The first indication that you will get that you car engine is overheating will usually be when the water temperature gauge starts to rise above its normal level and towards the red zone. This will normally be followed by an overheat warning light illuminating on the dashboard and may even be accompanied by steam rising from under the bonnet. It is important to stop if you have any of these warning signs, as continuing to drive on could cause severe and expensive damage to the engine.
As soon as you get any indication that your engine is overheating you need to pull over and switch your engine off. Carrying on, even until you reach a service station or garage, could create a large amount of damage to the engine, especially the cylinder head, which is prone to warping under high temperatures and will be very expensive to replace.
Once safely parked on the side of the road, switch on your hazard lights to warn any following drivers of your problem. Providing that there is no fire present you can open the bonnet, to give the engine a chance to cool down, however do not be tempted to touch any of the engine parts at this point, as it is very likely that you will be burnt.
Be prepared that it may take quite some time for the engine to cool down sufficiently so be ready for a long wait. If your vehicle has overheated when it is dark, switch on your sidelight bulbs to improve the visibility of your vehicle to other road users and consider turning on your headlight bulbs to help you see what your are doing.
Once the engine has cooled down you will probably need to top up the coolant level. In an emergency it is fine to use ordinary water but make sure it is not too cold or it could crack the plastic water reservoir. If you need to add a lot of water to your coolant it will significantly dilute the concentration of the antifreeze within it, and this will eventually need to be remedied by a qualified mechanic to prevent the coolant freezing during the winter.
Even if the engine has cooled down the coolant may still be hot and undoing the coolant filler cap can release scolding hot steam onto your hand. Therefore wait until the radiator is cool enough to touch before opening the coolant filler cap and cover your hand with a rag for added protection.
At arms length steadily fill up the engine coolant with water, to prevent being splashed with hot coolant, and stop periodically to check the reservoir level. Once the coolant level is back between the maximum and minimum levels marked on the reservoir, and the engine temperature gauge is back within its normal range it will be safe to drive off again.
Remember that whilst your car is safe to drive again, there is an underlying problem that caused the overheating, so avoid a long journey and take it to a suitable garage to be checked out as soon as possible. However, if the engine overheats again, shortly after you have set off, you need to pull over and call a roadside recovery service as you have a serious problem that will require the services of a garage to fix it.
If your car's engine does overheat you will need to pull over quickly to the side of the road to prevent seriously damaging the engine, so switch on your warning car bulbs to alert other drivers to your predicament and also to make your vehicle more visible. Once parked up, if the breakdown has happened at night you should also leave your sidelight bulbs on, as they will illuminate the car, yet only draw a small amount of power from the battery.
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