The first step in avoiding being stuck on the side of the road is to have vehicles regularly evaluated at the service center. Many perform a several-point inspection which will include checking the coolant system. This should be done at least annually. Much of coolant system breakdown can be avoided with semi-annual system flushes as well. The cleaner the fluid that is running through your system, the less problems you will likely have. Maintenance is the most important first step.
There are some issues to consider that are easy to check if your engine overheats. Everyone should have a few things in their trunk to help in situations like this. First, it is always a good idea to have antifreeze, a container of a name-brand coolant system “stop leak” product and no less than 2 gallons of water in the trunk of your vehicle. Beyond this, having a large piece of cardboard, perhaps 3’ x 3’ in your trunk is going to help a lot if you find yourself with coolant system problems. I often times tell people to also have electrical tape and a spare radiator cap. If you have these items including some basic tools and a flashlight, or even better a lighted miner’s cap (so your hands are free), you are well on your way to being able to try to diagnose your vehicle’s problem and provide a temporary fix so you can get it home or to a service center.
Cardboard and the Big Cool Down
Once in a safe spot, off the road, and you can leave the vehicle, get the cardboard and slide it under the engine area. The purpose is twofold: if your car is leaking antifreeze it is wildly toxic to animals and will kill most small pets like cats and dogs. Also, garages have to take certain steps to dispose of antifreeze because of its toxicity. The point of the cardboard is to both absorb whatever might be leaking and also to be able to identify where a leak might be coming from. By narrowing down where it is coming from, you can at least start to determine if it is a hose or a water pump etc… With electrical tape, antifreeze and water, most people that know a little about cars can apply a temporary fix of electrical tape, replace lost fluid and get the car to a service station to get the broken hose replaced. These are temporary measures designed to allow you to get your vehicle to a service station for evaluation because that broken hose might just be a symptom of a larger problem. The pros of taking simple steps yourself are designed to get you back on the road, should you find yourself in a desolate area where you might not even have phone service. The con of you having success with a simple fix is forgetting that you are not a professional and that your vehicle needs to be evaluated by someone that knows your car and what to look for.
If vehicle is overheating it will need to be professionally assessed but there are a few things you can do, should you find yourself stranded. Once your vehicle cools down, if you have a reserve tank, check the levels. If you check your cardboard and do not notice any antifreeze having leaked out, there could be a weak spring in the radiator cap which is allowing coolant to leak out as you are driving, when the system is under most pressure. That’s why it’s always a good idea to travel with a spare. You could also have a bubble and the system needs to be flushed. All paths lead back to your vehicle needing a professional check-up, as coolant system problems can ruin a vehicle.
All overheating situations need to be evaluated by a service center because engine seizure, the most deadly aspect of coolant system problems, will likely be the unfortunate end result. At this point, the time has come to call your road service for a tow. Problems like a stuck thermostat, a failing water pump, fans that are malfunctioning, a failing radiator or a worn head gasket, which is allowing emissions to leak into the cooling system, will all need evaluation and repair by a skilled professional. It is always important to have the car evaluated under these circumstances. For more information, please give us a call at (480) 641-8784 or just stop by our location. We look forward to hearing from you!