Beating the Heat: 5 Signs Your Engine is Overheating and What to Do Next

July 31, 2023By Paul
Mans Car is Overheating

It was hot, mid-July, in the Southeast, and Mark was cruising down the interstate. The windows were down, and his tunes were turned up. He was finally off on that cross-country road trip he’d had on his bucket list for years. 

His preparation was meticulous. He’d planned everything, right down to the first song he would play and the truck stop diner he would hit at the 4-hour mark. But here he was, 3 hours in and just outside a town full of road construction. He’d been sitting in stopped traffic, and now his usually trustworthy old car wasn’t acting quite right. It had started idling rough the last couple of times he was waiting for his line of traffic to start moving again.

Finally, he was back out on the open road. But it wasn’t long before the needle on the temp gauge on the dashboard began to creep up—not much at first, so he blamed it on the heat of the day and sitting in traffic for the past 30 minutes. He kept going, but he turned down the radio and started paying more attention to the car. 

As the speed limit changed and he tried to speed up, acceleration was sluggish, and he heard a ticking sound coming from the engine. By the time he pulled over, the bright red engine temperature warning light underscored the smell of burning rubber and hot metal. He felt the tight grip of anxiety in his gut at the thought of costly repairs—these were symptoms of an overheating car.

Luckily, Mark saw the signs that his engine was overheating and pulled over in time. Just a few more minutes, maybe even less, and he would have been looking for a new car.


That was Mark’s story, but we’ve all had similar moments …when you get in your car, whether to go across town or across the country, you have to be ready for whatever surprises pop up. Regarding the possibility of your car overheating, there are a few common signs to keep in mind.

  1. Engine Temperature Warning Light

    The most obvious and common sign of an overheating car or truck is the engine temperature warning light on the dashboard. This warning light typically appears as a red symbol resembling a thermometer in wavy water. If this light is on, your engine is overheating, and you should pull over immediately and shut off the engine to allow it to cool.

  2. Steam Coming from Under the Hood

    If you see steam coming from the engine compartment, the coolant has reached its boiling point due to excessive heat.

  3. The Hood is Hot

    When your car is overheating, the engine gets extremely hot, and that heat is trapped under the hood, so your hood will feel hot to the touch. If there is heat radiating from the hood, even without steam, your engine generates more heat than can be dissipated.

  4. Strange Engine Noises and Sluggish Engine Response

    Overheating can cause thumping or knocking sounds from the engine. Metal engine parts expanding and contracting due to excessive heat are the cause of those noises and indicate stress and potential damage to the engine. Plus, an overheating engine may lose power or performance. If you notice sluggish acceleration, poor throttle response, or rough idling, your car may be overheating.

Although there may be variations to the signs and symptoms shown by your car, depending on the make and model, the list above is the most common sign of overheating. Also, watch out for less obvious symptoms, like a puddle of coolant left on the ground after you move your car, which indicates a coolant leak and will set you up for your engine to overheat sooner than later.

If you notice any of the above signs, time is of the essence. It is critical to cut the engine as soon as you can, then find and fix the problem that is causing your car to overheat to avoid damage (or further damage) to your vehicle’s engine. 

Pull over safely, turn off the engine, and then get some help from a professional who knows their way around a coolant system. They can diagnose and repair the underlying problem causing the overheating.

Whether you’re looking for preventative maintenance to keep your car in tip-top shape and prevent overheating or in need of repair and maintenance because your car or truck has overheated, Valvoline has you covered. Contact your local Valvoline shop for advice and make an appointment for repair or maintenance, and we’ll take care of the rest.

We offer: 

Cooling System Service

We’ll check for improper coolant/water mixture or low coolant and system leaks. We’ll replace worn or damaged system components and refill the system with top-of-the-line coolant products.

Antifreeze and Coolant Products

Our products are designed to maintain proper engine temperature and prevent overheating and are selected specifically for your vehicle. These products provide efficient heat transfer and corrosion protection and are compatible with a range of climates.

Oil Change Service

We’ll drain and replace your vehicle’s oil with Valvoline’s high-quality motor oil. We’ll replace the oil filter and perform a multi-point inspection to ensure that it is in good working order.

If we see signs of any other issues that may lead to your engine overheating, like a bad thermostat, failed water pump, broken water pump belt, or broken radiator fan, we’ll be happy to refer you to a trusted professional for other repairs.

At Valvoline, we believe in high-quality work and excellence in customer service, so you get repairs you trust and even enjoy the experience. 


Thankfully, everything worked out for Mark. He found the local Valvoline shop in the town he’d just passed. The Valvoline staff got his car booked in and on the lift quickly. Their comprehensive coolant system inspection identified a leak and loss of coolant as the culprits. With a quick yet thorough repair, he was back on the road in no time…he even made it in time for a late lunch at that truck stop diner, just like he’d planned.



Paul Eidbo is the founder and president of Piedmont Lube Centers LLC, an Atlanta-based company that develops, owns, and operates Valvoline Express Care oil change and auto service facilities.  He opened his first quick lube facility in 2004 and has expanded throughout Metro Atlanta.  Paul graduated from Southern Methodist University with a BA in history and earned his MBA from Vanderbilt University.  Paul lives in Atlanta with his wife, three sons, and two dogs.