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After working fine all day, this afternoon I noticed my engine had heated up so hot the needle was above the red. I pulled over and there was steam coming from a small space on the radiator and it appeared to be 'spitting' anti-freeze.

I let it cool down and checked coolant level which was almost completely empty (not even near minimum) - I don't usually drive this car, and had only been using it for a week so didn't expect this. I had been told that a low coolant level could cause pressure to build up in the radiator and lead to the 'spitting' leakage I had encountered.

So I topped up the coolant and took it for a short test drive, again it heated up with the steam and 'spitting'. I don't know much about cars, is there anything I can try to fix myself or does this need a mechanic to look at it?

Thanks

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Here are a couple of quick checks you can do before taking it in to a mechanic:

  1. See if the radiator fans are running

    These are the fans that sit behind the radiator in the car's nose. If the fans are not running then the cooling system is unable to throw out the heat generated by the engine.

    If the fans are not running:

    • Check the fuses and relays - a burnt fuse or bad relay will prevent the fan from running
    • Inspect the fan wires - have they gone brittle? Is there a break in the wiring?
  2. Check for leaks

    A compromised hose or loose connection will readily explain coolant loss; the remedy will be to replace the hose.

    There is usually an overflow tank hose which is designed to empty the system if the system pressure is too high. If this is responsible for loss of coolant then there something is not allowing the cooling system to shed heat. In such situations, a stuck-closed thermostat may be responsible also.

  3. Look at the coolant

    If there is oil in the coolant (looks like mud or creamy mayo) this usually indicates issues with the head gasket and/or cylinder head.


P.S. - Pressure build-up results in low coolant level if an overflow tank is present. The question reverses the causality, which isn't true.

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