How to Fix an Overheated Engine

  • A file image of a mechanic working on a car at a garage
    A file image of a mechanic working on a car at a garage
  • It was a penultimate moment for Robert Mwangi (not his real name) who was in a hurry to arrive at a Kiambu-based hospital in order to tend to his pregnant wife - they were ready to welcome their first child into the world.

    Mwangi felt chills running down his spine as the feeling of becoming a father still shook him to the core. But all in all, he could not miss the opportune moment. 

    As he revved up the gear and the dashboard indicated 120 kilometres per hour, only a few meters and he was on course to make it to the hospital. 

    An undated file image of a parking lot within the Central Business District.
    An undated file image of a parking lot within the Central Business District.

    In a split moment, he noticed something peculiar with the vehicle as steam wafted off the bonnet. It's late at night, so his go-to mechanic might be unreachable and there wasn't a petrol station or a garage in sight. What could he do?

    This depicts a situation where some motorists find themselves in. spoke to Miller Kyalo, an automotive engineer and car expert, in order to list the easy steps motorists can take.

    "By the time, steam wafts off the engine, it indicates that there is a serious problem and shouldn't be taken lightly," he stated. 

    Coolant problems

    -First, proceed to park at a safe place. Engines typically overheat because the coolant is low hence in most cases, water would do the trick. 

    -In most cases, the check engine light would be flickering and the temperature gauge would be glowing red- a sign that the engine has an issue. Immediately turn off the air conditioner as it puts a lot of strain on the engine. 

    -Pop the hood from the driver's seat though don't risk opening it by hand until the engine has cooled. 

    -Kyalo advocated for about 10-20 minutes for an engine to cool down enough for it to be safe to handle. 

    Once the engine has cooled, check the coolant tank ( a plastic tank near the radiator). If it is low, you can fill it with a coolant or water depending on what you have at the time. If the coolant tank is completely empty, it may be a sign that you may have a leak. 

    Take a quick look under the car and if you spot a drip or puddle, chances are the coolant tank is leaking. 

    Traffic snarl-up at Uhuru Highway in Nairobi in March 2020.

    If the coolant is not leaking

    Carefully open the radiator cap and place a cloth over the cap in order to protect your hand. 

    Tilt the cap away from you as it opens. Refill the radiator with a coolant. 

    Kyalo warned against pouring cold water into a still-hot radiator noting that it could cause the engine block to crack. This is due to the sudden change in temperature. 

    He advised that for those motorists using water, they ought to have the engine running in neutral gear while they pour the water slowly. 

    Kyalo pointed out that most cars require a half and half mixture of coolant and water in order to prevent overheating, hence it's advisable to add a comparable amount of coolant and water. 

    He noted that if the coolant tank is full, the problem may be caused by an electrical or mechanical failure, which would require assistance from an experienced mechanic.

    The car expert advised that it wouldn't be wise for a motorist to deduce for himself especially if they aren't well versed about engine parts.