Wondering how to keep car engines from overheating? Prevention will make more sense if you think about the causes in the first place.

Four causes of an overheated car

1. Coolant issues

Engine coolant keeps your engine at a safe operating temperature and also lubricates the various parts of the cooling system. Your car’s operating manual will tell you what type of coolant to buy, where to top it up and may recommend how often to have it flushed out and replaced. That liquid needs to circulate throughout the engine. Any leak, blockage or pump malfunction will prevent proper circulation and may cause your engine to overheat. According to Car Care Council, 19 percent of cars inspected at community car care events have low or contaminated coolant. That’s too many, unnecessary, and risky.

2. Thermostat issues

Your engine determines how much coolant it needs by checking its own temperature. Just like a furnace might in your own home, it does that with a thermostat. If your car’s thermostat is broken or operating inefficiently, it will give bad information to your engine and may cause overheating.

3. Oil issues

When you think of oil, you may think first about lubrication. Engine oil plays an important role in keeping your engine’s parts lubricated but also removes excess heat from your car’s engine. If your oil is lower than recommended, your car engine may overheat.

4. Radiator fan issues

Coolant flows through several parts of your engine, including the radiator. The radiator itself is cooled by a fan that blows air directly onto it. That radiator fan usually runs with an electric motor connected to drive belts. Any mechanical problem with those belts or that motor may prevent the fan from running properly and cooling down that radiator.

Ten ways to keep your car from overheating

When thinking about how to keep car engines from overheating, consider the interior and the engine.

1. Park in shady spots

Just like we feel the temperature difference between shade and sun, so can your car. If you can’t park in a shady spot, consider using a sunshade inside the windshield or any other window.

2. Tint your windows

Having your windows tinted can help keep the bright sun out, and the temperatures down. It may also help to protect the interior finishes from sun damage.

3. Crack the windows

Air that heats up inside your car is trapped there unless it has a chance to escape. You can give it that chance by leaving your windows open a bit, and cracking your sunroof.

4. Turn floor vents on

When you get into a hot car and turn on your fans and cooling system, set them to push the air through the floor vents first. Since hot air rises, pushing that hot air up the way it wants to go anyway will help get it out those cracked windows. As that hot air escapes switch to the upper vents.

5. Use fresh air setting

Your air conditioner likely has a fresh air setting and a re-circulate setting. Re-circulating at the hottest moments means you’re just moving hot air around your vehicle. Make it easier on the air conditioning system but starting off with the fresh air setting. Your car will draw in fresh and hopefully cooler air. Switch to the circulate mode after a few minutes.

6. Watch the temperature gauge

On your dashboard display, your car has a temperature gauge. If it climbs high and hot, consider taking a break and letting your car cool. Or consider some of these other tips, like checking the coolant levels. If it consistently seems to run hot or climb fast, consider going to a mechanic for a once-over.

7. Turn on the heat

Turning on the heat inside the car can pull heat away from the engine and bring some temporary and slight relief. If you’re finding yourself doing this often, consider one of the other issues and strategies… like the next one, which is especially important!

8. Add engine coolant

Coolant is intended to keep your car cool and to protect hard-working parts of your engine. If your car has been running hot, check the coolant levels under the hood. Let the car cool down first!  Never add coolant to a hot engine! The coolant tank likely has lines that show maximum and minimum levels. If your level is below that minimum line, top it up or ask someone at a service station or lube-and-filter place to do it for you. Be sure to top up your coolant with the right coolant for your car. Don’t guess.

9. Have the cooling system flushed

Just like your oil needs to be changed regularly, so does the coolant in your car. It is usually recommended to be replaced every 40,000 miles or so. Your owner’s manual will include recommendations. When you get your oil changed next, ask them when you should get your coolant system flushed too. They’ll likely be able to do it at the same place and time.

10. Check your battery

An older battery that is not producing power at its best may force the engine to work harder than it should. That can lead to overheating. Get your battery tested by a mechanic. Don’t gamble on a battery that is past its shelf-life, or that tests poorly.

An overheated car is an expensive and unnecessary risk. Watch for signs of overheating, respond to those early signs, and keep your cooling system in mind as part of your regular automotive maintenance.