Truck Safety: Overheating

Prevention and minimizing the damage of overheating your truck

By Dan Deary, posted in Phoenix vehicle safety on June 05, 2014

There can be many reasons why your truck can overheat on you. You’ve been neglecting some of your regular maintenance to save time and money, or maybe your truck isn’t as new as it used to be. Whatever the reason there can be many factors in a truck overheating, and with summer coming on strong, now is the time to know the warning signs and what to do if it happens when you are on the road.

Your vehicles cooling system is its first line of defense between the elements and the heart of your vehicles systems.

vehicle temperature gaugeSome of these preventative steps seem trivial but they are worth mentioning. Before you get on the road make sure you:

  • Check your fluid levels. Most vehicles will have a reservoir where your engine coolant is and a line/marker where it should be maintained. Make sure to keep it where it should be for optimum performance. You may have to look at your owners manual for the proper level.
  • Check your engines manual or manufacturers specifications for the type of coolant to use or the water to coolant mixture. Your engine doesn’t need water or coolant alone it needs a mixture of the two to keep it within the proper boil-up/freeze-up temperature range. Also read the coolant packaging, the type of coolant you need may be preblended which would be a lot less of a headache when topping it off. Keep coolant on you as well if you’re noticing problems or are concerned with overheating.
  • Check for leaks. This can relate to many of the fluids in your truck, but if you notice any puddles under your vehicle, or if your fluid levels are low then take a minute to see if your vehicle is leaking. Notice the placement of the puddle, and the color of the liquid, this can tell you what is leaking and give you an early warning sign of larger issues within your engine. Some leaks can also be too small to create puddles.
  • Check your engines hoses, and lines for cracks or leaks. A new hose or a clamp for a few bucks can save you thousands of dollars in repairs and wasted time sitting on the side of the road waiting for a tow truck later.
  • Check your gauges. Many trucks will have a temperature gauge, abnormal activity of this gauge could be a early red flag that something isn’t quite right under your hood. When your truck has had a chance to run for a while and warm up notice the “normal operating temperature” of your vehicle under normal circumstances. If you notice your temperature increase rapidly, or the gauge begin to act out of the norm then there is a good chance you need to have your vehicle serviced.
  • Your gauges are acting weird, and you don’t have leaks…call your dealer/manufacturer. Sometimes companies use cheap parts, parts fail, or some engines are just engineered with higher priorities than the cooling system. A simple call to ask about recalls, or known issues can keep you from a future headache.
  • Don’t overload your truck. Although it may seem like you are saving yourself time, or doing more “work.” But when you take on a heavy load or tow something keep an eye on the size and weight. Check your manual, door panel, or manufacturers website for your advised load limit. Overloading your truck will put extra strain on all your trucks parts, including your engine. This extra strain can lead to severe engine damage, including overheating.
  • If you haven’t found a problem within the engine another issue that can cause extra strain on your vehicle is its brakes. Sometimes brakes can stick, or drag causing extra friction which in turn makes your engine have to work harder. So if you notice any sounds out of the norm coming from your brake system and you are overheating (or having irregular fuel usage) make sure to get them checked out.

Don’t ignore the early warning signs as this could be a tip-off of something wrong with your cooling system or worse, it could be a sign of something larger. It’s always better to have your engine looked at than risk overheating on the road or possible catastrophic engine failure. This will save you time and money in the long run.

So what if…what if you are overheating because you didn’t notice a leak, or forgot to check your fluids. What now?

Overheating Vehicle ThermometerFirst, stay calm. This happens, especially in the hot summer months and in Arizona where the temperatures regularly go above 100 degrees it can happen and without much warning.

  • At the first sign of your temperature gauge rising towards the H (hot) range turn off your air conditioner. This will relieve some of the extra work being put on your engine.
  • Second turn on your heater to help disperse some of the heat coming from the engine. Your heater creates heat by running air passed the engine which in the winter is great, but now it helps create some more heat transference. Although be careful it’s easy to overheat yourself as well in the Arizona weather.
  • If you can pull over, or are at a red light/stopped put your vehicle in park or neutral and rev the engine to 2-3000 RPM this will allow your engine to not work on moving but allow the water pump to work and allow the fan to continue to circulate air.
  • Minimize the usage of your brakes. If you are driving in stop and go traffic try and roll at a slower pace and maintain movement rather than pumping the brakes. This will allow some airflow to continue, and you won’t be putting extra strain on your already hot engine by adding friction when stopping and accelerating everytime you restart.

So your temperature gauge is still rising or refusing to drop, or your vehicle is steaming or boiling over. Pull over ASAP when it is safe to pull to the right side of the road or into a parking lot.

  • Turn off your vehicles engine. Some engines fans will keep running until the vehicles has cooled down. If your vehicle doesn’t do this then turn your key without turning on your engine and allow your fan and water pump to run.
  • Pop the hood. This will allow more area for heat to escape allowing your engine to cool faster. If your engine is steaming just pop it and leave it latched until it cools, you don’t want to burn yourself. If your engine is just hot you can open the hood, but be very careful. Again, you don’t want to burn your hand. It will take approximately 30 minutes for an engine to cool down to a level where it is safer (ball park range).
  • DO NOT touch the radiator cap when it is hot. Steam and fluid may escape and cause you harm. Allow the vehicle to cool if you have to open the radiator cap.
  • Check your coolant reservoir and fill to the recommended level if needed. Make sure to check your owners manual for the type of coolant. For most vehicles it is allowable to add coolant when the vehicle is hot, if your vehicle owners manual doesn’t say or your reservoir doesn’t have a line where it is filled when hot it may be better to wait for your truck to cool.
  • Look for damage to the cooling system. This can be cracks, leaks, or damaged parts, this was mentioned earlier in prevention but sometimes things can be missed so it is always good to double check. It may be easier to see the problem now as well as their could be liquid or signs of damage that are more prevalent when the engine has been stressed.
  • If you are worried that this will occur again and feel unsafe driving further after it has cooled, than call for help. Calling for a tow happens, and an experienced mechanic will be able to determine the problem and repair it before the engine has irreversible damage. It’s better to pay for a tow now, than a new engine or truck later.

If your truck has been overheating, or needs some maintenance to help it from overheating we can help. Our mechanics are experienced with many makes and models of trucks, and cars and have the experience to diagnose issues before they become big problems.

About the author:
Dan Deary is president of All Pro Truck Body Shop, a truck body repair shop located in Phoenix Arizona, specializing in commercial body shop and fleet painting services.

Our team of professionals are ready for your call: 623.847.5555 or request a free quote!