• Driving Line Auto Repair Blog

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A bearded man hugging the hood of a white car.

Fact or Fiction – Your Engine Can Overheat in the Winter

We all want to get our cars safe for the cold winter months when it is far more dangerous to have a breakdown. Engine overheating issues are commonly overlooked in the wintertime, that’s why we wanted to clear the air on this widespread misconception.

Can your engine overheat when it's cold outside?

Yes, it can! Engines rely on their coolant systems to maintain their internal temperature regardless of the heat index outside. When your coolant system begins to fail your vehicle will quickly overheat and you need to act fast! Damages to your engine will be exponential the longer you keep it on the road.

What you need to know about why cars overheat

When you're broken down you don't always have the luxury of getting your vehicle to your regular mechanic. That's why we want to give you a quick overview of issues and costs. There are a number of components that can cause your engine to overheat when it is not functioning properly. Having some basic knowledge of the situation can improve your experience at whatever establishment you end up in. Here are a few common issues:

  • Coolant is low 
    • This is an easy fix you can accomplish yourself with a quick ride to almost any store.
  • The thermostat is not functioning correctly
    • Replacing a thermostat will likely need to be done by your local mechanic. This is often a lower cost repair depending on the part cost for your specific vehicle and if it's diagnosed quickly.
  • A leak in the cooling system
    • Diagnosing a leak requires a little more time and attention. Once the problem is found it could be as little as the cost of labor plus the cost of a hose replacement. But, if the mechanic's detective skills unveil a problem that requires a radiator replacement, you're looking at a much steeper bill.

The infamous Cold Leak

Some cooling system leaks are known as "cold" leaks. Engine cooling system parts expand and contract according to temperature. Sometimes a part heating up will stop a leak until it cools down again. The most common examples of this are water pump leaks. In fact, most water pumps leak as they are cooling off. That's why you may see a spot on your garage floor after it has sat overnight but not when you park at work. That "cold" leak is an early sign of water pump failure and is telling you to replace the pump before it becomes a catastrophic and more expensive repair.

What to do if your engine overheats in winter

    1. Stop and turn off the engine at the earliest signs of overheating. This is the most important step because the quicker you react to your engine's cry for help, the less damage you will need to get repaired.
    2. Open the hood and allow your car to cool down. Engines that heat up internally will be very hot externally, make sure you let the engine cool before you start poking around under the hood. Take special care not to touch the radiator cap.
    3. Check your coolant level. If your car is simply out of coolant, then refilling the coolant reservoir is an easy fix. 
    4. Call for help. If an easy fix is not on the docket then call for a friend and a tow company. Make arrangements to leave your key for the tow truck.
    5. Get yourself to a warm and safe place. It can be dangerous waiting in extremely cold conditions and towing companies are familiar with taking care of vehicles when the owner is not present. No need to add salt to the wound, getting to a comfort zone can take the edge off during this stressful situation

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Getting your cooling system checked during your routine maintenance is not only important but can save you thousands of dollars in damages that result from overheating your engine. If you're concerned that your vehicle isn't ready for the season, swing into North Hills Auto for our Annual Safety Inspection or our Fall and Winter Special.

Give us a call at Augusta St (864) 233-9002 or Butler Rd (864) 234-1002.

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