The engine in your car or truck is engineered to run at a specific temperature, and overheating can do a lot of damage to the engine if you continue to drive it. Often, a hose failure or a drive belt breaking can cause the car to overheat, and you will need to take the vehicle to an auto repair shop to determine what is causing the problem.
A car that is overheating will not correct itself if you continue to drive down the road. If you notice your car overheating, you need to get off the road, stop the car, and shut off the engine as quickly as you can. Continuing to drive with a hot engine can damage the engine, pistons, and cylinder heads, all of which are expensive to repair.
If there is steam coming from under the hood of the car, you may have a leaking hose or a seal that has let go. Leave the hood closed and call for roadside assistance or a tow truck to help you. You may want to look under the car to see if there is coolant leaking on the ground, but until the steam stops, don't open the hood because there could be hot coolant spraying from a hose or seal on the engine.
Once the steam stops, you can look under the hood to see if you can find a leak, but don't try to open the radiator cap to check the coolant until the car has cooled for thirty minutes or so. Once the tow truck arrives, have the vehicle towed to a local auto repair shop so the technician can go over the car and determine why it is overheating.
Check the Belts and Hoses
Once the car is cool, you can check to see if all the belts are still in place on the engine. If the water pump belt breaks, the pump will stop, and the engine will overheat as you are driving because the coolant can not circulate through the engine and radiator.
If all the belts are in place, look at the hoses that run from the radiator to the engine. There is an upper and lower hose, and if there is a split in either of them, coolant can leak from the system, reducing the coolant level until there is not enough left to cool the engine efficiently.
Replacing Belts and Hoses
Replacing a belt or a hose is not overly complicated, but an auto repair shop can do it for you quickly and then refill the coolant, bleeding out air from the system and verifying that the car is staying within the operating temperature when the job is complete.