Before leaving for a long car trip my older brother handed me some black pepper and a bottle of water and said, “This is for your radiator. Put it in your glove box.” Words of wisdom to remember. 


Summer is right around the corner and with that comes warmer temperatures. The warmth of the sun on your face and some sweat on your back are welcome when you stretch your legs for a nice summer run. Your car does not share that sentiment. 


Keeping your vehicle’s engine cool may be more important than you realize. Once you know there is a problem it is best for your car and your wallet to handle it right away. If you notice the engine temperature gauge in your dashboard creeping toward the red, you might have a problem. Other things to look for are steam coming from under the hood or sometimes a sweet smell or odor letting you know there may be a coolant leak.


What To Do If These Things Happen?

  • Pay attention and stay calm. This is not the time to panic. Know your vehicle’s sensors, gauges, and creaks. Look and listen for something different. 
  • Turn the heater on full blast. You need to draw heat away from the engine quickly. Using the heater will pull hot air out of the engine and into the car. Don’t be tempted to turn up the air conditioning. This will add stress to the engine. Roll down your windows instead.
  • Pullover and park your car. Turning off the engine for at least 15 minutes will give your engine time to cool. Avoid opening the hood immediately. If there is too much pressure there can be a risk of hot water or steam spraying from the radiator. 
  • Look for leaks and check the coolant level in the radiator. If the coolant level is low add some coolant or water (ideally it should be a 50/50 mix). The problem might be more serious and need a mechanic, so don’t assume this is it!
  • Call your mechanic to make sure the problem is taken care of. Ignoring an overheating problem can result in major engine damage, even if the problem starts out small.

To reduce the risk of serious damage know your car.


Possible problems range from radiator leaks to cracked hoses, to thermostat failure, or even a blown head gasket. Keeping your vehicle well maintained with regular maintenance will lessen your chances of being caught off guard with an overheating problem. Routine inspections will alert you and your mechanic of potential problems before they catch you off guard. 


As a precaution, keeping a bottle of water in your car can be handy if you find yourself with an overheating problem. The pepper? That is actually a good temporary solution. You can pour about a tablespoon of black pepper in your radiator to clog a leak until you can get to your mechanic. Pepper won’t fix the problem, but it might pass until you can get the help you need.


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