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3 Things That Happen To Your Engine When It Overheats

Your car's cooling system is one of its most critical components. Your engine needs to operate within a specific temperature range, but it will rapidly overheat without adequate cooling. Seemingly minor problems such as small leaks or faulty thermostats can cause your engine temperatures to skyrocket, leading to much more severe failures.

But what happens when your engine overheats? How quickly does damage occur, and what can you do to fix it? Keep reading to learn three things that may happen to your engine when it overheats and what's necessary to repair them once they occur.

1. Blown Head Gasket

You can broadly divide your car's engine into two parts: the engine block and the cylinder head. The cylinder head sits on top of the engine block, with a gasket between the two to prevent oil, fuel, and coolant from leaking and mixing. The gasket also helps to maintain compression in the combustion chambers.

When your engine overheats, the excess heat can cause the metal in the engine block and cylinder head to expand rapidly. This expansion strains the gasket, creating gaps or causing it to fail. A qualified repair shop can replace a blown head gasket, but it requires tearing down a significant portion of your engine and is often costly.

2. Warped Cylinder Head

Modern vehicles typically use aluminum for their cylinder heads since this material is light and strong. Unfortunately, aluminum also quickly warps when exposed to high heat. While some older vehicles may have survived short overheating periods, modern cars can suffer severe damage after only a few seconds with the needle in the red.

A warped cylinder head will cause similar problems to a blown head gasket. However, depending on the severity of the issue, a shop may be able to machine the mating surface so you can reuse your existing head. In these cases, you'll still need to replace your head gasket and can still expect a relatively costly repair.

3. Internal Damage

Severe or prolonged overheating will likely cause significant internal damage to your engine. For example, your piston rings or even the pistons themselves can suffer damage when your engine overheats. These problems are more challenging to repair, and your shop will generally need to tear down your entire engine to diagnose and confirm internal damage issues.

The best way to avoid these costly repairs is never to drive your car while it's overheating. If you notice your temperatures climbing or you receive a low coolant warning light, it's best to have a skilled mechanic fix the issue immediately instead of waiting for the problem to worsen.

For more information, contact an engine repair service such as Mattie's Service Center.