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How Long Can a Car Overheat Before Damage Occurs?

How Long Can a Car Overheat Before Damage Occurs?

Sometimes, a car’s engine will run much hotter than normal for one reason or another. How long can a car overheat before damage occurs?

In most instances, cars get damaged fast when they overheat. Damage might occur in a minute or even in a few seconds. It is also possible for a car to overheat for longer without damage, but don’t risk it. 

If you car overheats, make sure you pull over quickly and call a garage in order to help ascertain what the issue is.

How Long Can a Car Overheat Without Damage?

Depending on the degree of overheating, it doesn’t take long to do damage. A piston might blow and your valves might seize up very fast if the temperature goes too high. 

Your car has to overheat a lot to do damage quickly. If it only overheats by a little, it will take longer to do damage. 

However, you should stop the car and pull over right away if it is overheating. Overheating is serious! You should never assume it won’t damage your car quickly. 

Overheating an Engine Even Once Does Damage

You can’t get away with overheating your engine “only a few times” or “only one time” – a single time can do a lot of damage.

Engine repairs are expensive, so do everything necessary to avoid overheating. Sometimes, it only takes a few seconds and not half a minute to damage your engine. 

Sometimes, a car will overheat so much that the temperature goes all the way to the end of the gauge. If this happens, it usually does damage instantly. It is not usually possible to reach the end of the gauge without doing damage. 

Severe Overheating Immediately Does Damage

If the temperature reaches the end of the gauge, take it to the shop, even if the car still works.

If continue to drive with a damaged engine, the damage may get much worse. 

Some Warning Lights Are More Sensitive Than Others

If your temperature warning lights are flashing, you need to stop right away. Don’t think you can keep driving for even another 30 seconds.

Whether or not you have already done damage depends on how sensitive your warning lights are. If you pull over right away and your warning lights are designed to go off a bit early, you might be fine.

However, if you can’t pull over right away and your warning lights are not so sensitive, you might do a lot of damage. Take these warning lights extremely seriously. 

You May Have to Replace Your Engine

Damage caused by overheating often permanently destroys your engine. You will have to replace your engine entirely. 

Depending on your vehicle’s age, it may be better to buy another vehicle. Engine repairs can be so expensive that it isn’t worth saving the car. 

Stop Your Car and Call a Tow Truck

Some people continue driving their cars even though they are repeatedly overheating.  

Again, this can do so much damage that you need to buy a new engine! Overheating your car for a short time can warp the engine block or do some other catastrophic damage. 

Don’t think your car can make it to the shop. You might have already damaged your engine a little and you don’t want to keep damaging it. Stop and call a tow truck, as your car is not driveable in this state. 

How Can You Tell If the Car is Overheating? 

Don’t wait for the engine overheating warning light to flash before you let your engine cool off. Look at the temperature gauge on your instrument panel. If your engine is getting hotter than normal, take your car to the shop and see what is wrong. 

Some other ways to tell your engine is overheating are:

  • Your engine isn’t working as well as it should, so you can’t accelerate quickly.
  • Steam is coming out of your engine because your coolant is boiling away.
  • Your engine is very hot if you open the hood and touch it. 
  • Your engine smells like it might be having trouble. 
  • Your engine is making odd sounds. 

What Causes Car Engines to Overheat? 

What Causes Car Engines to Overheat 

There are many causes, including:

  • The pipes that move the coolant around are leaking
  • You are low on cooling fluid
  • You are low on oil
  • You are using the wrong type of coolant
  • The radiator fan is broken
  • Your car is pulling or carrying too much weight
  • The radiator is clogged

What If Your Car Won’t Start?

If you pull over due to your engine overheating, stop the car, and then can’t start it again, you may have wrecked your engine already. Hopefully, the damage will be repairable. However, your car not starting at all is a bad sign. 

Key Takeaways of Your Engine Overheating

It might only take a minute, half a minute, or even a few seconds to damage your engine. Overheating can damage your engine very fast if the engine overheats more than a little. 

Never continue driving if your engine overheats. You could damage the engine so much you will have to replace it completely. Always pull over and call a tow truck.

Sometimes, your engine can overheat a little without damage. However, take it to the shop if it overheats even briefly. There might be some damage that needs to be fixed before you can safely drive it again. 

If your engine makes odd sounds, smells funny, has trouble accelerating your car quickly, or is very hot to the touch, it may be overheating. Don’t wait to fix the problem. 

Zach Reed

Hi, I'm the founder of! Having owned a wide variety of vehicles in my life, I was astounded at how hard it can be to find answers to common automotive questions. Rather than sit idly, I decided to create this website to help others!