Can a Car Overheat in Cold Weather?

Published on: April 12, 2023
Written by Jonas Frank / Fact-checked by Nova Scarlett

You might think that cars only overheat in scorching summer temperatures, but did you know that a car can overheat in cold weather too? In this article, we’ll explore the reasons why cars overheat in cold weather, the symptoms to watch for, and how to prevent and handle such situations. So, let’s dive in!

can a car overheat in cold weather

How a Car’s Cooling System Works

Before we discuss why a car can overheat in cold weather, it’s essential to understand how a car’s cooling system works. The cooling system has two primary components: the radiator and the thermostat.

The role of the radiator

The radiator circulates coolant, a mixture of water and antifreeze, throughout the engine to absorb and dissipate heat. This prevents the engine from overheating and causing damage.

The role of the thermostat

The thermostat is responsible for regulating the flow of coolant. When the engine is cold, the thermostat remains closed, allowing the engine to warm up quickly. Once the engine reaches optimal operating temperature, the thermostat opens, enabling the coolant to circulate.

Causes of Overheating in Cold Weather

Even in cold weather, a car’s engine can produce excessive heat, leading to overheating. Here are some common causes of overheating in cold weather:

Malfunctioning thermostat

A faulty thermostat may remain closed, restricting coolant flow and causing the engine to overheat.

Low coolant levels

If the coolant level is too low, there may not be enough coolant to absorb and dissipate the heat generated by the engine.

Water pump failure

A failing water pump can’t circulate the coolant efficiently, leading to engine overheating.

Radiator blockage

A blockage in the radiator can restrict coolant flow and cause overheating.

Broken cooling fan

The cooling fan helps dissipate heat from the radiator. If it’s broken, the radiator won’t be able to cool the engine effectively.

Symptoms of an Overheating Car

Here are some signs that your car may be overheating:

Rising temperature gauge

A rising temperature gauge on your dashboard is a clear indication that your engine is getting too hot.

Steam from under the hood

Steam coming from under the hood is a telltale sign of an overheating engine.

Reduced engine performance

An overheating engine may cause reduced performance, such as loss of power or stalling.

Preventing Overheating in Cold Weather

To prevent your car from overheating in cold weather, consider the following tips:

Regular maintenance checks

Schedule regular maintenance checks for your car, including inspecting the cooling system components, to ensure everything is functioning correctly.

Monitor coolant levels

Check your coolant levels regularly and top them off as needed. Make sure to use the correct coolant mixture recommended by your car’s manufacturer.

Keep an eye on the temperature gauge

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Pay attention to your car’s temperature gauge while driving. If you notice it rising, take action to prevent potential overheating.

What to Do If Your Car Overheats in Cold Weather

If you find yourself in a situation where your car is overheating in cold weather, follow these steps:

Pull over and turn off the engine

As soon as it’s safe to do so, pull over to the side of the road and turn off your engine. This will prevent further damage to your engine.

Let the engine cool down

Allow your engine to cool down for at least 15-30 minutes before attempting to check for issues or add coolant.

Check coolant levels

Once the engine has cooled down, check your coolant levels. If they are low, top them off with the correct coolant mixture.

Call for professional assistance

If you’re unsure about the cause of the overheating or how to fix it, call for professional help. It’s better to have an expert diagnose and repair the problem than to risk further damage to your car.


Cars can indeed overheat in cold weather, and it’s essential to be aware of the causes, symptoms, and preventive measures. Regular maintenance checks, monitoring coolant levels, and paying attention to your car’s temperature gauge are crucial steps to avoid overheating issues. Remember to pull over and turn off the engine if you suspect your car is overheating and call for professional assistance if needed.

Can Cold Weather Affect the Operation of Car Washes?

During winter, car wash closures in bad weather can significantly impact the operation of car washes. Freezing temperatures and snow can lead to frozen pipes and equipment malfunctions, causing closures and lost revenue. It’s important for car wash owners to prepare for winter weather to minimize disruptions and maintain customer satisfaction.

Can Cold Weather Cause Issues with a Car’s Fuel Pump?

Yes, cold weather can definitely cause issues with a car’s fuel pump, particularly fuel pump freezing. When temperatures drop, the moisture that accumulates in the gas tank can freeze and block the fuel pump. This can prevent the engine from getting the fuel it needs to run properly, leading to starting problems or stalling.


Can a car overheat if there’s snow on the radiator?

Yes, snow on the radiator can block airflow and reduce its ability to dissipate heat, leading to overheating. It’s crucial to clear snow and ice from your radiator before driving in cold weather.

Is it normal for a car to overheat during a cold start?

No, it’s not normal. If your car is overheating during a cold start, there may be an issue with the cooling system, such as a malfunctioning thermostat or low coolant levels.

Can driving in cold weather with low tire pressure cause a car to overheat?

Low tire pressure can increase rolling resistance, causing your engine to work harder and produce more heat. While it’s not a direct cause of overheating, maintaining proper tire pressure is essential for optimal engine performance and fuel efficiency.

Can I use water instead of coolant in cold weather?

Using water instead of coolant is not recommended, especially in cold weather. Coolant contains antifreeze, which prevents the liquid from freezing in cold temperatures. Using water alone can lead to frozen coolant, causing blockages and potential engine damage.

Can a bad battery cause a car to overheat?

A bad battery itself won’t cause a car to overheat. However, if a failing battery is causing the alternator to work harder, it can generate excess heat and contribute to overheating.

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