When Your Car Breaks Down
Overheated Car

Dealing with Car Overheating & Engine Fires: Driving Safety Rules

Updated June 3, 2019

High temperatures can put a great deal of strain on your car’s engine. Driving in extremely hot weather, on steep hills, in stop-and-go traffic or while towing another vehicle are all activities that will make your engine run at higher-than-usual temperatures. Always keep an eye on your car’s temperature gauge and use the tips in this module to avoid overheating.

If you must drive in stop-and-go traffic, leaving your car in a low gear will help to prevent overheating. Driving at high speeds for prolonged periods can also cause overheating and should be avoided as much as possible.

What to do if your engine overheats

How hot is too hot? If your engine’s temperature gauge crosses into the red warning zone, you should pull over at the next safe opportunity and stop the engine. Do not be too eager to open the radiator cap and check coolant levels when you have stopped the car. While the engine is still hot, you could be sprayed with boiling liquid.

Check the coolant level and top it up if necessary, once the engine has safely cooled. Do not add cool water to the radiator. This may seem like a smart idea but there is a strong chance it would crack your engine block.

Leaks in the radiator or breaks in the radiator hoses could also cause the engine to overheat. You can check for these obvious mechanical problems at the roadside once the engine has cooled. If you have the necessary skills, knowledge and equipment to make minor repairs by the roadside, you may safely attempt to fix a small issue like a cracked hose. Often, leaving it to a professional mechanic is a far better idea. Trying to make repairs without the right mechanical knowledge could further damage your vehicle and end up costing more money.

If you cannot fix any obvious problems or the temperature gauge remains high, do not drive your car. This could result in irreversible engine damage.

Turn off air conditioning

Running your air conditioning can add fuel to the fire when the engine is running hot. Having cooler air inside the vehicle may lead you to think that overheating is less of a risk. In fact, running the air conditioning system puts additional strain on the engine and increases the likelihood that it will overheat. When the engine temperature gauge starts to creep up, switch the air conditioning off.

When stopped in traffic, you can put the car in “Park” and gently accelerate once or twice to help coolant circulate in the engine.

Check tire pressure

An overheating engine is not your only concern in hot weather. Tires are susceptible to blowouts when temperatures are high - even more so when they are over or under-inflated. Keep a close eye on your tire pressure during warmer months, particularly if your tires are nearing the end of their lifespan.

Dealing with an engine fire

Most engine fires are caused by electrical shortages, though they can also be the result of overheating, a fuel leak or an oil leak. Any part of your vehicle could catch fire where combustible material is present, so any burning odor must be immediately investigated – even if you cannot see smoke.

If you see smoke or suspect a fire may have started in your vehicle, you must act straight away:

  1. 1

    Drive to a safe area and stop.Do not stop close to other parked vehicles, as this may facilitate the fire spreading or endanger other people.

  2. 2

    Switch everything off.This includes the ignition and all electrical switches in the vehicle.

  3. 3

    Get yourself and your passengers out of the vehicle.Make sure passengers are at a safe distance and away from the roadway.

  4. 4

    You may attempt to put out small fires with a fire extinguisher, dirt, sand or a blanket.NEVER USE WATER ON GASOLINE, OIL OR ELECTRICAL FIRES.

  5. 5

    If the fire grows larger or you cannot extinguish it, give up and move to a safe distance.Contact the fire department for help.

Would you pass a driving test today?

Find out with our free quiz!

TAKE A FREE TEST

Like the article? Give us 5 points!

Click a star to add your vote

5.0 out of 5 stars based on 1 votes.

Up next

Car Battery Failure
When Your Car Breaks Down 10 of 11

Car Battery Problems

Without a functional battery the engine cannot start. Drivers must learn how to look after their vehicle’s battery and avoid wearing it out. Running your engine for very short periods is extremely bad for the battery, as you will deplete its power without allowing it time to recharge.

Car Engine Stalled
When Your Car Breaks Down 11 of 11

Engine Stalling

When your car engine dies, this is known as “stalling”. A wide variety of different issues can lead to an engine stall, including air flow problems, insufficient fuel, overheating and mechanical failures. Engine stalls themselves are not usually dangerous, though they can put drivers in sticky situations. If you’re unlucky, it could happen while you are driving on a busy road. The information on this page will help you handle such situations.

Being in Shape to Drive
Medical Fitness for Driving 1 of 9

The Driver

Estimates provided by the vehicle insurance industry suggest that every motorist will be involved in at least four traffic accidents or collisions in his or her lifetime. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, a car accident occurs somewhere in the United States every minute of every day. On average, one in every 16 of these traffic accidents will claim at least one person’s life.

Review
When Your Car Breaks Down 3 of 11

Handling Brake Failure

If you look after your vehicle and have your brakes serviced regularly, it is unlikely you will ever experience the terror that accompanies brake failure. As with any vehicle malfunction, the key to surviving a brake failure while driving is not to panic. The advice we offer here will help you understand the causes of brake failure and what to do, should it ever happen to you.

When Your Car Breaks Down 4 of 11

Handling A Tire Blowout

Tire blowouts are incredibly dangerous as they effect handling and can make you lose control of your vehicle. Blowouts can be avoided by making sure your tires are safe and in good condition. Tire safety depends on maintaining the correct pressure, keeping within vehicle and tire load limits, avoiding hazards and regularly checking tires for damage.

When Your Car Breaks Down 5 of 11

Steering Failure

When steering fails completely, the driver will have absolutely no directional control over the vehicle. Partial steering failure is far more common and thankfully, easier to handle. This type of steering problem may manifest as extremely “heavy” steering, where the vehicle becomes difficult to maneuver. You must stop as soon as safely possible.

When Your Car Breaks Down 6 of 11

Headlight Failure

Your headlights are essential for safe night-driving and driving during other conditions where low-visibility is a problem, such as fog and heavy rain. You must check your headlights regularly to ensure they are fully functional. A single failed headlight may not be too noticeable while driving, but it can still put you in considerable danger if other road users mistake your vehicle for a motorbike.

When Your Car Breaks Down 7 of 11

Stuck Accelerator

There are few automobile faults more frightening than a jammed gas pedal. A partially or totally jammed accelerator could be the result of a mechanical or electrical failure and it could happen in any vehicle. If your accelerator gets stuck the most important thing to do is remain calm. There are steps you can take to regain control of your vehicle or else steer it safely off the road.

When Your Car Breaks Down 8 of 11

Limited Visibility

Driving with limited visibility is dangerous, not to mention challenging. If you cannot see the road it will be practically impossible to maintain a safe following distance from the vehicle in front. Plus, you may not see approaching obstacles or hazards in time to avoid collisions.