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Overheating: What to do


In Nigeria, we have summer almost all year long and this makes our vehicles more susceptible to overheating.

You will just be driving jejely to the market to buy supplies for the house, that’s how you will just see this traffic jam, mind you, you will never know what caused it. At that moment, one spirit will just say you should put on the air conditioner.

Twenty minutes later, you’ll notice your temperature gauge rising, fast approaching hot, and then you see your engine temperature warning light come on just before your car putters to a stop. The engine in your car has overheated.

An overheating engine



It’s the nightmare come true for any driver; trust me, I’m speaking from experience. When your engine overheats, you’ll certainly have to hold off on your itinerary for a while as you and your engine get a grand tour of the local mechanic’s shop. It’s inconvenient and frustrating to deal with a car that’s overheating, however, it’s largely preventable.

In last week’s post we discussed the cooling system in cars and how it works, click here if you have not yet read it.

Today, we’ll be helping you Drive-Right as we’ll be discussing What to do when your car overheats.


Before you head out on the road, take a few preventative steps on your own or with the help of your mechanics, so you can increase your chances of having a cool engine any day, any time.

Make sure you have lots of coolant.

A common cause of engine overheating is low coolant (also known as antifreeze). Make sure your radiator is full of coolant, and make sure it’s got the right coolant mix of antifreeze and water (your shop will blend and pour in an antifreeze concentrate with water for you). Read our post for help. Remember if your coolant or any fluid is extremely low, you may also have a leak

Engine coolant
Engine coolant
Make sure your coolant is fresh.

Like a lot of the fluids that help your vehicle’s components operate, coolant has a lifespan. After that time, it’ll leave deposits in your engine and radiator that can lead to poor coolant flow. Replacing your coolant at regular intervals is going to help you prevent overheating as well as corrosion.

Check your drive belt.

In essence, your drive belt drives everything, including the water pump for your alternator. If the drive belt breaks, there’s no water pump, no coolant circulation, and your engine will overheat almost immediately. Have a technician at your service centre check for signs of wear and cracking. Drive belts tend to have a lifespan of about 80,000 to 100,000 kilometres. Replacing your drive belt before it fails is a good preventative measure. They cause issues when they are loose, cracked, or have suffered abrasion.

Clear your radiator.

I suffered from this once. A few leaves, a bit of dirt, some giant mosquitoes that have built up, and even huge clumps of clay and loam can also block your radiator, especially if your road has a lot of muddy pools. This kind of dirt and debris, when piled in front of your radiator or a/c condenser, if your vehicle is equipped with one, can block the airflow through your cooling system and cause big problems.

A clogged radiator
A clogged radiator
The a/c condenser sits right in front of the radiator, where dust and grass can build up. That means air can’t get through the condenser or your radiator, preventing cooling.

Inspect your radiator cap.

A weak radiator cap is a potential culprit you might consider. These little lids have a surprisingly big job: maintain pressure on the system to prevent boiling over and overheating.

Radiator caps
Radiator caps

Your radiator cap needs to be in good shape and properly fastened. Your radiator cap has a spring and if that spring has become weak, that’s going to compromise the pressure and could lead to overheating. So, make sure you or your technician take a closer look at your radiator cap.

But, it has already overheated, what do I do?

If your car overheats, park and switch off the engine immediately. Have it towed to avoid further damage to the engine. However, if there is no experienced mechanic or tow truck nearby, follow these simple steps:

  • Pull over to a safe location and turn off the engine.
  • Do not open the hood until the car has completely cooled or the temperature gauge has moved from hot to cool.
  • Check the coolant (also called antifreeze) level in the radiator. Look in the owner’s manual if you are unsure where the coolant reservoir tank is.
  • Make sure the radiator cap is cool before opening it, I almost got my face burnt once. The coolant is at a very high temperature and pressure, so don’t open until is cool. Slowly twist it off with a towel and beware of any hot steam. Once it is cool, if needed, fill coolant to the top of the radiator. Put the radiator cap back on.
  • Be sure the upper or lower radiator hose and any of the heater hoses have not been blocked, disconnected or burst.
  • Check to see if the belt is in place and in good condition
  • Restart the engine.
  • Carefully monitor the temperature gauge. If you see it crossing the optimal mark, pull over to a safe location and turn the engine off.

While your best bet is to get help from a mechanic, your safest bet is to be prepared. Store these essential items in your car: Coolant, tool kit, working flashlight, non-perishable foods and water (I have butter, tea, a spoon, and cup in my car😂).


28 thoughts on “Overheating: What to do”

  1. Oluneye Tolulope

    Thanks for the enlightenment, I used to think water is the only liquid that is put in the radiator..never heard about mixing it with something else

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