Estimated Time to Read: 3 minutes

Cars are becoming more and more complicated as technology advances and a lot of things can go wrong. It probably wasn’t too long after the invention of the first automobile did we see the invention of the first break down and possibly the first case of road rage.  There are few things worse than that sinking, sick feeling of when you are driving happily down  the road and suddenly that little yellow check engine light comes on and the first thing you think is “how much is this going to cost me?” Here we discuss one of the more common problems.

It’s a hot summer day and you’re blasting the A/C, singing to the radio minding your own business when suddenly what could be smoke comes pouring out of the front of your car. You glance at the dashboard and notice that the temperature gauge is in the red. Simply put, your car has a fever and it is letting you know. So what do you do?

First of all get off the road ASAP. The longer you stay moving the more damage you can do. Ideally you would like to find a service station to park at, if not that then a fast food place or retail outlet like Walmart or Target. That being said, if the gauge is getting high into the red then you won’t have time to look for the above spots. In this case just get off the road or pull over onto the median.  It is a bit of a judgment call.

Pull the release of your hood and get out and pop it open. You will immediately notice this is not smoke but steam from the radiator. Also, if you look to the front left of the car you might see a thick plastic container with boiling liquid it in. This is the overflow area.

Now what? Whatever you do, do NOT open the radiator cap or the overflow cap. If you do you will receive severe burns as a spray of superhot steam spurts all over you. At this point all you can do is sit and wait for it to cool back down.  If you are at a service station or store like Target, go buy some coolant. If you are at a grocery store or fast food place, go grab some cups of water.

I have heard some people say spraying your engine and radiator with water will help it cool faster but I have never had this confirmed. It probably wouldn’t hurt to try as long as you avoid the battery or electrical.

After at least a good 15 or 20 minutes the steam should start to die down. You can also put your key in the ignition and check the temperature gauge to see how far it went down. When you think it is cool enough, grab a rag or use an old shirt or some other cloth. Use this to open the overflow cap. If you can’t the overflow then open the radiator cap. Now fill it with coolant or water. If there is a leak or the pumps not working there isn’t much you can do about it. What you can do is buy yourself a little bit of road time.  Start the car back up and drive home or to the nearest service station. Depending on how hot it is or if you are stuck in traffic you will start to overheat again quickly but if not then you have bought you and your used car a few minutes, in fact, the air flow from driving can help keep it cooler giving you more of the precious time you need.

Jeff Jordan writes and lives in sunny SoCal. He writes about education, real estate and automobiles. Certified used cars are a great way to save on your next car purchase.