Q: My 2003 Nissan had to be started with a jump and then it overheated after idling for about 20 minutes

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My Nissan had to be jump-started and then over heated after idling for about 20 mins. I turned the heater on high and took home from work about 5 miles away. No check engine light.

My car has 180000 miles.
My car has an automatic transmission.

It sounds like you may have a weak battery, a failing voltage regulator or failing alternator that may be the cause of having to jump the car. As you may know, the alternator charges the battery while the engine runs by generating amperage and recharging the battery while the engine turns the alternator pulley. The voltage regulator is a unit that regulates the charging of the battery by the alternator and maintaining a certain amperage while the engine runs. When the alternator is not working properly, this may result in the battery quickly losing charge and the car losing all power. You may also notice a whining sound as a result of the bearings inside the alternator begin to fail.

Overheating can be caused by a number of things such as low coolant levels, a faulty thermostat, a clogged radiator or a failing coolant fan switch. As you may know the coolant fan switch helps to maintain the proper coolant temperature by turning on and off at specific temperature thresholds. When this switch is not working properly, this can cause the fans to come on intermittently, all the time or sometimes not at all. When this happens you will notice a temperature spike and drop occasionally as the fan comes on and off. When your thermostat is not working properly or is stuck closed, this will not allow the coolant to properly circulate through the engine, which may cause the engine temperature to fluctuate erratically or in some cases just remain hot. You may also have a water pump that is beginning to fail. Water pumps often times will begin to produce a bit of a whining sound when they are starting to fail. A common problem also associated with this is the water pump may begin to leak around the water pump shaft due to the seal being damaged. In addition to leaking around the pump, you may have a leak elsewhere in the cooling system coming from one of the hoses going to or from the radiator. Lastly, you may have a failing cylinder head gasket allowing coolant to leak from the water passages into the cylinders resulting in the coolant being burnt in the combustion chamber with the fuel. If this is the case, you may also notice a bit of white smoke coming from your exhaust which is a product of the coolant being turned into a steam like vapor. I would suggest having an expert from Your Mechanic come to your home to diagnose your cooling system as there are a variety of tests to perform to arrive at the correct diagnosis.

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