You’re driving down the road and all of a sudden you start to see smoke coming out of the engine compartment, what do you do? PULL OVER IMMEDIATELY AND SHUT THE CAR OFF!
While it’s true we repair shops make plenty of money off of people who don’t follow this easy piece of advice, I just can’t allow it to go on. A lot of newer vehicles have cylinder heads that are made of aluminum and when they heat up (which they do when the car overheats) they will crack. This event can happen almost immediately (even though a warranty company recently refused to pay for a cracked head because they said the customer didn’t stop his car quickly enough, uh huh). I’ve heard countless customers discount the importance of this step saying “I couldn’t pull over right away” or “I just drove to the nearest mechanic” or “I let it cool off and then started it up and drove and it happened again.” Not good.
So here’s what you do if you overheat. Pull over immediately and shut the car off. Get on the phone with your mechanic and call a tow truck. If you can’t do that for some reason (your cell phone was shut off because you haven’t paid the bill?), then, wait for it to cool down and open the hood. You could open the hood first but it might inspire you to touch something and you should definitely not touch it until it cools off. After it’s completely cool, open the radiator cap and fill it up with water. Start the vehicle and check to see if it’s pouring out, if so, shut it down and get a mechanic. If it’s not pouring out then slowly make your way to a mechanic while watching the gauge. If it heats up again right away, shut it down and get a mechanic. If there’s a slow leak or the thermostat is faulty you might be able to travel a small distance while watching the gauge and filling it back up with water again (after it cools). Whatever you do, DON’T LET IT OVERHEAT A SECOND TIME, so ignore everything I just said and call mechanic you trust, period.