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What to do if your car overheats

24 October 2021

What to do if your car overheats

If you find yourself in the driver’s seat with a steaming engine, stay safe with this helpful guide.

Is there anything more alarming than seeing smoke or steam coming out from under the hood of your car while driving? When this happens, your car’s engine is most likely overheating.

It’s more common than it seems for cars to overheat in extremely hot weather. But while you might think it’s rare with modern vehicles, even a well-tuned engine can lose its cool when the temperature starts to rise.

In fact, a large number of NRMA’s roadside assistance callouts are for overheated engines. And although the scorching summer sun can be one cause for it, weather alone isn’t the only reason for your car to overheat. Other common reasons include low coolant levels, a blown head gasket, a stuck thermostat or water pump failure.

It’s important to know the signs your car is experiencing its own personal hot flash so that you can be prepared and stay safe on the road.

Signs of an overheating engine

An overheating engine can happen for a few different reasons. But while every situation and car can be unique, there are a few common signs to be mindful of when your car engine is beginning to overheat:

  • A warning light turns on in your dashboard or the temperature gauge notifies you it’s reaching the maximum level.

  • Steam coming from the front of the vehicle under the hood. This often looks like and is mistaken for smoke.

  • Strange odours coming from the front of the car, mainly near the hood. 

  • A loud ticking noise being caused from a lack of oil lubricating your engine’s parts.

  • Leaking coolant on the ground from a leak in your cooling system.

In severe cases the damage caused to your car’s engine by overheating can be catastrophic and may even require a complete overhaul or replacement of the engine if the problem isn’t caught in time.

So, if you find yourself in the driver’s seat and your dashboard temperature indicator starts to rise into the red zone or the “Check Engine” or “Temperature” warning light flashes, don't ignore the warning signs.

What to do when your engine overheats

If this happens to you, stay safe by following these three simple steps:

  1. As soon as you recognise the signs of an overheating engine, pull over to a safe location and turn your hazard lights on. Continuing to drive – even for a short distance – could increase the damage to your vehicle.

  2. Call NRMA Roadside Assistance on 131111 for help and the call centre staff will dispatch a road service patrol to assist you. If you’re a motorist in NSW, you can also request roadside assistance using the mynrma app.

  3. While waiting for roadside assistance, do not touch or open the bonnet. A severely overheated engine can take several hours to cool down so don't touch or try to remove any engine components. It’s safer to leave it to the experts when they arrive.

If your car can’t be fixed by roadside assistance, it’s most likely suffered or is suspected of suffering major damage and will require to be towed.

To ensure you care for your car’s engine as best you can, make sure to book in for regular maintenance checks and proper car servicing to reduce the risk of overheating.


Car Safety
Overheated Engine
NRMA Roadside Assist