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How to Cool Down a Car Engine While Driving

Picture of the cooling fan for the radiator visible inside the engine bay with the hood open

No one wants their car to break down, especially in the middle of the road on a hot summer day. One potential cause for this happening is the engine overheating.

You can keep your engine cool while driving by reducing strain on the engine. To do this, try turning off the AC, directing the airflow inside your vehicle, and adding water or coolant to the engine.

There are a lot of ways you can cool your car on the road to prevent issues that are both inconvenient and expensive. Read on to find out how.

Keeping Your Engine Cool When Driving

A car is a complex piece of machinery with many moving parts and requirements to function well. When these parts all work in tandem they require a large amount of energy and thus are prone to overheating when the temperature gets too hot, or the engine is overworked too much. This can cause serious problems and you will want to do your best to ensure that your engine doesn’t overheat, especially while you’re driving on the road.

It is incredibly important to keep your car from overheating. This is more than just keeping yourself comfortable, it’s critical that your engine remains cool because if not, you could be looking at a serious expense, a breakdown in the middle of nowhere, or the worst-case scenario, a risk to your own well-being and safety.

Car radiator icon illustration isolated against a green background

Why You Should Keep Your Engine Cool

It’s unlikely that your engine will explode from the extreme heat, but the odds aren’t zero. In more likely scenarios your engine will likely just die out and this could be extremely hazardous especially if it happens in the middle of a busy road.

This type of risk is potentially extremely dangerous to both you and others on the road, so it is in your best interest to always keep your engine from overheating. Nobody wants to pay thousands of dollars to a mechanic or to get their car towed from the middle of nowhere, but if your engine overheats these are all realistic outcomes.

Is an Overheated Engine Risky?

An engine is very expensive and laborious to replace, so you could be looking at a huge cost if your engine dies from overheating. This could run you a few thousand dollars and that’s something that no one wants to spend when the issue is easily avoidable.

Aside from the cost of replacing an engine the more serious harm comes from your engine dying in the middle of the road. You could be at risk of an accident regardless of whether the street is busy or not and you may have stopped in an area where it is going to be difficult to get help.

If your engine dies in the middle of the road, you’ll have to get it towed away since it is unlikely that it will start up again, especially long enough to get you back home or at least somewhere safe.

Cooling water temperature gauge for the car's engine close up of a BMW dash cluster

When Are You at Risk of Overheating?

Summertime is when your engine is at the most risk of overheating, but that doesn’t mean you’re free in the winter. Engine overuse has a lot to do with the usage and state of the engine and you could potentially overheat your vehicle even if it is cold outside. You also have to take into account that the weather will not remain the same.

If you are going on a road trip and it’s a nice day outside, once you cross into another state the weather could change dramatically. In order to maintain a healthy vehicle, you should not overlook keeping your vehicle clean and cool throughout its life span

Close up of a car engine overheating due to no water in the radiator or cooling system with the hood open and engine smoke visible

Steps to Keep Your Engine Cool on the Road

Thankfully, there are several steps you can take to ensure that your car doesn’t overheat and put too much strain on the engine. By following a few simple tips and paying attention to your vehicle, you’ll be on the road in no time. Here is how to keep your engine cool when you drive.

1. Direct the Airflow

Directing the airflow is important because you want the heat out, especially in sensitive areas like your engine. There are ways you can manipulate this such as opening your windows which will let some of the heat out and hopefully if there is a cool breeze let some cool air in.

How warm or cool your car is on the inside is not a good indicator of what the temperature of your engine is currently going through. Your car could potentially overheat while you are sitting nice and cool in the interior. It’s important to watch out for all the signs that your car is getting hot.

Customized and lowered import sports car on an open highway interstate at dusk with the car windows open

2. Add Antifreeze or Water

This is by no means a permanent solution, but a quick dose of water on your engine’s coolant system cools it down enough to get you to somewhere safer, like the nearest auto mechanic shop or at least a gas station. Antifreeze is a better idea for something you can apply to resolve overheating options.

Make sure that the antifreeze goes into the correct slot in your car, and it should cool your engine down sufficiently. If you are not comfortable doing this yourself, you may ask a mechanic for help so that you can guarantee it will be done correctly.

Mechanic adding anti-freeze car engine coolant to a pickup truck

3. Turn off the AC

While it may sound like a paradox, turn your AC off when your car is hot. The reasoning for this is that the AC puts strain on the engine which will cause it to heat up even more. Therefore, if you turn off your AC it means your car will cool down where it matters.

You should also turn on your heater. This is to manage the airflow from your vehicle engine to other areas of the car. If it’s too hot for you then a good idea would be to pull over, let the engine cool down then head back on the road.

Simple tricks like these will help keep your car cool on the road and ensure that even if it does get too hot, you can manage it and get the heat out quickly. Don’t be afraid to pull over where it is safe if you feel like your car might be getting too hot. It will save you countless troubles later.

Close up of the car's AC button on the climate control unit of the vehicle

4. Be Prepared

You don’t have to get caught off guard with an overheated engine, and there are many steps you can take to prepare yourself so that you will avoid the issue or be equipped to face it if it comes up. One way is by making sure that you have an emergency supply kit in your car, one that features extra coolant or water will be an invaluable resource to have on you.

Other helpful items would be a car jack in case of a flat tire or a physical map of your state so that you can find your way if your phone ever dies. In the event of an overheated engine, you should be as prepared as possible to make sure other issues don’t spring up as well.

You should also ensure that your vehicle is always full of coolant and antifreeze. This is something easy to forget since most of the time we don’t have a need to look under the hood but if you get in the habit of checking your vehicle’s fluids on a regular basis, you ensure that you are never in a situation where you are out.

Leaking is typically a sign that something is wrong, and this could relate to your antifreeze. If your antifreeze is leaking, then your vehicle is at risk of overheating and it’s important to get this addressed so that the leaking fluid doesn’t damage other components of the car in addition to the engine troubles it will cause. Be sure to address any leaks you find by isolating the source and letting a mechanic know.

Close up of green fluorescent coolant liquid leaked out from the

How to Know When Your Engine is Overheating

Unlike battery problems or flat tires, it’s typically a lot easier to realize when a car is overheating. There are several issues that can cause this like a low coolant level or system leak. You will be in the best shape for your vehicle by making sure that you do not put it in conditions where it may overheat.

Checking the vehicle’s thermometer will be invaluable to know when your car is getting dangerously hot. There are several signs to look for when your engine is overheating but the temperature gauge on your vehicle is the best way to know the status of your engine.

If the gauge exponentially rises quickly while you drive, then your vehicle is overheating, and you should immediately stop what you were doing and address this issue before it gets dangerous. Note: some newer vehicles don’t have a temperature gauge but a diagnostic light that comes on when the temp is above normal levels.

Another sign is when steam or smoke is visible coming out of your vehicle, especially from the hood. This means that your engine is overheating or that something is wrong without a doubt and needs your immediate attention.

Close up of the vehicle temperature cooling gauge on the dash instrument cluster

Which Vehicles are at Risk of Overheating?

Whether you’re driving a car that has been on the road for several years or you are driving the latest model fresh off the presses, you cannot neglect the risk of an overheated engine. While older vehicles will be more susceptible even newer vehicles will have issues if you push them too hard.

The Water pump, coolant hoses, thermostat, old coolant, and an old clogged radiator….are all components that need to be routinely inspected and serviced to keep the car engine temperature happy.

A car cannot run well if it is put under too much strain, no matter what is inside of it. This also applies to electric and hybrid vehicles so be sure that no matter what car you drive you to take the proper steps to ensure that it is taken care of.

Keeping an older vehicle maintained is an important part of ensuring its longevity and reliability. Even if it has been running great for several years, you shouldn’t get complacent because incidents can happen at any time.

Repairing car radiator
Radiator Hose Inspection & Cleaning

Things You Can Do to Prevent Problems

There are a couple of ways you can ensure that your engine stays cool and doesn’t overheat while you’re on the road. One method is storing your vehicle in a cool location during times when it is not being driven.

Parking your car outside during extremely hot temperatures will be bad for your engine, but if you keep your car in a garage or under a shaded canopy you will not only keep your vehicle cooler, but it’ll be also more pleasant when you step in and it’s time to drive.

 If you do not have access to a garage or a large shade, you could purchase a window shade that will cover your car and keep it cool when it gets really hot outside. These window shades are relatively cheap and can be found in mini retail stores. They also come in a wide variety of designs that will keep your car both looking and feeling cool.

When you are about to drive, it is typically a good idea to leave your car on for a few minutes before you step out onto the road. This can help cool down your vehicle without putting stress on the engine and will ensure that by the time you are ready to drive, you won’t burn up inside a flaming hot vehicle.

Sometimes just five minutes before you are ready to head out is good enough to cool your car down but, in some cases, you might need to prepare a few extra minutes beforehand. Depending on how powerful your car’s AC is, this can change. Don’t be afraid to experiment and see what works for you.

Thermometer in front of cars and traffic during a heatwave in Montreal, Canada

Concluding Thoughts

So, as we can see, your engine overheating is something that can cause serious problems especially if you are on the road. However, with just a few simple solutions like directing the airflow of the heat out of your car or applying cool water or antifreeze to your engine, you can ensure that your car’s engine remains cool and safe so you can drive completely comfortable and worry-free.

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Ernest Martynyuk

An automotive enthusiast who's been tinkering with vehicles since I was 15-years old. Repairing automotive electronics has been my main job for over a decade now and have a passion for everything technical regarding cars.

2 thoughts on “How to Cool Down a Car Engine While Driving”

  1. I always had this question and never asked it, why does a car slow down when heating Is that a safety feature to keep it from braking down? Also I do that same thing to keep it from over heating until I get somewhere I can park and then I cool it off and drive again.

    Reply
    • Hey Alex, when an engine overheats, the cooling fans begin to work harder. If the heat becomes too much for the engine, it can dramatically reduce the engine’s performance which you will notice when driving.

      Reply

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