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Why Cars Overheat & What To Do About It. Practical Tips.

You may love the heat of summer, but you need to help your car keep its cool when temperatures rise. An engine that runs too hot can damage the vehicle and threaten your safety. Here are some tips we’ve compiled to help prevent your car from overheating:

Preventing Your Car from Overheating

1. Park in the shade

You can feel the temperature difference between the shade and the sun – and so can your car. Parking in the shade not only keeps you cool, but can prolong the life of your car. No shady spot? Use a sunshade to reduce heat inside the car.

2. Tint your windows

A local dealership or auto body shop can apply tinted windows to help keep your car cooler, and protect your interior from sun damage.

3. Use a sun shade

Keeping a sun shade in the car is helpful because you can’t always guarantee that you’ll find a shaded or covered area to park in. These UV heat shields will keep the interior from getting super-hot, plus it protects your interior from the damaging effects of the sun. You might even consider getting a custom-made sun screen that is designed to fit your make and model of car. These special shades can be more effective at keeping all of the rays out.

4. Get rid of hot air

Closed windows trap hot air, and the glass serves as a conductor that helps heat up the enclosed space. Leave your windows open slightly so the air can escape – and if you have a sunroof, crack that, too. Make sure the opening is not large enough for someone to reach through. If you leave your windows cracked, remember to keep an eye on the weather – one sudden summer storm could lead to a soggy interior.

5. Turn the floor vents on

Most people get in the car and turn the upper vents on “high” to get the air flowing. But you’re actually better off directing the air through the floor vents. Hot air rises, so switch to the bottom vents and put your blower on the maximum setting to push that air out. Then, once the car begins cooling, you can open the upper vents again.

6. Use the fresh air setting on your A/C

Using the re-circulation setting means you’re just moving that hot, trapped air around your vehicle, so that’s something you want to use after your car has had the chance to cool down. Give it 10 minutes or so, then switch over.

7. Keep your eye on the temperature gauge

 Located on the dashboard, the device has a needle that should always be pointing toward the center. If it points toward hot, pull over, turn off the engine and let the car cool down.

8. Turning on the heat

Turning on the heat may be the last thing you want to do on a hot summer day, but it can pull hot air from the engine compartment and cool the engine. It won’t fix the underlying problem, but it’s a good measure for long drives.

9. Add engine coolant

This is especially important in hot months. To check the coolant level, open the hood and locate the coolant reservoir. The coolant level is shown by indicator lines on the reservoir. If too low, simply add the appropriate amount of coolant and reattach the cap. Engine coolant is often sold as a 50/50 mix of water and coolant. You can also buy concentrated coolant and mix it yourself.

Safety tip: Never add coolant to a hot engine. Wait for the engine to cool before removing the cap or pouring in coolant.

10. Have your cooling system flushed by a mechanic

Even if you keep engine coolant at the right levels, it will eventually get dirty and need to be replaced. Flushing involves draining old coolant from the radiator, cleaning it with flush fluid and adding new coolant. Mechanics recommend a flush every 40,000 miles, but check your owner’s manual for the manufacturer’s recommendation.

11. Consider replacing your battery

If your car battery is older than three years, it may not be providing the power it once did, so your car has to work harder and can overheat. Your mechanic can help you determine whether you may need a new battery.

If you find yourself in a situation where your car overheats, follow these steps to ensure you and your vehicle remain safe:

  • Pull over, park your car and turn off the engine as soon as possible. Let your car cool for a minimum of 10 minutes.
  • Open the hood of your car to allow the heat to clear out quickly.
  • Once your car has cooled off, turn the ignition to its first position (don’t start the engine). If you see that the temperature gauge is within a normal range and engine fluid levels are sufficient, try to start the engine.
  • If the engine makes unusual sounds or it does not start at all, it’s best to stay on the safe side and call for roadside assistance to have your car towed. This will allow for a mechanic to inspect it and make the necessary repairs.

What can cause your car to overheat?

Hot temperatures alone might not be causing your vehicle to overheat. If your car’s cooling systems aren’t functioning correctly, it can lead to serious damage to your engine and expensive repairs. Here are a few common engine problems that can cause your car to run hot that you should know about:

  • Coolant: Every car has a cooling system to help keep the temperature of the engine down. If your cooling system has a leak, blockage or pump malfunction, the coolant might not be able to circulate properly. Cooling system malfunctions aren’t just problematic when it’s hot out; very cold temperatures can cause coolant to freeze and prevent circulation.
  • Thermostat: Another possible issue could be a problem with the thermostat. A vehicle’s thermostat is responsible for regulating the amount of coolant flowing through the engine. A broken or malfunctioning one can easily cause your car to overheat.
  • Low Oil: A car’s oil does more than just lubricate moving parts. It also helps to remove excess heat from the engine. If your vehicle has low oil, it might be causing your car to run hot.
  • Radiator Fan: If your cooling fan isn’t turning on or running at the right level, it can case your car to overheat. Radiator fans usually run on electric motors, so any motor mechanical problems can lead to your fan not providing enough cool air flow.
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What Happens to a Car without Coolant/Antifreeze?

Coolant/antifreeze is the most important fluid under the bonnet, maintaining the temperature of the engine to prevent overheating. But what happens to a car when there’s no coolant in the system?

What happens to an engine with no coolant?

Coolant/antifreeze circulates through the engine, maintaining the correct working temperature of different components. If your car runs out of coolant on the road, you’ll likely experience the following:

1. Dashboard warning light or abnormal temperature gauge – The first sign of low coolant should be a dashboard warning light, or a rising temperature gauge.

2. Automatic engine cut-off – If you drive a modern car, it will be fitted with an automatic engine cut-off feature. This is designed to prevent damage when the engine starts to heat up due to lack of coolant. You won’t be able to drive the car further until it’s cooled down.

3. Damage to engine parts – If your car doesn’t have a cut-off feature and you continue driving, you’ll risk damaging parts of the engine that are running too hot. This may not only lead to pricey repair bills, but could result in permanent and irreparable damage.

The parts of your car that can be affected by overheating failure include:

  • Water pump
  • Head gasket
  • Cylinder and piston timing
  • Cylinder head
  • Warped or bent connector rods
  • Crank failure

4. Other symptoms of low or no coolant – Aside from the mechanical engine issues caused by low to no coolant, you could notice other problems such as billowing steam, a dangerously hot bonnet and no control over the interior heating system. if you notice any of these, pull over to try and prevent even more damage.

 

car-overheat-dashboard-warning

 

How modern engines deal with low coolant and overheating

Running out of coolant/antifreeze won’t necessarily cause instant damage though, depending on your car. In modern, high-end cars, the engine control unit (ECU) often features a safe/limp-home mode, which reduces the risk of damage by firing cylinders in a different sequence. This means that cool air from the inlet is fed into one bank of cylinders at a time, allowing the other rack to cool slightly between firing. This gives the option of driving further even when the engine is overheating, which could be enough to get home or to a garage.

As well as this, many new cars feature automatic cut-off, which is designed to protect the engine from heat damage. This uses the cooling system’s thermostat to kill power to the engine when the temperature reaches a certain point, and means that the car can’t be restarted until it has cooled down sufficiently.

 

Car engine over heat

Warning signs of low coolant

Before your car’s engine starts taking heat damage or cuts out, there are several warning signs that can alert you to a cooling system fault. It’s important to be able to recognise these signs as, depending on the age and condition your car, the engine may sustain damage before the dashboard warning light comes on.

Common warning signs to look out for include:

  • High-temperature gauge creeping towards the red – Drive your car for long enough, and you’ll become familiar with where the temperature gauge should sit when everything’s ok. If the needle begins to creep towards the red, this is your first indicator that there’s something wrong with the cooling system. If you see the gauge move, pull over and pop the bonnet. This will not only cool the engine before it sustains damage, but will allow you to begin diagnosing the problem – whether it’s something simple like a leaf blocking the radiator air intake or a serious coolant leak.
  • Heater not working or blowing constant hot air – Your car’s heater uses the same residual heat which is collected from the engine by the cooling system. So, in the event of a fault, you may notice things going wrong with the internal heating system. This can either be a complete lack of heat or a constant flow of hot air (even on cold); either way, it won’t be pleasant, and could be warning you about a larger problem beneath the bonnet.
  • Poor fuel economy – When your car engine runs at the right temperature, fuel can burn efficiently keeping consumption low. As the engine temperature changes, fuel can’t burn as effectively, increasing emissions from the exhaust. If you notice a dip in recorded MPG, check your coolant level and watch the temperature gauge for signs of overheating.
  • A sweet smell – Coolant/antifreeze has a distinct, sweet odour. If it leaks out of the cooling system, you may be able to smell it in the cabin, particularly if the engine is hot. Being able to recognise different engine fluid odours is a good way to diagnose potential problems quickly without your car sustaining significant damage. [link to leaks blog]
  • Coolant dashboard light – The engine coolant light normally appears as a thermometer with a series of wavy lines next to it, illuminated in red. This shows that the engine has reached its temperature limit, and you should pull over. Normally, a low coolant level is caused by a leak, so you should try to locate its source. If it’s only small, you may be able to refill the reservoir and continue driving to a safe location without losing much fluid.
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How Can the Heat Affect Your Engine Oil?

Beat the heat before it beats you

As heat waves once again sweep our nation—continually expanding throughout the West and searing through the North—it is important to be mindful of the risks and potential dangers of such devastating heat. Heat is a powerful force (it can even prevent airplanes from flying!), so information is definitely power here.

When it comes to heat safety tips, we remind you to stay hydrated and to never leave children or pets unattended in vehicles, as hot cars can quickly turn deadly.How often do you think about effects of heat, especially as it pertains to your vehicle?

The visual and somatic effects of a summer heat wave are easy to recognize—beads of sweat dripping off your brow, sunburned ears, ice cream melting faster than you can eat it, the familiar burn of fleshy thighs on a black leather car seat—it’s a real treat, isn’t it? But what about the cues that might be a little less visible? How do scorching temperatures affect what’s under the hood?

How temperature affects your lubricants

Temperature affects oil, pure and simple. Generally speaking, temperatures affect an oil’s viscosity which can, in turn, affect your automotive engine (you can learn all about viscosity here).

In the past, motorists would compensate for seasonal temperature changes by using different grades of oil during different times of the year: lightweight oils in cold weather and heavier oils in the hot temperature months. At the time, this was necessary to maintain proper engine lubrication. Extremely cold temperatures can cause the fluid to actually congeal, causing improper oil flow throughout the engine, and therefore not providing adequate lubrication; conversely, using an engine oil with too low a viscosity (particularly in high temperatures) would not provide sufficient film between the metal-to-metal contact.

Multivoscosity oils have made seasonal engine oils rather unnecessary, as they are specifically developed to operate within a wider temperature range thanks to Viscosity Index Improvers. VI improvers compensate for the range of temperatures to which an automotive engine may be exposed. An example of a common multiviscosity grade oil is 5W-20, where the “W” stands for “winter” and the lower “W” rating represents a lower pour point. The additives within these multiviscosity oils enable the oil to efficiently lubricate the engine upon initial startup, but reach manufacturer specifications by the time the engine reaches its operating temperature.

Extreme temperatures on either end of the spectrum can cause lubricant degradation.

Hot oil’s best for frying potatoes

Lubricants don’t really get better as they age, and heat only further stresses them out (causing the lubricant equivalent of fine lines and wrinkles, you could say). Svante Arrhenius, a Swedish scientist, won the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1903 when he discovered the relationship between temperature and (most) chemical reaction rates. The Arrhenius Rate Rule applies to lubricants in that once they have exceeded their base activation temperature, lubricants will degrade twice as fast for every 18°F (10°C) increase in temperature.

Oxidation is the most common reaction of an in-service lubricant (Machinery Lubrication has a thorough breakdown of what lubricant oxidation is here). Heat can accelerate the oxidation process on Arrhenius’ principle, as mentioned above. Oxidation can cause a variety of problems for your engine oil, including viscosity increase, sludge and sediment formation, loss in foam control, rust formation and corrosion.

Other consequences of high temperature on lubricants include the following:

  • Additives may volatilize and escape into atmosphere
  • VI improvers shear down more rapidly
  • Microbial contaminants thrive in warm temperatures
  • Hot oil shortens filter and seal life
  • Accelerated corrosion
  • Both oil and gas more prone to leakage
  • Formation of carbonaceous gum and resins

Don’t let your lubricants give you the cold shoulder, either

While it will probably be a while until we need to worry about freezing temperatures, knowledge is power!

These are some of the consequences of cold lubricants you should be mindful of come winter:

  • Blended base oils can undergo phase separation
  • Paraffinic base-stocks can become waxy and gel
  • Additives depending on heat-induces chemical reactions can fail to perform
  • Additives can become insoluble and settle, clot, and/or form deposits
  • Oil can become viscous
  • Engines may cease to crank/moving parts may lock up
  • Oil-lifting devices may fail to work

Play it safe

We certainly feel the burn during these record breaking heat waves, and we must always be mindful that temperature is always a powerful force, so take caution when dealing with such extremes. Be mindful of yourself, those around you, and your automobile: if you’re planning a vacation, it’s always a good idea to check your fluid’s before starting that cross-country road trip€¦don’t want to get stuck on the side of the road in the middle of a heat wave because of engine failure

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How the Summer Heat Can Affect Your Car Battery

A long hot summer can do a number on your car battery. However, perhaps it isn’t until fall rolls around that you notice you’re having trouble starting your car. As a result, you may be tempted to blame the cool weather for your battery troubles. While both the heat and cold affect car batteries, it’s often extreme heat that does the real damage, even if the damage doesn’t show up until later. Ready to learn why and how the heat affects your car’s battery? First, you have to understand batteries.

How Do Car Batteries Work?

Your car’s battery is an electrochemical device made out of electrodes that store an electrical charge–an electrolyte solution where a chemical reaction takes place in the battery case that holds everything together. Positive and negative electrodes are both included in the battery. The chemical reaction that takes place in the battery results in power that is used to start your car, run the radio and lights, and make power windows and other accessories function.

Now that you understand how batteries work, let’s take a look at how heat interacts with your battery and damages it.

Heat and Batteries

Heat can accelerate chemical activity, which is why the ideal operating temperature for a car battery is 80 degrees F. The warmth in the surrounding air can help the battery function well. Yet, heat it up too much, and internal corrosion will occur, causing irreversible damage and reducing the life expectancy of the battery. Heat can also cause battery fluids to evaporate, which can cause damage to the internal structure of the battery as well. In fact, according to the Car Council, the two main reasons that battery lives are shortened are hot weather and overheating.

How Much Heat Does Your Battery Endure During the Summer?

Think of your summer habits. Does your car spend long hours in the sun in your driveway or parking lot? Just imagine the temperatures under your car’s hood! If you’re feeling the heat, your car battery is too.

Prevent Summer Heat Damage

You can help your car’s battery with some simple steps:

  • Park your car in a shady place whenever possible.
  • If you don’t have a garage, consider putting up a carport or using a tree to make sure your car gets some shade during the day.
  • Get your car battery checked regularly. Some older batteries need to be topped off with fluids. Make sure your check it frequently during the summer months.
  • Check your car battery periodically for bulging or cracks. If you seen anything out of the ordinary, ask your mechanic to look at it.
  • Remove corrosion that you see on your battery terminals. You can remove it by rubbing the terminals with a cloth or using a brush.

Remember, batteries can usually be expected to last from 3-5 years in optimal conditions. Your battery’s life will depend on your usage and many other factors including how much heat it’s exposed to. Plan to replace your battery within the recommended time frame and according to advice from your mechanic to avoid getting stranded.

Summer heat got the best of your battery? 

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Extreme heat can cause tire blowouts – Here’s some advice on how to prevent these blowouts.

In summer heat conditions as the pavement temperatures soar, it’s important to regularly check air pressure. Make sure proper tire inflation to manufacturers’ specifications is maintained. Manufacturers recommended tire pressure can be found in vehicle owner’s manual or on vehicle door plaquard.

It’s important to note that under-inflated tires increase the risk of tire blowouts.  Under-inflated tires run hotter than tires inflated properly to the manufacturer’s recommendations, and in summer heat conditions tire temperatures can get high enough to cause serious damage to the tire. In addition, under-inflated tires will result in poor gas mileage. You can reduce the risk of blowouts by slowing down on the highway and taking curves or corners more gently.

Nitrogen Inflation which is offered at most Tire locations has been proven to help vehicle tire temperatures run cooler than standard air in extreme heat conditions.

Excessive heat can also cause badly worn or old tires to fail even while exercising safe and careful driving practices.

Not all rubber compounds are created equal either.  Tires have separate ratings for temperature, tread wear, load capability and speed.  Temperature grades represent a tire’s resistance to heat and its ability to dissipate heat when tested under controlled laboratory test conditions. The grades from highest to lowest are “A”,”B” and “C”. The grade “C” corresponds to the minimum performance required by federal safety standard. Therefore, the “A” tire is the coolest running, and even though the “C” tire runs hotter it does not mean it is unsafe. The temperature grade is established for a tire that is properly inflated and not overloaded.

Preventing Tire Blowouts

Proper tire maintenance provides better traction, steering, and stopping. Gas mileage is also improved by almost four percent. The following tips will help prevent a summer tire blowout:

  • Correct tire pressure. This varies by car model and tire brand. The information is found in the vehicle’s manual or inside of the driver’s side door. Keep a tire gauge handy, and check the pressure weekly. If the car has a pressure monitoring system, take action as soon as the warning light goes on. Repair or replace leaking tires immediately.
  • Tread monitoring. Check the wear of the tire treads regularly. An easy way to test for wear is to place a penny between the treads. If the top if Lincoln’s head is visible, it means the treads are less than 2/32 of an inch, and the tires need to be replaced. Uneven wear or raised sections of tread also indicate replacement.
  • Checking the manual. Every vehicle comes with an owner’s manual that recommends the replacement interval for tires. Tires should also be rotated each season to avoid uneven wear that may lead to blowouts.
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How Summer Heat Affects Your Vehicle

Much is said every year about winter driving conditions and how cold weather affects a vehicle’s performance. But summer heat can also wreak havoc on a vehicle and its function. The warm weather, hot roads, extended trips, and dry air combine to create a hostile work environment for your car. Here are a few things to consider as you hit the road during those hot summer months.

Tires

Checking your tire pressure is one of the most important things you can do year round—but especially during the summer months. Hot tires on hot pavement are already a recipe for a blowout, but if your tires are improperly inflated, the risk of catastrophic failure is even greater. Help prevent hazardous situations by checking your tires once a month and replacing them before they become dangerously worn.

Battery

Everybody knows that cold weather can be hard on your vehicle’s battery. But hot weather can also shorten your battery’s usable life. The extra vibration from long summer trips can also damage your battery. It’s always a good idea to carry a set of jumper cables, or even a battery jump box, so you don’t get stranded. Also, check your car’s battery terminals for corrosion, and make sure the battery itself is securely mounted.

When you have your car in for regular service, be sure the technician tops off the fluid in your battery and tests it properly.

Oil

A hot engine needs all the lubrication it can get, so keeping on top of engine oil changes is especially important during the summer months. Though some people believe it’s necessary to use a thicker grade of oil for summer (and a thinner oil for winter), this isn’t really the case with modern motor oils. The most important thing is to change the oil at regular intervals and use the oil viscosity recommended in the owner’s manual for your car. With the extra miles many people put on their vehicles during summer road trips, this may mean more frequent changes.

Coolant

What we call “antifreeze” during the winter doubles as “coolant” during the summer. Low coolant levels can literally kill your engine. Worn hoses or a damaged radiator can allow coolant to leak and engine temperatures to rise. Keep an especially close eye on your vehicle’s temperature gauge during summer months to prevent overheating.

Other fluids

Oil and coolant aren’t the only fluids that need to be checked to help keep your vehicle operating at peak efficiency during the summer. Your transmission fluid and power steering fluid should also be checked at proper intervals to make sure those systems work correctly. Also, believe it or not, gas evaporates more quickly from a hot car than a cold one—directly from the tank. Keeping your vehicle in the garage and parking in the shade when possible can actually prevent some of this natural evaporation, increasing your fuel economy.

Other considerations

Wiper blades can actually melt to your windshield in high heat. The best way to prevent this is to put your wipers through a wipe-wash cycle from time to time. To keep yourself and your passengers cool, have your air conditioning serviced regularly. Replacing the cabin air filter can also improve cooling and prolong the life of your A/C system. Finally, an inexpensive sun shade can help protect the interior of your vehicle from sun damage—and keep it a little cooler on those hot, sunny days.
Summer breakdown kit

Just as there are certain items you should have in your vehicle for a winter emergency, every driver should put together a “summer breakdown kit”:

  • Water (one gallon per person)
  • Non-perishable snacks
  • First aid kit
  • Sunscreen
  • Emergency blanket (doubles as shade)
  • Flashlight or headlamp
  • Basic tool kit
  • Pocket knife and/or multi-tool
  • Duct tape
  • Tow strap
  • Replacement fuses
  • Cell phone charger
  • Jumper cables
  • Hazard signs and flares
  • Can of tire sealant
  • Shop towels or paper towels
  • Work gloves