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what to do if your engine overheats

Most cars these days are designed to keep their cool. But on a particularly hot day, cars — like people — can suffer from heat exhaustion.

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A step-by-step guide to cooling an overheated engine

Most cars have a gauge or alert light to indicate when they're dangerously close to overheating. If you notice the temperature rising, here's what to do.

Use common sense.

If you feel like you might be in danger or are unsure how to proceed, call a tow truck. If you have Esurance's emergency roadside service, we can come to your rescue anytime, day or night.

Step 1: Turn off the A/C and turn on the heat.

This transfers the heat away from your engine and into the car. It's not pleasant on a hot day but it's helpful. Also, try to avoid riding the brakes, which increases the load on the engine.

Step 2: Pull over to a safe place (if the problem persists).

Turn off your engine ASAP and pop the hood. But don't do anything just yet.

Step 3: Wait for the engine to cool.

This can take anywhere from 20 minutes to 2 hours. Sometimes you'll hear a sizzling sound if the engine is still hot. You might also see steam rising.

Step 4: Open the radiator cap (slowly) with a thick rag.

Turn it slowly to release some pressure. Keep your face out of the way in case steam or hot water sprays out.

Step 5: Check your coolant (aka antifreeze) level.

If the level's low, fill it up to a couple inches below the cap (so it's covering the tubes inside the radiator). Your engine prefers a refreshing 50/50 mix of antifreeze and water, but plain water will do in a pinch.

Step 6: Wait a few more minutes.

Give your engine some time to cool completely, then put the radiator cap back on.

Step 7: Start the engine and check the temperature gauge.

If it's back in the normal zone, drive straight to a repair shop for an expert assessment. An overheating car could be a sign of a bigger problem, like a leak in your cooling system.

If it's still in the red, turn the car off again and call a tow truck. No use risking it.

Step 8: High-five yourself!

Hey, it takes patience and know-how to bring your car's temperature back down and keep your cool in the heat of the moment.

How to avoid having your car overheat

Though overheating engines rarely afflict today's autos, it never hurts to give your car a once-over occasionally. Check your coolant level to make sure you have the amount recommended by your owner's manual, especially before taking a long road trip.

And of course, following your car's maintenance schedule never hurts either.

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Related link

The dangers of summer driving
An overheated car is just one danger of summer driving. What are the others?

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