Dealing With Roadside Emergencies

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I know cars – and how to fix cars (sometimes)…  but my wife doesn’t.

Probably a lot of families are “mixed” like this. It does my wife no good to know I know how to fix This or That (or at least, where to start looking) if I happen not to be with her when the car stops running. Hence this quick run-through. I wrote it mainly for her – but figured it might be helpful to people out there, too:

* Overheating –

First, always pay attention to the temperature gauge (most new/recent model cars have gauges rather than lights). This way, you’ll notice the engine is running hot before it actually overheats. Make a mental note of the normal reading for your vehicle when it’s fully warmed up, after about 15 minutes of driving. Then be on the lookout for abnormal readings. If the needle seems to be edging closer and closer to “H” (or the red area), the time to take action is right now – before the needle actually gets to “H” or into the red zone.

Reduce your speed (eases the load on the engine) and immediately turn off the AC (same reason) and turn on the heater  – which is actually a mini-radiator. By turning on the heater (fan on high) you will help the engine dissipate excess heat. If the needle begins to stabilize – or goes down – you may not need to pull over right way, but you should reduce speed and start looking for a safe place to stop. Because  overheating is not normal; there is some underlying problem – low coolant, for example – that caused the high temperature reading. You need to find out what it is before resuming normal travel.

When you find a safe place – ideally a place such as a service station, where supplies and help will be available – pull over and stop the engine. You can raise the hood and check the coolant recovery tank – usually, a whitish-looking plastic tank off to one side of the radiator and clearly marked – to see whether the level is low. But do not attempt to open the radiator cap until the engine has cooled down (at least 15-30 minutes) and only if you’ve had someone who knows how show you how beforehand.  It is imperative to put a heavy rag over the cap before you begin to twist it loose – applying downward pressure as you turn, and turning it out only just enough to safely release any pent-up steam and pressure. If you haven’t done this before, find someone who has – and let them do it for you. You can be severely burned by hot – and pressurized – coolant/steam blowing out of the radiator.

If the coolant level is low, that’s the likely reason for the overheating. But now you need to find out the reason for the leak. The usual culprits are: The radiator itself, one of the hoses that brings coolant to (and from) the radiator, a leaking heater core (more on this in a moment) or, a dying water pump. Look for drizzling greenish fluid (sometimes orange-red in newer cars with “long life” coolant) and signs of wetness around the radiator and hoses. If you find them, probably, you have found your problem.

Hoses can be (usually) easily and fairly cheaply replaced with basic hand tools, right by the side of the road. A mechanic is not necessary – just someone who is handy and knows a little about cars. In an emergency – and if the leak is fairly minor – a hose can sometimes be temporarily patched with duct tape or electrical tape.

Radiators typically get replaced rather than fixed nowadays – because they tend to be made of plastic and so are throwaways. Removal and installation will probably require a mechanic – or at least, a pretty competent handyman type.

Dying water pumps – this is the part that circulates the coolant through the system, much like a human heart circulates blood through our bodies – often have what are called weep holes, which do as it sounds: They weep coolant, which you should be able to see. The water pump is typically mounted on the front of the engine, so look for dripping coolant in that area. If it’s leaking, it is probably dying – and must be replaced. This can be a complicated job that will require the skills (and tools) of a mechanic.

And the heater core?

The good news is that unlike all the foregoing issues – which must be fixed before you can continue driving – you (or a mechanic) can disconnect the leaking heater core from the rest of the car’s cooling system by cutting and splicing the two coolant hoses that take coolant to – and back from – the heater core. Doing this will not cause any harm to the engine and you could drive for years without problems, if you wanted to. The bad news is you’ll be driving without heat. The even worse news is that replacing a heater core is among the most difficult – and expensive – repairs you may ever have to deal with. How come? Because the heater core is one of the first components installed in the car as the bare chassis moves down the assembly line. Once all the other stuff is installed, getting at the core can be extremely challenging.

How to know if you’ve got a leaking heater core?  If you’re losing coolant – and finding it inside the car (passenger side floorboard/wet carpet) you’ll know it. Luckily, heater core failures are relatively rare – unless the car is pretty old (well into its teen years, typically).

Ok, so what if the temperature needle suddenly moves to “H” and doing the stuff mentioned above (slowing down, turning on the heater) doesn’t lower the temperature reading? In that case, you need to pull off the road as soon as you safely can do so. It’s likely the drive belt(s) have snapped – which means the coolant isn’t being circulated by the water pump – or you’ve suddenly lost a lot of coolant. In which case, there should be obvious signs, such as steam pouring out from under the hood. Or – much worse – out of the exhaust pipe, which is strongly suggestive of a major engine problem such as a failed head gasket (coolant is being sucked into the engine and burned up).

If you don’t see steam billowing out (or obvious signs of lost coolant) you might try putting the transmission in neutral and raising the RPMs to about 2,500. If you haven’t lost a drive belt – or coolant – and there isn’t some major problem with the engine –  this should bring down the temp needle. But if you don’t see downward movement within a very short time – like a minute or so – your best bet is to shut off the engine and call for help.

Additional stuff: If you find yourself low on coolant be certain that whatever coolant you (or someone else) adds is the right coolant for your particular car. Gone are the days when coolant was just coolant. There are several different kinds in use now – such as the orange-red “long life” stuff mentioned previously – and it’s imperative to use the kind called for in your owner’s manual. There should also be a sticker on or near the radiator/coolant recovery tank. Using the wrong type of coolant can lead to even more problems than mere overheating – and may void your warranty coverage.

Simple stuff: Overheating can also be caused by fairly minor/easily fixable problems such as a defective radiator cap or a stuck thermostat. If you see no leaks and there are no signs of coolant loss – and the engine seems to be otherwise running ok – these are two of the first items to check (or have checked) and cross off your list before moving on to more involved (and expensive) things.

Next installment: Flat tires.


    • I do hope you found this blog entry useful, grammyprepper. (I am Not eric, the author, btw, just in case that wasn’t clear).

      As a ping-back sort of deal, here’s the link I posted on, it was an interesting story, a common one I imagine many husbands/boyfriends/Significant Others think about from time to time:

      The Austerity Diaries: Everything That Can Go Wrong, Will

      Imho, it’s just a good thing a cop didn’t find a way into the mix and make it worse.


      I’m a recovering, ”you’re a woman, what do you know” guy.

      But, I’ve learned.

      Some women just impress the hell out of me sometimes. I think maybe you’re one of those.

  1. Great post, and TY for sharing…the guys I grew up around wrenched all the time, and I learned a lot from them…Hubby is a decent mechanic…While I can’t ‘fix’ the things, I am good at pinpointing and helping diagnose the trouble…I just hate walking into a shop and the mechanic gives me that look, you know the one I mean…”you’re a woman, what do you know”…pshaw, between what I learned growing up and being a NASCAR fan, I know a lot more than you think I do, LOL!

  2. Bevin, Eric, I have no idea how you both camet to lose friends but it isn’t necessarily unavoidable. At least not for me. I have friends from college who are debout Republicans I simply coax along and let them vent and raise hell about BO while not admitting Bush did anything wrong. One, a died in the wool Republican turned Libertarian(he voted for GJ as I did)can’t give up the shrub no matter what. It’s only been a couple weeks ago I wrote about the very things the Shrub did and he and three others took me to task over it. Bush is the past, he’s gone and whatever he did doesn’t matter anymore. That’s their point and they’re sticking to it. Oh? Well, why vote for GJ if you believe that. It surely had nothing to do with me pointing out that the Mittster(this killed them all year and I paid dearly for it)had his own BO healthcare in his state and it has ruined the state as well as healthcare. I pointed out many times(since Mitt would only allow a couple “good points” of BO care at one time although he did it on a number of occassions)the Mittster’s inconsistency in cutting down BOcare when he had his own almost a fit in a glove match for Oabamacare. His constituents are still paying the price. Then I pointed out the Republican stance over the last 45 years of gun control(just this last week it was expounded on in LRC)and how the Gipper was front and center on the Brady bill as well as GHWBush who championed it to death. If you ever want to get screwed over by the feds, just fall into the category of the “spray and pray” portion of the Brady bill. I won’t go into it but get your favorite lawyer(sic) to explain it all to you. You’ll find it’s another one of those things the NRA worked out with the authors to put the onus on drug crime and not where it belongs(it doesn’t actually belong anywhere except to include another majority of drug users and “gun crime” when there is actually only one or maybe not even the one crime(drug possession) and gun possession to go along with it, seeing as to how you don’t even need a gun that works to fall into this category. It’s a very convoluted prosecutorial wonderment only the “justus” system can fully appreciate until someone has it applied to them. Back to the shrub: I didn’t even bother to defend what I’d said about him since the outcry was so great. I will again after they’ve had time to think about it and after they can stand to listen to me point out the wars we still fight because of him, the debt we still have, the unaccountable civil rights removing laws stemming from him and the GOP(you’re either with us or against us)such as the Patriot Act Eric mentioned as well as countless other domestic spying they did w/o any oversight or any laws making it legal(sic). You cannot defend your views properly to those who are unwilling to condemn him for the very things still fresh on the American mind. You must gradually bring them along. I know it’s frustrating(you just need to spend some quality time in jail ha ha)to educate them but it’s not lost on them eventually, hopefully. Now my friends know me and realize I wouldn’t hurt anyone nor steal or do anything wrong to anyone else so they can’t really come to grips with me being the bad criminal I am. When I say prosecutors lie, and that’s all they do, they can’t come to their aid because it’s obvious that’s true and if they say “nay” they’re left twisting in the wind of prosecutorial maslfeasance as well as knowing the ‘justus’ system is highly perverted, rending it null and void. I’d go on but no one wants to hear this and it’s painful to recall.

    I understand burning bridges but if you think there is still a modicum of hope left, reach back out to those you thought you had lost(and I realize you may have completely lost them). There is hope as long as their is breath in either of you. Don’t give up on people. I have a harder time convincing those Republicans than I do Democrats although I’d never point that out to either one. They are still works in progress as are you and I and can be reasoned with although it may take a great deal of time to do so. I value everyone’s opinion on this forum and hope someday those I seek to change will come around to my way of thinking. I realize I’m not “absolutely correct” about anything but can defend my beliefs and can eventually, show my friends where their beliefs go wrong but never say “wrong”. Just live it and say it and let them find out on their own. Remember, you’re not alone in this and there are many others who will champion your cause. If you can do nothing more than just show them the article here and there, maybe get them to read some LRC or other libertarian rag then they will come to see how they may not be correct in as many things as they once thought. There is no timetable although I understand as well as anyone else how it can feel as though time is running out….but then again, I have felt this way since 1965……have faith….

    • I hear you, Eight – but sometimes, a parting of the ways is unavoidable.

      One of my ex-friends is – in addition to being a rabid Republican – also a rabidly militant Christian. You may know the type. When I say “militant” I mean it literally. He believes his god has anointed the United States the enforcer at bayonet-point of the American imperium. And the Israeli imperium. He almost gloats over the death and mayhem visited upon “muslims” (whom he equates with “terrorists”) and I just cannot abide this. He’s also a virulent gay-basher, another thing I cannot abide (especially since I happen to know something about him that he doesn’t know I know).

      I find guys like this to be not only irrational, but also mean assholes. Bullies, who would just as easily do unto me if they perceived me to be someone not on “their side” as they do – or urge to be done – to those they already regard as not being on “their side.”

      Some people are reachable. Others, not.

      • eric, this guy sounds just like one of my old college buds. It has taken literally years of my not letting up on him when he’d spew hate and glorify Israel militancy as well as muslim bashing. You may find it hard to believe but it was this very guy who voted for GJ this election. I have taken him to task more times than I want to remember for his unkind views, pointing out to him many times his militant hate speech didn’t align itself very well to being a good Christian. He still has a ways to go but I believe the local Mises club has helped him immensely. In learning economics he seems to have learned some things about himself also.

        He used to tell me he had some very good Jewish friends and I’d reply “I don’t doubt that at all, so what has that got to do with Israeli foreign policy?” I’m not anti-Semitic and don’t equate being a Jew with holding to the neocon philosophy of Bibi and crew. There is what I have gleaned in the last year or so, a majority of Jews in Israel who don’t go for his policies. They have 4 or 5 very viable poiltical parties so it’s not uncommon for a very vocal, radical group to garner the most votes and take over. I feel their(peaceful people)pain. I also can’t forget Eisenhower telling the leader back when that Israel had no legitimate claim to exist.

        The gay bashing doesn’t set well with me either. I recall the good friend growing up who I knew was a girl although he looked like a boy. We were so young then I didn’t even know about sex or gay or anything else, just knew Perry was really a girl inside. It didn’t matter, he was a good friend. I guess it was during college I came across friends of friends who were gay and really good people I liked to hang with.

        He still has his “moments” where his underlying statism shows but they are fewer all the time. There was a time years ago when one of his buds he’d include on our forum would block my mail because I wouldn’t sign onto the Bush doctrine, not any of it. His loss I figured and would simply remove him from any mailing so I didn’t have to deal with returned mail daemons. I figure what’s good for the goose is good for the gander and I’d just be pro-active. I noticed a couple years back he’d be on a list and I wouldn’t get the mail back. Since that time he’s actually listened to some things I have said and seems to have come around to a great degree. I know it must sound as though I’m the inflexible one but I’ll never sign onto the Bush creedo, can’t, it just goes against everything I believe in.

        I know people can change, just read Pat B. these days and he’s not the radical guy he used to be. And maybe I’ve changed too(no doubt). I’ll leave you with a quote I like about life.

        Life can only be understood backward; but it must be lived forward. Danish philosopher, Soren Kierkegaard

  3. Wow, Tor, What a story. I have been the “Salesman” many times in this scenario. I keep a small floor jack and a dammit jack(Hi-Lift) in my pickup. I had a group of ladies headed to church back on the road so quickly they were giddy. Last time I used the floor jack was a couple with two small kids on the side of the road in horrible heat and the screw jack(think it was a small GM SUV)wouldn’t hold properly. A big 4-way lug wrench and my floor jack and everything was copacetic toot sweet. I offered my diesel pickup cab(very cool)to the woman and kids. I made the husband work for it.

    How it works for my wife: I send her after a load of seed since we didn’t know how much the field would take and were off about a pickup load. She comes back late, is pissed, and tells me “you’d better weld some tabs on that goddamned rear bumper so that fuckin’ dammit jack doesn’t go sideways, the road was so dry and sandy the screw jack wouldn’t do anything except slip off and the dammit jack just walked out from under the damned thing”, “I didn’t have but one chock and had to chock the front end with a couple sacks of seed it tore up and almost never got it jacked up to where it didn’t go sideways”. Of course, I apologized since it was my fault I didn’t have enough seed, the road was the rock off the old railroad beside it and full of spikes that had ruined a new tire, and neither jack would hold in the soft sand since it hadn’t rained in months(my fault too). When I got through planting, I got my “ass out there and welded some tabs” on the bumper to keep the jack from sliding to the side(although that wasn’t the problem), but it looked good and she was happier. She was also pissed the cheater pipe for the lug wrench wasn’t in the pickup(in the toolbox but I said nothing)and she had to jump on the wrench to break the lug nuts free. City women, country women, don’t jack with either one, just take your lumps and keep ’em happy or however close to that you can.

    • Yeah, Eightsouthman, it’s been a good awakening to take the red pill about women, family, work, religion, country… but in the end, it’s just as you say, you “take your lumps and keep ‘em happy or however close to that you as can”

      Pick Up Man – Joe Diffie

      Morpheus: You are a slave, Neo. Like everyone else, you were born into bondage, born inside a prison that you cannot smell, taste, or touch. A prison for your mind. (long pause, sighs) Unfortunately, no one can be told what the Matrix is. You have to see it for yourself. This is your last chance. After this, there is no turning back.
      (In his left hand, Morpheus shows a blue pill.)
      Morpheus: You take the blue pill and the story ends. You wake in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. (a red pill is shown in his other hand) You take the red pill and you stay in Wonderland and I show you how deep the rabbit-hole goes. (Long pause; Neo begins to reach for the red pill) Remember — all I am offering is the truth, nothing more.
      (Neo takes the red pill and swallows it with a glass of water)

      • I actually don’t remember the show that well and there’s a good reason, I took the red pill in ’65 and have fudged looking like a blue pill taker(till I slip)since that time. If pushed, I’ll back everybody up telling them I took the red one and to not fuck with me. I can let things go but it’s best to keep your feelings to yourself if you want to take me to task over it on a close up personal level. I will rip someone up and down and over and out and every which way if they want to knock my way of taking life. I COULD take them apart piece by piece and show them how they are just pitiful creatures who don’t deserve the easy time they have and how they aren’t worthy of my pity, nor even my scorn and ridicule. I’ve not torn ass too many times and never had to do so a second time with anyone. I can “live and let live” but can only take so much from the ones who can’t see the forest for the trees. And once more we get back to the “Forrest, Stupid is as stupid does” and don’t force me to tell you just exactly how you fall into that category or I’ll do so with vengeance. Yes, you have come to that point in life where you realize you have a different point of view and philosophy on life Tor, and you will either live with it or live without them. And sometimes you just have to simply forgive and forget(or try to). I can say that for certain as I have just found out a couple months ago what my old lady told the BATF nine years ago when I was sitting in jail. It ain’t what you say necessarily, it’s just the fact that you said anything, it’s all an indictment…..literally.

        • Sorry to hear about the ol’ lady, Eightsouthman. Not as serious as your prob., but I had to cut loose from my family for 10 years until they renewed ties under my terms.

          I usually have more than those I associate with, I can just withhold and they get back in line, haven’t had to fight animal style too often.

          I agree with you 100%. Its like being in an outlaw MC, or Jews during the Inquisition, or in a gang of runaway slaves…

          Fit in publicly. Don’t open up to family, neighbors, friends. Avoid/don’t cooperate with authorities. Seek out the like minded if you can. When someone betrays you in the slightest, slip out the back Jack and never look back.

          • I’ve lost a number of friends over my political views – specifically, my refusal to countenance their political views. Things got uncomfortable for all concerned. My ex-friends (all Republicans) got mighty upset when I criticized their chimp – his wars, his “patriot” act… all that. It did not help that they loved their fuhhhhhhtttttball and I of course did not – and said so, openly. I refused to play along – and so we longer play together.

            Washington reportedly said that: ‘Tis better to be alone than in poor company.

            I agree.

          • Dear Eric,

            I’ve lost a number of friends over my political views

            I’ve tried to avoid clashing over politics. But you know what? It’s just not possible.

            It took me a while to figure out why. It’s because politics under the statist status quo, is all about physical coercion. It’s all about using brute force on other people to get what one wants.

            People say “Never talk about politics at the dinner table.” There’s a reason for this. People sense, however dimly, in their heart of hearts, that they when they advocate this or that position in under a conventional monopolistic state, that they are exerting brute force physical coercion against each other. That is why they resent it. That is why they get so angry.

            Champions of Democracy would have libertarians believe that “free and fair elections” and “majority rule” make the brute force physical coercion alright.

            But deep down inside, we all know it doesn’t.

            The blow ups and ended friendships were not “unfortunate.” They were inevitable. After all, how can one paper over the fact that the conservative or liberal statist refuses to refrain from using a billy club, a gun, and cages to extract the libertarian’s obedience and wealth from him?

            How is one to exhibit “good table manners” in “polite company?” What is that pretense, other than cannibals using knives and forks, and bending their pinkies?

            No, the pretense that nothing is wrong, and that everything is simpatico is simply not possible.

            The emperor has no clothes, and libertarians who have taken the red pill cannot pretend to be “friends” with those who persist in robbing them at gunpoint.

          • Dear Eightsouthman,

            I hear you.

            You make some important points, ones I’m sure we’ve all mulled over at one time or another.

            To clarify, I’m not advocating being sanctimonious, and behaving the way the official “intellectual heirs of Ayn Rand” over at the Ayn Rand Institute behave.

            I do in fact try to maintain peace, and steer around the issue whenever feasible.

            But when the issue reaches a head, as it often will, and one is cornered. there’s not much point in trying to gloss it over.

            I think by then the universe is telling you to send a shock into the system to shock it out of its error.

            When those occasions arise, I no longer back off.

  4. The Slave’s Guide to Serving their Betters With Roadside Emergencies

    The lemon-coloured MG skids across the road and the woman driver brings it to a somewhat uncertain halt. She gets out and finds her left front tyre flat. Without wasting a moment she prepares to fix it: she looks towards the passing cars as if expecting someone. Recognising this standard international sign of woman in distress (“weak female let down my by male technology”), a station wagon draws up. The driver sees what is wrong at a glance and says comfortingly, “Don’t worry. We’ll fix that in a jiffy.”

    To prove his determination, he asks for her jack. He does not ask if she is capable of changing the tyre herself because he knows – she is about thirty, smartly dressed and made-up – that she is not.

    His hands are covered with grease. She offers him an embroidered handkerchief, which he politely refuses

    Since she cannot find a jack, he fetches his own, together with his other tools. Five minutes later the job is done and the punctured tyre properly stowed. His hands are covered with grease. She offers him an embroidered handkerchief, which he politely refuses. He has a rag for such occasions in his tool box.

    The woman thanks him profusely, apologising for her “typically feminine” helplessness. She might have been there till dusk, she says, had he not stopped. He makes no reply and, as she gets back into the car, gallantly shuts the door for her. Through the wound-down window he advises her to have her tyre patched at once and she promises to get her petrol station attendant to see to it that very evening. Then she drives off.

    As the man collects his tools and goes back to his own car, he wishes he could wash his hands. His shoes – he has been standing in the mud while changing the tyre – are not as clean as they should be (he is a salesman). What is more he will have to hurry to keep his next appointment. As he starts the engine he thinks, “Women! One’s more stupid than the next”. He wonders what she would have done if he had not been there to help. He puts his foot on the accelerator and drives off – faster than usual. There is the delay to make up. After a while he starts to hum to himself.

    In a way, he is happy.

    Almost any man would have behaved in the same way – and so would most women. Without thinking, simply because men are men and women are so different from them, a woman will make use of a man whenever there is the opportunity. What else could the woman have done when her car broke down? She has been taught to get a man help. Thanks to his knowledge, he was able to change the tyre quickly – and at no cost to herself. True, he ruined his clothes, put his business in jeopardy and endangered his own life by driving too fast afterwards. Had he found something else wrong with her car, however, he would have repaired that, too. That is what his knowledge of cars is for! Why should a woman learn to change a flat tyre when the opposite sex (half the world’s population) is able and willing to do it for her?

    Women let men work for them, think for them and take on their responsibilities – in fact, they exploit them.

    Women let men work for them, think for them and take on their responsibilities – in fact, they exploit them.

    Since men are strong, intelligent and imaginative, while women are weak, unimaginative and stupid, why isn’t it men who exploit women?

    Could it be that strength, intelligence and imagination are not prerequisites for power but merely qualifications for slavery?

    Could it be that the world is not being ruled by experts but by beings who are not fit for anything else – by women?

    And if this is so, how do women manage it so that their victims do not feel themselves cheated and humiliated, but rather believe to be themselves what they are least of all – masters of the universe?

    How do women manage to instill in men this sense of pride and superiority that inspires them to ever greater achievements?

    Why are women never unmasked?

    From Esther Vilar’s 1972 The Manipulated Man,Esther/The_manipulated_man.pdf

  5. Hi Eric. A thing to point out about heater cores is never to tug on the heater core hose when its replacement time, just cut them off with delicate care. This simple procedure will save a lot of headaches.

  6. That about the pumps… when someone once asked Henry Ford why he hadn’t used a particular device, he replied that if you didn’t put one in it couldn’t break and it couldn’t fall off (and, he might have added, you could apply the savings in weight, space and cost to something else you did want). Anyhow, you wouldn’t have had problems with radiator or fuel pumps in the Model T. It didn’t have any pumps, just a convection driven radiator and gravity fed fuel.

    By the way, there’s also the old advice in the computer trade: if all else fails, read the instructions. It’s usually given rather more succinctly.

  7. Dang, is it just me or is EPA under a DOS attack?

    I’ve had a heck of time connecting these last few days. I thought it “done with” this afternoon, but trying to click here from LRC just now was almost impossible.

    Or did someone trip over an extension cord and unplug something and now it’s flickering?

    Also, I wonder, if newer cars, which are supposed to be “better”… do they go further than the older ones once you’ve lost all your coolant?

    Last time I blew a head gasket was after driving 20 miles in the Summer with no coolant. It was a 1960 Dodge Dart or something like that. I have a hard time imagining a newer car going that far. I suppose it’s possible, but I have my doubts. … Or would one of those disabilers that make a car run on only one cylinder help any in this situation? Or for that matter, on older cars, would it help to unplug all the spark plugs except one? Ha, limp mode.

    • Hi Individual,

      Thanks for the heads up on the problems – we are looking into it.

      On your question: The old cars (like the ’60s Dart you mention) usually had cast iron engines – blocks and heads. Much harder to hurt these via overheating than a modern car’s typically aluminum (or aluminum head) engine.

      A few new cars do have cylinder deactivation – and IIRC correctly some do have a “limp home” mode for overheating, just as you describe.

      Still, I’d be less eager to push it with a modern car than with an old one. Not only because the old stuff could typically take more abuse, but also because if the worst happened and you killed the engine, replacement was economically feasible. With any late model car, a replacement engine can mean it’s time to replace the car. It’s just too expensive – relative to the value of the car itself.

  8. Eric: One point I want to make is: Yes, blast your heater, but then after a while if you feel no *heat* in the cabin then the coolant level has run down to where it’s not getting into the heater core. After this happens, immediately pull off and turn the car off. Don’t try and limp for the next 5 or 10 miles, you have to pull over right then! (Ask me how I know….)

    The most common types of major failures that ensue after running while overheated typically are: blowing a head gasket, a warped head or cracked cylinder.

    • Or all those things following so closely together you’ll never know which happened first(head gasket)but they will all happen together sometimes. Iron block=blown gasket on aluminum head, cracking the edge of the cylinder and blowing a piece of the block and head both out between cylinders(almost always). About this time a valve or two contact a too high piston(chunks on top from block and head)and other things are affected. That dandy little engine will now be costing you some serious money…..more than a v-8 rebuild. Can you say SB Chevy replacemnt? You can if you can get enough cooling.

      I say this because I never saw a SBC give it up this way and have seen many Jap autos go down this way.

  9. Some day out here in west Texas when it’s 110° or 115° you can’t help but be paranoid even knowing your coolant system is ok. Just sitting with the engine not pointed into the wind(on a car with electric fans as well as belt powered fans)can bring on some really bad overheating with the car idling. The only thing I haven’t had problems with in that scenario was my diesel pickup and it will get well above its normal temp. How many people have made a point to face into the wind when parking like you learn here when you first start to drive(12)? I’ve been tempted to install a bolt and wingnut under the accelerator the way old diesel trucks were made to up the idle rpm when stopped. Some of the new diesels have a switch to accomplish this very thing. Pull into a parking lot here and you’ll see the pickups with trailers and trucks pulled in in a line with the fronts pointing south.

    • “face into the wind when parking”

      That’s weird. I’ve never heard of such. Good to know if I ever have to GTFOOD and relocate South. It’s kind of the opposite of the Northland in the Winter.

  10. Unfortunately, Eric, most wives (and women in general) aren’t going to bother to read anything like this. It’s impossible for most men to fathom, but most women are far more obsessed with what color to paint their nails, baby’s first spit-up, woo-woo crap such as New Age silliness and the supernatural, and where to buy yet another pair of unneeded shoes, than anything practical about the very objects that make their life easy.

    My late mother was scared to reach into the electrical panel after a breaker tripped because she was sure it would “shock” her. That’s the extent of knowledge many wives/women have about important mechanical things. You’re wasting your time and breath. There are exceptions, but that many…

    • I take objection to that statement. I spent 20 years as an aircraft maintenance supervisor. Although I didn’t work directly on the planes, I knew enough about the mechanics to transfer that to other things like my car, my house, etc. I also know where my limitations are. I had a 70 camaro that had an electrical problem. Changed the battery but that didn’t work. Tried to get my (now ex) husband to help and got nowhere. Finally bought a set of battery cables and changed them. Problem solved. Frankly, I don’t give a hoot about shoes, makeup or that crap. I’m the family computer guru as well. I don’t have a male in the house to do things so it’s either I do it myself or pay someone else to do it. Some of us have a clue.

      • If you were an aircraft maintenance “supervisor” and didn’t work on the planes, what was your job description? Just asking. My wife is no dolt either although she sometimes does a fair imitation. She asked one day if she could use the big pickup with a 454 while I was at work. I told her the water pump was out but there was a new one I’d just picked up on the welding table. If she could install it, she could use the pickup. I came home to find her hauling rock for the spillway. The old pump was in the scrap pile.

      • Dear ducky,

        Libertarians are individualists. At least they are supposed to be.

        Individualists, as opposed to collectivists, treat other individuals as individuals, not as “members of collectives.” .

        To be a bonafide individualist, one must treat other humans beings on an individual, case by case basis, without regard for their unchosen biological characteristics, including gender, and in my own case, “race.”

        They did not choose these characteristics. These characteristics do not define them. Their convictions as thinking human beings do.

        In short, your “exception taking” is well warranted. If anything, you demonstrated enormous restraint and forbearance, more than anyone has a right to expect. You would have been fully justified had you chosen to express your objections in far less polite terms.

        Champions of individual liberty the world over are few enough as is. Must champions of individual liberty who are male in gender, exclude champions of individual liberty who are female in gender?

        Is the championing of individual liberty really the exclusive province of “white males?” Is individual liberty that parochial a value?

        I for one, do not think it is. I think it is a universal value, sought by human beings of both genders and all “races.”

        I put race in scare quotes because as population geneticists know full well, “race” is a scientific non-concept.

  11. One simple cause that was missed in the article is a failed cooling fan motor. Many newer cars have electric radiator fans, rather than being belt driven by the engine. If this is the case, turning on the heater will provide very limited additional time to stop before dangerous overheating takes place, and the suggestion above about sometimes getting relief by turning on the AC won’t work either. It would help diagnosticallly, however, to turn on the AC while stopped with the hood up to visually see if the fan is running. The cause of the fan not running could also be due to a blown fuse in the fan circuit. (always carry all the sizes of spare fuses that your car uses.

    • I’ve had some pretty good lucky just running my heater to prevent overheating. My 94 Saturn drove with a broken (non functional) cooling fan for a couple years. I just turned the heater on full blast and sweated it out. Also, Eric geared this article for the wifey.

      “It does my wife no good to know I know how to fix This or That (or at least, where to start looking) if I happen not to be with her when the car stops running. “

    • Had the cooling fan fail on my ’97 some years ago. Thankfully I was close to home. I parked, un plugged it cause it was shorting and smoking, let the car cool a bit and drove the final mile or so home via residential streets.

  12. Speak of the devil, I was just looking into installing a temperature gauge on my 61 nash metropolitan, mainly because of a constant paranoia about the vitals of my cars.. (A vehicle which I procured after seeing one on an article here and then investigating, those things were and continue to be inexpensive to own)

  13. Eric,

    You mentioned relatively easy (and obvious) roadside or parts store parking lot fixes such as hoses and thermostats, but seemed to gloss over one important aspect. That is, carrying a couple of gallons of pre-mixed 50/50 coolant in the trunk. You can’t remove any hoses or the thermostat cover without losing a substantial amount of coolant either over the side or pre-draining the radiator an adequate amount. I live in the desert Southwest and always have spare 50/50 mix coolant in the trunk (along with a gallon or two of drinking water), a spare thermostat, and enough tools to complete most emergency repairs that are short of needing a tow truck. Of course, I’m a shadetree engine builder so I’ve got a leg up on the average driver for “get-me-home” roadside repairs.


  14. I have to question the idea of raising the revs to 2500 for awhile, while stationary? Without movement airflow that could cause some cars to overheat even if healthy to start with.

    • Hi Alan,

      The increased RPM will help dissipate heat by increasing the speed (and so, flow) of the water pump and also airflow over the radiator – assuming a belt-driven fan.

    • It also circulates the engine oil more quickly, adding an impromptu additional ‘coolant loop’. I’ve used this technique on my vehicles that have poor air circulation while sitting still – both of my mid ’90s Cougars and similar vintage Camaros. Shift to neutral, then double +50% of idle rpm until the needle comes down. Works like a charm at long stoplights or drive-thru’s in August!

  15. This may be too complicated for the non car person, but while it’s usually true that you should shut off your A/C if your car is overheating, it isn’t always true. I once had a temperature sensor fail on my Nissan. They use two sensors, one for the gauge, and one for the ECU. My gauge reading started to climb above normal while sitting in traffic. I had a device (Techtom MDM-100), that, among other things, allows me to see the temperature reading of the sensor that sends its info to the ECU. That sensor had failed and was reading low, preventing the fans from turning on. I just turned the AC on, which also kicks on the fans, and my engine temp quickly returned to normal.

  16. So talk to us about “flushing” the coolant system? Is that a Jiffy Lube “make work” thing? Or is flushing a valid proceedure on modern cars? If “yes,”( a valid procedure,) how often? Thanks!

    • Here’s the deal – at least, as I see it:

      If you just drain the radiator, you’ve only removed a portion of the system’s total capacity. By flushing the system, you remove all (or almost all) of the old (dirty) coolant. It’s not unlike servicing an automatic transmission by just dropping the pan and replacing what’s in there – vs. flushing the entire system out by using a machine that draws all the fluid through a filtration/replacement system. Same principle. Get it all – vs. about half of it.

      • The problem I have with flushing is that instead of having old 50/50 mix in the car there is water from the garden hose trapped in there. I suppose one could flush with new 50 mix some how or start the engine to pump most of it out. I like neither of those two options. Thus what I did was drain as much as I could get out and do it frequently enough such that what remained that was ‘old’ really wasn’t that old.

        Since my newest car requires it and I thought it was useful to get everything out, I purchased this gizmo called an ‘airlift’ It creates a vacuum using one’s air compressor and will suck everything out. Then using it to refill, refills all the way without needing to bleed. I haven’t used it yet, but it should prove very useful.

        • This is what I do as well.

          “Thus what I did was drain as much as I could get out and do it frequently enough such that what remained that was ‘old’ really wasn’t that old.”

          • A better method is to find where the car maker located the block drain plug on the engine. While this is not easy to find, or to get a wrench onto, it does allow one to drain all of the coolant in the engine block. Once the radiator has been drained, the only coolant left is in the heater core. .

        • BrentP, where did you get this “airlift”? I have fought not getting all the coolant out of engines for 50 years. I generally drain what I can, refill with distilled water and run up to temp, drain and do it all over maybe a couple more times. This generally has the water pretty colorless so I can add nothing but anti-freeze until I get the mix I want with a hygrometer. I then add 50/50 until full putting my Bar’s Leaks in before completely filling. I’ve installed brass petcocks on engine blocks when I had them out and then realized after I’d put on the engine mounts they were going to be inaccessible. Drain plugs are not uncommonly impossible to remove. I had one I had to grind down and drill out to install a petcock, only to find once again it was located directly under an engine mount.
          I would greatly appreciate a name brand and will check the box notifying me of comments.

  17. On a similar break-down note. Something I’ve noticed in New England, is the idiocy of a breakdown lane in the center of a two lane highway (or any highway for that matter) There is no useful need for this, besides wasting a perfectly good spot for adding any additional lane for traveling.

    If you break down, get to the right, get off the road. Sitting in the center breakdown/”emergency” lane is useless. You cannot get off the highway by foot without channeling your inner Frogger, and the resulting tow truck causes a solid clover conga. An experience I had the pleasure of being stuck in for 30 minutes recently.

    • A little off topic, but does anyone remember this disaster film: The Big Bus (1976). There was a scene where a tire was changed without stopping.

      That is one way to deal with a “roadside emergency”. 😉

      • My last car, a Pontiac Grand-Am, had a coolant leak in the intake manifold gasket. Turns out GM used a nylon/silicone gasket instead of cork and metal. That’s fine, except that DexCool (another terrible idea from GM) eats away the gasket material until failure. Luckily I knew what burning/hot anti-freeze smells like so I kept the system topped up until I could get it repaired (at about $1500, IIRC). The shop I took it to was surprised to see it come on on it’s own power, I guess most of them have catastrophic failures.

        I couldn’t see anything dripping though because the leak was on the top of the engine, in a little indented area underneath the intake manifold. Once they pulled that I could see a lot of burned coolant and a puddle.

        • Since GM and other manufacturers used to add Bar’s Leaks in their new engines I never had a pause in adding a bottle to everything I drive. I put the stuff in everything with a water-cooled engine and have had No problems for practically forever. It’s great water pump lube and helps the coolant transfer heat and works with any coolant. It’s something that will nearly always get you to the house unless the water pump shaft is really loose. That Grand Am might have been “fixed” by using some or at least never developed the problem if it had been in there from the start.

          I had a big 4WD Case tractor with a Cummins engine and some cracked heads. The fix was so expensive as to be prohibitive if any other fix were available. Tore down that engine, had the heads cleaned, put it back together and used some stop leak, stopped the leak for about $500 labor and parts instead of $3,500 to weld the heads.

        • Eric, what engine was that on? I have smelt coolant for 3 days and can’t find a leak except I saw on the plastic oil filter drip deflector on a GM 3.1 that’s green. Where it originates is another question. Since everything is dry I’m stumped. Haven’t had it on a lift yet but will soon.

          • That was the 3.4L V6. A pressure test should be done to make sure it’s not leaking somewhere else, but if you look closely under the intake manifold you see that it’s wet. It was a little easier to see on my engine because the leak was on the front gasket, on the inside, so it was fairly clear.

            Another leak to look for after 120K miles is a cover on the block where the cap and rotor would be installed if the car didn’t have an ignition block. There’s a rubber gasket that eventually will fail causing a large amount of oil loss (also led to the demise of my Lumina Z34). If you’re going to get one done, get the other one done too, since it will be open anyway.


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