Cars overheat for a number of reasons. Driving a car that hasn’t completely cooled down and is not in driving condition can cause irreversible damage, costing thousands of dollars in repairs. For this reason, it’s advisable to wait until your car has cooled down completely before getting behind the wheel, or having work done under the hood.
How long does it take a car to cool down? Are there any factors that can change the amount of time you need to wait to drive it again? Does it depend upon the type of car you’re driving or the size of the engine?
In this article, we answer these questions and discuss some variables that are worthy of consideration.
How Long Does it Take a Car to Cool Down
If your car has overheated, wait 30 minutes for it to cool down before you work on the engine or try to start it up again. This is a good rule of thumb to follow. While there are other factors to consider, waiting for 30 minutes should be the first step.
Even if you’re just trying to inspect under the hood for what might have gone wrong, waiting for this amount of time ensures your own safety, helping you avoid potential burns and other injuries. Additionally, if your car has overheated, there may be smoke, steam, or other fumes coming from your car, which you should avoid completely as they may be toxic to inhale.
Other signs of overheating can include a burning smell coming from your hood, as well as dashboard indicators suggesting your engine is above its normal operating temperature. The engine temperature dial should appear on your dashboard, and can be easily checked. Similarly, you may also see the check engine light appear on your dashboard.
If you recognize any of these signs, pull over immediately and wait for your engine to cool.
If you drive a standard commuter vehicle with an ICE (Internal Combustion Engine), you probably have a liquid cooling system beneath your hood. There are a number of channels that run throughout your engine block circulating this coolant, keeping the temperature low. Engines will also typically feature a fan that cools by pulling in fresh air.
Liquid cooling systems feature a pump that circulates coolant throughout the engine channels, ensuring that excess heat is constantly being drawn from the engine. A thermostat, located on one of these channels, manages and regulates the temperature of the whole system, gauging the heat of the metal as it fluctuates.
The fan draws in fresh air through the radiator grill on the front of your car. This is why you usually see vehicles with large engines feature oversized radiators or air ducts, as they need more air to keep the engine cool, and to mix with the fuel.
Air cooling systems come with a host of advantages. In these systems there is no need to change coolant, eliminating the risk of corrosion. This makes them cheaper and easier to install than liquid cooling systems. However, air cooling lacks the durability and cooling power of liquid coolant systems, which are considered one of the most effective cooling methods.
Reasons Why Your Car is Overheating
There are a number of reasons why your car might be overheating. When you drive, your car burns fuel and the engine converts the energy produced from this reaction into forward motion. This generates a lot of heat, which is partially dissipated by the cooling system.
However, cooling systems can sometimes malfunction and fail, or the amount of heat your car produces might exceed the rate at which your cooling system wicks away heat. Here are a few of the reasons why your car may be overheating.
Leaks: If the cooling system springs a leak and runs out of coolant, your engine channels may not have enough of the liquid to work properly.
Fan problems: As we’ve outlined above, the radiator fan is an important part of every car’s cooling system. If the fan is not functioning properly, your engine may overheat and malfunction.
Pump: Your system contains a pump that keeps the coolant moving throughout the engine channels. A faulty pump could mean that coolant is not circulating properly, leading to your engine possibly overheating.
Clogs: If there is something blocking one of the cooling channels in your engine, your car might exhibit similar symptoms as it would during coolant leaks, as in either case coolant is not circulating through the system..
All these factors lead to the heat buildup of heat and rising temperatures within your engine. TO prevent this from occurring, it is recommended that you perform routine checks and take precautions to ensure that no permanent or lasting damage is caused to your engine from it overheating.
What to Do Next
So your car has overheated by the side of the road for one of the many possible reasons mentioned above. What do you do in such a scenario?
Pull over: If your engine is still running but you can see some signs of overheating, don’t keep going. This can be dangerous to you and have a lasting effect on your vehicle’s condition. Slow down and pull over as soon as you can to let it cool off.
Do not open the hood: You might be tempted to open the hood immediately when you pull over–however, it is best to wait the 30 minutes for the car to cool down before opening it. This will help prevent injuries. You can always check your engine temperature gauge to learn if it is safe to open your hood.
Air conditioning: Switch off your air conditioning, as this might increase the temperature of the engine even more. Your air conditioning requires energy to draw heat out of the cab of your vehicle, but ultimately causes stress to your engine. By the same token, because your car’s heating system works by circulating air from around your engine into your vehicle, you can turn on the heat, thereby allowing excess heat from your engine to escape more effectively.
Coolant: Check if your coolant is leaking from the car. You will probably see a wet trail behind your car if you have leaking coolant. It is a smart thing to always keep some extra coolant in your car in case this occurs. However, if you don’t, you can use water to keep the engine cool until you find a garage or repair shop. Check out this video on how to check and add coolant to your car.
Preventing Your Car From Overheating
It is not just the engine of your car that can be prone to overheating. Your entire car might overheat, causing you major discomfort when driving. If your car is overheating, your engine might have a higher chance of overheating too.
The air conditioning will take some time to make it more bearable. However, there are some steps you can take to ensure that your car doesn’t overheat.
Tinting: Tinting your car windows can prevent sunlight from entering and getting trapped behind the glass. However, you should check the state laws where you live to ensure that tinted windows are legal. For example, check out this article about the window tint laws in Texas.
Parking: Parking in the shade is a simple way to prevent overheating. If you live in an area where the summers get really hot, the inside of your car can boil before you even start your car. Parking under a tree or in an underground parking lot can help prevent these issues from arising.
Air conditioning: There are multiple ways in which you can use air conditioning to prevent your car from overheating. Turning up the heat for a while can cause the engine to cool down. You should also use the fresh air setting on your AC to push the hot air out and let fresh air in. Using the circulation setting on your AC will trap hot air inside.
Windows: When you’re parked, leave a gap in your windows so that hot air does not get trapped inside. However, this method should only be used if you’re parked in a safe spot and are not in danger of getting your car broken into.
Battery: Car batteries provide all the power to the radiator fan and pump to ensure that your coolant is circulating properly throughout the engine. If your battery is very old, you might want to consider getting a new one to pump more power into the mechanics of your car.
Floor vents: Your car has dashboard vents and floor vents that you can use to cool your car more effectively. Hot air is lighter than cold air, so it rises. Therefore, putting your dashboard vents on the coldest temperature won’t cool your car as fast as turning on the floor vents and pushing the hot air out of the car.
The Bottom Line
Modern day cars come with sophisticated cooling systems–however, you never know when things can go wrong, and these sophisticated systems may fail, forcing you to stop by the road and wait for your car to cool down. How long does it take a car to cool down? The answer is about 30 minutes, but there are still several other aspects you need to consider before you start your journey again.
We hope that this article has helped you understand why your car is overheating and what you can do to fix this problem. You can also learn more about Standard DTC Codes and other aspects of car maintenance on Automotive Driving Belt!