What Does the Coolant Temperature Warning Light Mean?

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Combustion engines are driven by a series of controlled explosions. These constant explosions generate enormous amounts of heat. As a result, engines need a series of passageways and a pump to circulate coolant throughout the engine block and maintain the overall temperature.

The car’s computer constantly monitors the coolant temperature and overall fluid level to ensure that the proper temperature is maintained always. A warning light is displayed on the dashboard if the coolant temperature is too hot.

What the coolant temperature warning light means

On engine startup, the warning light will illuminate for a second or two to check the bulb and should then go out. If the warning light is illuminated even after startup, it indicates that the car’s computer has detected an issue within the system. The most common reasons for the warning light to displayed are the temperature or fluid level of the coolant.

If you are driving when this warning light goes on, pull over safely as soon as possible and shut off the engine to let everything cool down. Let the engine cool down for at least 20 minutes before attempting to remove the radiator cap and remember to use a thick rag to protect your hand when you do so. Never attempt to remove the radiator cap off of a hot engine. The radiator cap is designed to pressurize the system so that the water doesn’t boil as easily. Removing the cap from a hot engine will cause the coolant to start boiling and the steam will most likely burn you. Once the engine has cooled, check the overall fluid level of the coolant. If the level is low, you can add just water temporarily so that you can drive somewhere to get the car checked out.

Keep in mind that a low coolant level means a leak is present which needs to be remedied at the earliest. Otherwise, your car will eventually be low on coolant again and run the risk of the engine getting overheated. The car’s computer will typically save a code when faced with any issues so having a scan tool hooked up to the car can be of immense help in identifying the problem.

Is it safe to drive with the coolant temperature warning light on?

While the car is still driveable, you run the risk of causing significant damage to the engine by letting it run too hot. As mentioned earlier, if the light comes on, you should pull over as quickly and safely as possible. When the light has turned off, you can drive the car again, but keep an eye out for the light to come on as it most likely will until the problem has been fixed. Even if you have to pull over every couple of miles to let the engine cool down, it’s worth the hassle to help prevent the engine from overheating.

As always, our certified technicians are available to assist you in diagnosing any issues with your cooling system.


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Matthew

31 years of experience
639 reviews
Matthew
31 years of experience
Chevrolet Impala - Warning Light is on - Norfolk, Virginia
First off he was on time....actually 30 mins early which was great. Everything he described was what I was going through and he knew exactly what I needed before he even looked at the car. Other mechanics i feel were trying to take advantage because I am a woman but he made me feel comfortable. Still have to get work done on it but at least I know exactly what the problem was.
Chevrolet Tahoe - Warning Light is on - Norfolk, Virginia
Very detailed and takes the time to explain what is being done. Willing to answer any questions you may have. I would definitely use his services again and have already been telling my coworkers about this site. I have a unique electrical situation going on with my truck that none of the dealers could assess. Just by Matt doing some general maintenance , my truck is already driving smoother. Matt asked that I monitor things to make sure we don't need to troubleshoot anything else. I feel quite confident.

Robert

11 years of experience
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Robert
11 years of experience
Buick Encore - Warning Light is on Inspection - Manteca, California
He was great because I didn’t have to go anywhere I just stayed at home and he took care of everything

Travis

11 years of experience
309 reviews
Travis
11 years of experience
Audi A8 Quattro - Warning Light is on Inspection - Minneapolis, Minnesota
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Andrew
23 years of experience
Audi A3 - Warning Light is on - Riverdale, Georgia
Great mechanic! Not only was Andrew on time, but he was professional, knowledgeable and very informative. Highly recommend.

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