How To Keep it Cool On Summer Roads

Summer road trips bring the threat of engine overheating.

Fortunately, all it takes is some basic maintenance to prevent being that person stranded on the side of the road with an engine hot enough to sear steaks.

“Most vehicles overheat due to poor maintenance of the vehicle or a system/component failure,” said Jared Avent, training manager at Universal Technical Institute’s Sacramento campus.

Engines rely on fans and coolants to help maintain a balanced temperature. Coolant in the radiator must be replenished or replaced routinely to keep the engine operating smoothly.

“Coolant, like oil, has a service limit. Over time the water in coolant evaporates, causing the mixture to become imbalanced,” Avent said.

Sometimes people put tap water in their radiator, but Avent cautions against the idea.

“If you top the system off with tap water you have now introduced foreign minerals and deposits into your cooling system. These deposits can clog coolant passages and cause ‘hot spots’ in the engine,” he said. “With the cooling system not working properly these ‘hot spots’ can cause false sensor reading, accelerate wear on other components and the engine.”

A coolant flush removes old fluid from the system, along with any debris. Newer vehicles can last longer before their coolant needs to be replaced, Avent said, and the owner’s manual offers the best guide for service intervals.

Avent provided the following advice on coolant maintenance and what to do if your vehicle overheats:

  • Have your vehicle inspected by a certified technician especially before a long road trip. An overheating engine is usually the result of poor maintenance or a system failure.
  • Engine coolant is like oil, it needs to be replenished and replaced periodically.
  • Adding tap water to the radiator can introduce foreign materials that corrode hoses and causes hot spots within the engine.
  • If your car overheats, turn off the engine and open the hood.
  • Never open the radiator while it is hot. The cap itself is blistering hot and the fluid is under pressure. Opening the cap of a hot radiator may cause severe injury from scalding liquid. Wait for the radiator to cool before opening.
  • Continuing to drive an overheating engine can cause severe damage. Consider getting a tow to a local service center or repair shop.