4 Reasons Your Car May Overheat In Traffic - Subaru Service Questions in Salt Lake City, UT

An overheating engine can be a quite dangerous situation. Too much heat can cause severe damage that can leave you stranded and in need of a tow! But, a mildly overheating engine may be drivable. It might even only get too hot in stop-and-go traffic. Often, this is a warning sign of problems with the vehicle's cooling system that need to be addressed. Find out these four possible causes of this problem, and learn more from the professionals at Nate Wade Subaru.

Steaming Engine

4. Malfunctioning Cooling Fans

If your engine cools down once you get going again, but starts to overheat after sitting in line at the dive-thru or when stuck in heavy traffic, this is perhaps the most common reason: the vehicle's cooling fans aren't working.

The vehicle's radiator exchanges heat from the engine with the outside air. As you drive, air passes through the vehicle's front grill and across the radiator. Motion from your vehicle keeps the airflow going -- but, when your vehicle isn't in motion, a cooling fan or fans will kick in. If these fans aren't turning on when needed, your engine could run too hot until you can get air flowing past the radiator again. To fix this problem, a technician will simply replace the bad cooling fans or find out what electrical problem is keeping your fans from turning on.

Radiator & Cooling Fans

3. Bad Radiator

If your cooling fans are working, but the engine still overheats, the radiator itself might be going bad. Over time, rust and corrosion can disrupt the flow of coolant through the radiator, meaning it can't do its job as effectively. The increased airflow of driving might help, but it's just not doing enough when sitting to keep the engine running at a safe temperature. Especially if your vehicle is getting on in years (and miles), your radiator may eventually need to be replaced.

2. Low Coolant Level

Even the coolant itself could be to blame. Liquid coolant is pumped through the engine to draw heat away from its rapidly moving parts, then sent to the radiator to cool back down before completing the cycle. If there isn't enough coolant in the system, it may underperform and allow the engine to run too hot. Over time, the engine can begin to consume small amounts of coolant if you've got a failing head gasket. If you've got a leak in the coolant hoses, that can also lead to a low coolant level. A technician can find the coolant leak, fix it and refill the system with fresh coolant to ensure your engine stays at a safe temperature at all times.

 
Coolant Refill

1. Failing Head Gasket

One more thing to be aware of: overheating in stop-and-go traffic can be a sign that the engine's head gasket is beginning to fail. A failed head gasket can allow the engine to burn coolant, keeping the cooling system from working as intended. It can also lead to problems like a rough idle, poor performance, oil consumption and a loss of compression -- all of which can make your overheating problems even worse!

Other problems, like a bad water pump, can also cause your engine to overheat even while your vehicle is in motion. But no matter what is the underlying cause, engine overheating is a severe problem that should be addressed right away. To prevent further damage and keep your engine running safely for miles and miles to come, head to the Nate Wade Subaru service center as soon as your vehicle shows signs of overheating.