Though it remains a crisp spring, summer eventually will find its way to Pittsburgh. Now's a good time for thinking about hot weather -- and perhaps having a plan to deal with an overheating car.
Nothing beats keeping your car properly serviced, but I'm not going to pretend Mr. Driver's Seat hasn't tried to cut corners on auto maintenance over the years.
Perhaps my hard lessons can be your easy ones; here are some tricks I've learned about overheating cars. Should you find yourself in a hot situation, you can cool things down before they blow -- at least enough to perhaps get you out of a dangerous stop on the Fort Pitt Bridge.
Overheating car on a hot day? Cranking up the heat may buy you a little time.
If you notice the car running hot, one simple trick to blow off some steam is to turn on the heater. That may remove enough heat from engine to bring it back down to operating temperature. Warning: This is a short-term solution only.
Hotter problems: There are simple ways to diagnose real problems with the cooling system yourself. Caution: Always do this work when the car is cool, preferably before it's been run at all that day.
First, is check for leaks. Coolant/antifreeze is a green or orange, sweet-smelling liquid. So any puddles are obvious signs of bigger troubles. White smoke from the exhaust on startup could be a sign of a bad gasket, and potentially costly engine repairs.
So check those radiator hose connections (and the hoses for signs of damage, like fraying or brittleness.)
Fan working? Cooling fans in front of the radiator work with the wind -- or instead of it, when you're stopped or in traffic. You can make sure the cooling fan is functioning properly yourself.
If it's safe to operate the car, turn it on and switch the heater to defrost or AC. In either mode, most vehicles will turn the cooling fans all or almost all the time. So if the fan doesn't turn on after it's reached operating temperature, it could be a bad fan, a relay or a fuse.
OK, Mr. Smartypants Driver's Seat, the fan works: So you've established the fan is blowing air. Great. Now, carefully put your hand in to feel the air coming from the fan. I said carefully.
Is the air coming from it warmer than the ambient temperature? If it doesn't feel any warmer, your car probably has a broken thermostat. This is a pretty simple fix and shouldn't set you back too much. (You can do it yourself, but you're on your own.)
Temperature gauges: I've made a number of references to temperature gauges, and this assumes the fact that your car has a temperature gauge. After years where they've become standard equipment, I'm disappointed to report that the maker of some of my favorite automobiles -- Mazda -- has gone back to the temperature light on some models.
The cars do have a blue light to denote when they are not up to operating temperature. But, still, if I were going to buy a new Mazda, I might forgo price negotiations in exchange for a dealer-installed temperature gauge. I think it's just that important.
Freelance auto writer Scott Sturgis: firstname.lastname@example.org.