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Engine coolant

Ensuring that your car engine coolant level is topped up is vital to make sure that your engine doesn't overheat. If your engine overheats the metal components could start to expand and distort, and eventually your engine could seize. Damage on this scale can virtually destroy the engine, and repairs will be extremely costly.

What causes an engine to overheat

There are a number of possible reasons for your engine to overheat, the most common being leaks in the cooling system itself. This could be due to split hoses or perhaps small holes in the radiator due to corrosion.

If your car is kept outside in cold weather and there is insufficient anti-freeze in the system, the coolant will freeze. When the coolant freezes it will expand and can split rubber connecting hoses and even buckle or rupture the metal pipe work in the radiator, causing leaks.

If the water pump fails, the coolant will not be circulated around the engine properly and the engine temperature will start to rise rapidly.

The radiator relies on a flow of air through it in order function, and so if the electric fan stops working (or if the fan belt breaks in older cars), again this will cause overheating problems.

Even when the engine is working normally it is still possible for the engine to overheat under extreme operating conditions. If the vehicle has been driven hard for a long period of time in hot weather, and you then get stuck in a traffic jam for example, the cars electric fan alone may not be able to provide sufficient airflow to cool the radiator when it's stationary.

What to do if your engine does overheat

As a car owner you should always familiarise yourself with your cars 'normal' running temperature by looking at your cars temperature gauge regularly. Your car engines temperature will occasionally go up above 'normal' when the engine is under load, but it should be a rare occurrence. If the temperature does go too far above the ranges you are familiar with, your engine may be starting to overheat.

If your engine overheats, you should find a suitable place and pull over. Let your engine cool right down before you even attempt to open the bonnet, your engines coolant will be at extremely high temperatures which could cause severe scalding if you come into contact with it.

When the engine is cool you can open up the bonnet and check the coolant level. Most cars will have a transparent plastic reservoir tank (check your vehicles manual if you’re not sure where this is) with 'maximum' and 'minimum' indicator lines marked on it. Remember that in some cars this may be under pressure when hot, so don't attempt to take the cap off unless the engine has completely cooled down. Check the levels to see if it needs topping up, it's always a good idea to keep a bottle with a couple of litres of coolant in your car for emergencies. Top up the tank as necessary.

If you find that your coolant tank is completely empty, you may have a leak. Keep an eye on your temperature gauge and the coolant levels for the next few days and if the level continues to need topping up, you should get your car checked out by a garage.

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