reservoir is clogged, or the radiator cap is defective. When the engine temperature increases, the coolant begins to boil and produce steam.

3) Hot Coolant

The coolant circulates throughout the engine. The main function of the coolant is to absorb the engine heat and maintain its normal operating temperature.

Hot Coolant

Check the coolant. If it is hot, it means that your vehicle engine is overheated. The engine overheats because your cooling system is not properly cooling the engine.

Read More: Causes of Coolant Leak

4) Poor Acceleration

The reduction in the vehicle power is a clear sign of the engine overheating. The engine power may reduce due to multiple reasons, but engine overheating is one of the most common reasons.

slow acceleration due to engine overheating

When the engine overheats, the piston in the cylinder expands. This bounds the rotational area of the crankshaft. In this case, the engine cannot produce adequate power to accelerate the car according to the requirements due to that your engine may take a long time to accelerate or cannot accelerate the vehicle at the desired speed.

5) Clicking Noise

Clicking noise from the engine can indicate that engine moving parts require proper lubrication for cooling. However, if the engine coolant is not flowing and working properly, the engine oil can overheat.

Rattling Noise

As the engine oil overheats, it dilutes the oil and reduces its capacity to lubricate the parts. As the engine metal parts become dry, they make contact with each other and generate clicking sounds.

6) Burning Smell

The burning smell coming from the engine compartment is one of the common signs of the engine overheating. The engine contains many components made of different materials such as metal, rubber, and plastic. When the engine overheats, all of these parts burn up. They also give off a very characteristic burning odor that can be smelled throughout the cabin.

Burning smell

When the engine oil burns, it produces an odor. If you smell that, it means your engine is overheating.

7) Thumping Noise

The main function of the cooling system thermostat is to control coolant flow from the valve to the radiator and ensures the efficient working of the engine. When this valve is clogged, the coolant stucks in the engine block, where it converts into the superheated coolant.

As the fresh cold coolant touches the overheated coolant, a loud thumping noise will be heard in the engine compartment. Replacing the thermostat usually solves this problem.

8) Cracked Engine Block

A cracked engine block is one of the main symptoms of engine overheating. The engine block or engine cylinder most commonly cracks due to the extreme temperature of the engine.

Engine Block

Read More: Types and Parts of Engine Block

10) Coolant Temperature Warning Light

The coolant temperature warning light is one of the major signs of engine overheating. This light shows that your vehicle has insufficient coolant due to that engine is overheating. As the coolant temperature warning light turns on, immediately turn off the engine and add more coolant. 

Coolant Temperature Warning Light

9) Blown Head Gasket

A head gasket withstands the extreme temperature and pressure of the engine. As the engine’s internal temperature becomes more than the bearable limit of the head gasket, it blows or damages.


Read More: Signs of Bad or Blown Head Gasket

11) Poor Fuel Economy 

Poor fuel economy is one of the clearest symptoms of engine overheating. When the engine overheats, it starts consuming more fuel than usual. 

Causes of Engine Overheating

The following are the most common factors that cause engine overheating:

  • Blown head gasket
  • Coolant leaks
  • Damaged pump
  • Insufficient maintenance 
  • Low engine oil
  • Damaged radiator 
  • Damaged hoses

1) Blown Head Gasket

The head gasket is located in between the cylinder block and the cylinder head. It stops the entry of engine coolant and oil inside the cylinder.


As the head gasket damages or leaks, the coolant or oil starts going into the engine cylinder, where it burns with an air-fuel mixture.

Due to coolant or oil burning, the engine works hardware to achieve the desired performance. As the engine works hardware, there will be a shortage of coolant or oil, and the engine will overheat:

Solution: Inspect your car head gasket and replace it on time. Don’t drive with a damaged head gasket.

2) Coolant Leaks

If you observe a small spot of coolant under the car, it means that your vehicle’s coolant is leaking. The leaky coolant leads to engine overheating.

Coolant Leaks

If your vehicle cooling system doesn’t have sufficient coolant to cool the engine, soon, your engine will overheat. If you don’t cool the engine in time, it may badly damage the engine parts.

Solution: Check the coolant level before driving the vehicle. If the coolant level is low, add more coolant and then drive.

Read More: Coolant Leak Symptoms and Causes

3) Damaged Pump

The water pump of the cooling system is responsible for circulating the coolant throughout the engine. As the water pump fails, it can’t circulate the coolant properly. When the pump doesn’t circulate the coolant properly, the coolant doesn’t absorb the engine heat properly and your engine heats up.

Damaged Water Pump

Solution: Ensures the proper maintenance of the water pump.

Read More: Different types of Pumps

4) Insufficient Maintenance

The proper maintenance of the engine is very important for its efficient performance. Engine maintenance increases the performance and service life of the engine. It also prevents the engine from overheating.

Solution: Ensure the proper maintenance of the engine

5) Low Engine Oil

As we know, all parts of the engine bear extreme heat during engine operation. The engine oil plays a big role in cooling the engine’s moving parts. It absorbs the heat of the engine parts and maintains their normal temperature.

Low Engine Oil

As the moving parts become dry, they collide with each other due to that they may be damaged. The insufficient supply of oil is one of the main causes of engine overheating.

Solution: Properly lubricate the moving parts of the engine and ensures a proper supply of oil to maintain the engine’s normal temperature.

Read More: Low Engine Oil Symptoms and Causes

6) Damaged Radiator

The radiator uses a fan that extracts the heat of the coolant and cools it. If your car has a faulty or damaged radiator, your coolant will not cool. If your coolant is hot, it can’t extract engine heat due to that engine will heat up.

Engine Overheating due to Faulty Radiator

Solution: Properly maintain the radiator and radiator fan.

7) Damaged Hoses

The hoses transfer the coolant from the coolant tank to the engine and the engine to the radiator. The coolant flows inside the hoses. If you have leaky hoses, the engine coolant may not be properly delivered to the engine, which may cause engine overheating.

coolant leaking from DAMAGED HOSE

Solution: Ensures the regular inspection and maintenance of the hoses. Replace the leaking hoses as you observe.

How to Diagnose an Overheating Car Engine 

  1. Turn up the heater: First of all, you need to turn on your car heater. Turning the heater on full blast actually helps to draw heat away from the engine.
  2. Find a safe area to stop your car: You shouldn’t drive your car in case of an overheated engine because it can lead to complete failure of the engine. In such conditions, park your car in a safe area and diagnose the problem.
  3. Open the hood: After parking, lift the hood to remove extra heat and let the engine cool down. Be aware that hot engines can eject high-pressure steam and boiling coolant. Therefore, wait for a few minutes until your engine cools.
  4. Finding Leaks: The leakage finding is not a complex job. Inspect the plastic coolant tank, radiator, hoses, and head gasket to find the leak. When the engine has cooled, use a towel to remove the radiator cap. The coolant should reach the top of the radiator. After removing the cap, inspect all the parts.
  5. Low coolant level: If there are no leaks, you may have run out of coolant. Inspect the coolant level and add more coolant in the radiator if your radiator or coolant plastic tank has low coolant than the required level.
  6. Restart the engine: If you are unable to find the reason for the engine overheating, then carefully restart the engine and drive to the nearest workshop to repair the car. 

FAQ Section

How to prevent Car Engine from Overheating?

Follow the below-given tips to avoid car engine overheating:

  1. Ensure the proper maintenance of the engine
  2. Maintain the proper coolant level
  3. Properly inspect and maintain the radiator and hoses
  4. As you observe coolant or oil leak, immediately fix it
  5. Properly lubricate the moving parts of the engine
  6. Keep an eye on the temperature gauge of your car
  7. Check the coolant level before driving the vehicle
  8. Properly maintain the engine cooling system
  9. As you notice a blown head gasket, immediately replace it
  10. Inspect the drive belt of your vehicle to ensure that there is no unusual wear and tear

What are the causes of engine overheating?

The engine most commonly overheats due to insufficient supply of oil, insufficient coolant, blown head gasket, cracked cylinder block, bad cooling system, bad water pump, coolant leak, faulty heater core, leaky hoses, or faulty radiator.

How do I know my engine is overheating?

As the engine overheats, it generates the following signs:

  1. Coolant temperature warning light
  2. Blown head gasket
  3. Cracked engine block
  4. Temperature gauge is red
  5. Thumping noises
  6. Hot coolant
  7. Steam from engine
  8. Engine noise
  9. Poor acceleration
  10. Burning smell
  11. Damaged engine parts

Can I drive with an Overheated Engine?

No, you shouldn’t drive your vehicle with an engine overheating. The engine overheating can lead to damage of engine parts or complete failure of the engine. Therefore, in an overheating condition, you should stop the vehicle, inspect and fix the overheating issue and then drive.

How to fix a overheating engine?

  • Check the coolant level and add more coolant if needed
  • Check the engine oil and add more oil if needed
  • Replace the damaged oil storage tank
  • Replace the faulty radiator
  • Repair or replace the damaged hoses
  • Repair or replace the blown head gasket
  • Replace the damaged pump
  • Ensure proper maintenance of your engine

Can coolant leak cause the engine to overheat?

Yes, a coolant leak is one of the major causes of an engine overheating. Coolant is an important element that helps to maintain the engine’s temperature within a safe operating range. If there is a leak, coolant levels drop, decreasing the system’s capability to dissipate heat, which may lead to overheating and potential engine damage.

Can low oil cause the engine overheating?

Yes, the low oil level may lead to engine overheating. The oil acts as a lubricant, reducing friction between moving parts and serving to dissipate heat. If the oil level becomes too low, there will be increased friction and less effective heat dissipation, which may lead to engine overheating and potential damage.

How far can you drive an overheating car

It is not advisable to drive an overheating car. The maximum distance you should drive an overheating car is approximately 1/4 mile, though some vehicles might be able to travel up to 20 miles. However, driving any distance with an overheating engine is not recommended, as it can lead to severe engine damage and costly repairs.

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