Engine Overheating: Beware of the Repair


Imagine you are on your way to an important meeting with clients on the other side of the city and the unthinkable happens: your two-week-old 2014 Mazda 5 suddenly overheats on the freeway. You are stuck. Smoke and steam billow from under the hood and a mixture of oil and water stream from underneath the car. Nothing happens when you try to restart the stalled engine. What happened and why? What do you do now?

What Are the Signs of an Overheating Engine?

Before you end up in a situation like the one described with the Mazda, there may have been warning signs that would have signaled an overheating engine. The following are a list of symptoms which occur in conjunction with failure of any component in the cooling system:

  • A higher than normal reading on the temperature gauge.
  • In less serious cases, steam may pour out from under the hood, sometimes accompanied by a whistling sound as steam escapes from ruptured hoses or the burst radiator.
  • In serious cases, the steam pours out within seconds, accompanied by a significant decrease in engine power and sometimes by a sudden emission of white or blue smoke from the tailpipe.
  • If there’s a decrease in engine power, several warning lights on the dashboard illuminate and one or more audible alarms sound. The engine may also start running rough as the cylinder head and gasket are damaged by the excessive heat.
  • Rough running of the engine may be accompanied by knocking noises from the engine. A loss of power may be followed by the engine shutting off as it seizes due to the excessive heat.
  • The engine may refuse to start once it has cooled down, or if it does start, it may run very roughly or not idle.
  • Coolant may be present in the motor oil, presenting as a milky white emulsion on the dipstick and oil filler cap.
  • The motor oil may have a strong burnt or scorched smell.

What Causes an Engine to Overheat?

Knowledge is power. If your new car has had overheating issues, you should know the real causes of engine overheating. When you discuss the problem with the dealer’s service department, make sure they focus on the underlying problem rather than the symptom.

The underlying problem of your engine overheating may include:

  • Failure of the thermostat: The most common cause, by far, is the failure of the thermostat to open or close when it should. When closed, it prevents the coolant from circulating, and when stuck in the open position, it allows the coolant to circulate too fast, thus not giving the coolant sufficient residual time in the radiator to cool down. This condition allows the uncontrolled absorption of heat from the engine and is just as likely to cause engine failure as no circulation at all.
  • Improper filling of the cooling system: Incorrect quantities of coolant or air pockets will cause recurrent and continual overheating. Overfilling the system is just as likely to cause problems as is underfilling, since the coolant will not have sufficient space to expand, causing the safety cap to release coolant and pressure, causing the coolant to boil, further reducing the effectiveness of the system.
  • Loss of coolant: Sloppy or careless assembly, with hose clamps and clips not being installed correctly or at all.
  • Sloppy assembly of engines: Internal leakage of coolant into the cylinders will cause a gradual decrease in the available coolant. Small amounts of coolant in the air/fuel mixture may burn unnoticed but will significantly increase air/fuel detonation pressures and temperatures, which will invariably damage or destroy cylinder head gaskets, with complete engine failure a distinct possibility. This is relatively uncommon.
  • Maladjustment of the fuel/engine management systems: Slight under fuelling causes significantly higher than intended detonation temperatures, making it more difficult for the cooling system to cope with the task of keeping the engine cool. This condition is more likely to affect engine temperatures at sustained large throttle openings, and may not easily be detected on vehicles without oxygen sensors.
  • Defective knock sensors: This condition will cause the engine management system to inaccurately adjust ignition timing, which can cause overheating since ignition of the air/fuel mixture happens either too early or too late. Premature or delayed ignition only needs one or two milliseconds to cause overheating.
  • Electrical failures: Any electrical failure that causes the radiator fan not to work will invariably cause overheating – and very quickly in high ambient temperatures or slow moving traffic. Electrical failures have many and varied causes and can happen at any moment and without warning. No car on the roads today is immune to these failures or malfunctions.

Beware Asking Your Car Dealer to Fix Your Engine

If your new vehicle had an episode of overheating, there’s a good chance that the root cause can be traced back to defective parts or workmanship. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean that the dealer will drop in a replacement engine without batting an eye.

Having your new car’s engine overheat may have been nerve-wracking, but getting the problem fixed may try your patience. Here’s why:

  • Dealers are often reluctant to fully investigate any signs of overheating since some symptoms can mimic those of other, unrelated issues.
  • Dealers often depend on diagnoses made by unskilled or inexperienced technicians, who more often than not cannot recognize the signs of incipient overheating issues since it is almost always untraceable on the vehicle’s onboard diagnostic system.
  • Repairs or remedies for overheating issues are more often than not performed in a perfunctory manner, in ways designed to hide the symptoms rather than correct the cause.
  • Owners are seldom in a position to determine the causes of the issue or to tell if a dealer is misleading them. A dealer may assure an owner that the problem has been resolved, or that what the owner has experienced has caused other than the obvious, e.g., an owner might be told that there were just some bad electrical connections, while the real problem might be a radiator fan only spinning at half its normal speed.
  • When a problem such as overheating is reported, the dealer may persuade the owner that the problem could not be duplicated. Testing conditions almost always differ from those under which the issue first appeared, and dealers often ascribe the symptoms of an issue to other causes.
  • Due to the high cost of an engine replacement, dealers will often recommend to an owner that a heat-damaged engine is repaired instead of replaced. This option is always ineffective since the entire engine is damaged and any repairs made ignore other heat-damaged parts, sensors, or ancillary equipment.
  • Dealers often take unreasonable lengths of time to replace complete engines and owners are very often obliged to return to the dealer numerous times to resolve various issues due to sloppy workmanship or negligence relating to the fitment and installation of replacement engines and other equipment.

Is Your Car a Lemon? Speak to a Lemon Law Lawyer Today

If your car continues to experience cooling problems despite several repairs, then the problem could be deeper than a cooling problem. You could have landed yourself a lemon.

If you think you have a lemon car, lemon truck, lemon RV, or lemon motorcycle, you deserve to be compensated. Lemberg Law can help you get justice – at no cost to you! Complete our form for a no-obligation case evaluation, or call toll free 877-795-3666.

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