If your car is an older classic, that's a good thing, because that’s what makes it a classic. When it’s not so good is when you realize that old cars break down a lot more often than their younger counterparts – six times more often to be exact.
Nearly 40 percent of those who participated in the 2004 Hagerty Protection Network Hobby Survey have spent some quality time with their car on the side of a road somewhere. Almost 9 percent of their breakdowns were caused by an overheated engine. Here’s what to do if something similar happens to you.
Overheating is usually signaled by a temperature gauge in the red zone, an illuminated coolant warning light or steam pouring out of the engine.
More important than what you do in the case of an overheated engine is what you don’t do. First do not continue to drive. If you notice any of the above signs, it’s best to pull over immediately to avoid further engine damage.
Also, never remove the radiator cap until the engine has completely cooled. The radiator’s contents are pressurized and can be extremely hot. If the engine is still warm when the cap is removed, coolant can boil out causing injury to you and damage to your car.
Finally, never pour cold water over an overheated engine or radiator at the risk of seriously damaging your engine.
OK, now here’s what you can do. Once you’re safely stopped, turn off the engine and carefully open the hood. Look for a leaking or cracked radiator, or a blown radiator belt. Also check the belt that drives the water pump and the engine core plug. If you notice any damage or find evidence of a leak, stay put and call a tow truck.
If there isn’t any visible damage, it’s possible you just taxed the engine a little too much, perhaps by driving up a steep hill on a hot day. In this case, let the car cool down on the side of the road until the radiator hose doesn’t feel hot, which usually about 30 minutes.
If you have spare coolant in your roadside emergency kit, you can add it as soon as the radiator is cool enough. If you don’t have any coolant, add water. After this, begin driving again – if you haven’t called for help already, though it’s wise to head straight to the nearest repair shop for a professional diagnosis, stopping along the way if the overheating problem persists.