How can you fix an overheated engine?

Engine overheating: what to do if the car engine is overheating?

If the engine is about to overheat, it is important to act quickly and correctly. Otherwise the engine could be damaged. How to tell when the engine is overheating and what to do then.

Signs of engine overheating

The threat of engine overheating is noticeable on the water temperature gauge in your car - the pointer must not move into the red area here. You should therefore take a look at it regularly while driving. Especially on hot days there is a risk that the cooler will overheat.

The result can be severe damage to the engine, for example a warped cylinder head, or even total engine damage. The temperature rises particularly often in traffic jams when the car is stationary or you are only moving slowly - here the airflow with its cooling effect disappears.

React fast

If you are in flowing traffic when the engine overheats, you should stop immediately and let the engine cool down, advises the ADAC. If you are on the motorway, be sure to react carefully and watch out for other road users. Slow down and pull into the hard shoulder. Then the following applies: Switch off the engine as quickly as possible, as the airflow for cooling is eliminated and the engine can develop even more heat when it is stationary. Do not forget to secure the location with warning triangles and hazard lights.

Even if the engine overheats: In the event of a breakdown, do not forget to set up a warning triangle (source: imago images)

In most newer cars, built around 2004 or later, the coolant pump and fan continue to run even after they have been switched off, which also helps to cool the engine. With older cars, however, it can help not to turn off the car immediately, but to let the engine run for a short while at idle. Then you should still apply the handbrake to be on the safe side.

Let the engine cool down properly

After stopping the engine, open the hood and let the machine cool down. Wait about a quarter of an hour and see whether steam or coolant escapes, recommends Georg Marmit from the expert organization KÜS. Also check the water level. If you discover a leak in the cooling system, call the roadside assistance service.

Do not open the cooling system

Attention: Under no circumstances should you open the radiator cap or the expansion tank! It can still spurt out hot water after waiting and cause extreme burns.

Never pour water on the engine

You should also not pour water over the hot engine, as the shock effect can cause cracks in the gearbox. It is better to wait until the engine has completely cooled down. Only then can cooling water be refilled. Normally, a special liquid is used as the cooling water, which at the same time also prevents frost damage, rust and limescale deposits. Mineral and tap water are useful substitutes in an emergency.


Onward journey or towing service?

You can try to continue driving slowly after the waiting time. Pay attention to the temperature display - if the car engine overheats again, park the vehicle immediately and call the towing service. But even if the engine no longer overheats while driving, it is advisable to visit a workshop immediately.