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How to deal with an overheating engine

Published:Sunday | December 15, 2019 | 12:18 AMPaul Glenroy Messam - Automotives Writer

Can you imagine having your engine overheating in the middle of a busy street? This means stress, frustration, and lots of honking horns by impatient motorists.

“The cooling system is one of the hardest-working systems of the motor car,” says Derek Gentles, an auto mechanic. “Therefore, it must never be taken for granted.”

Some of the causes of an overheating engine include:

1. Low coolant level or contaminated coolant;

2. Thermostat sticking or improperly installed;

3. Plugged or collapsed radiator hoses;

4. Plugged radiator/loose fan belt;

5. Exterior of the radiator core plugged with insects or other foreign matter;

6. Inoperative water pump;

7. Defective radiator pressure cap;

8. Low engine oil level;

9. Ignition timing excessively retarded or advanced;

10. Blown head gasket, cracked head or block;

An efficient, leak-proof, cooling system should operate for months under normal driving conditions without having to add fluid. If the motorist notices that the temperature gauge moves up to the ‘H’ marker, quickly pull over safely to the side of the road and turn off the engine. Open the bonnet and examine for a leak in the heater or radiator hoses. If the leak is under a clamp, tighten the clamp with a screw driver. If one sees a small leak in the hoses, allow enough time for the engine to cool.

Exercise safety as you cautiously and carefully remove the radiator cap. Then tape the hose leak with strong duct tape.

With the engine running, add water or coolant to the radiator. Afterwards, replace cap but leave it one notch looser.

A tight cap will pressurise the system and blow open your patch. Then drive immediately to the nearest gas station or garage.

Additional pointers:

1. If you are driving and observe volumes of steam pouring from your engine, open the hood or bonnet to hasten the cooling process.

2. Wait a while until you are certain that the steam pressure has dropped before opening the radiator pressure cap, otherwise you could be severely burnt.

3. After the engine has cooled, start the vehicle and pour water in. Some experts advise that hot water is ideal to pour in the radiator.

4. One should refrain from adding cold water immediately after the engine has been boiling. WARNING: Wait for overheated engine to cool before removing pressure cap and also before filing the radiator with coolant.

5. Even after the water has boiled over, the radiator will need frequent topping up. And even if there are no external leaks, it could mean that the head gasket is cracked internally or that the head gasket is blown.

6. Continued driving will allow coolant to run down into the pan and contaminate the oil and ruin the engine. When it comes to an overheating engine, consult your trusted auto mechanic without delay. Delay could spell DANGER.