Skip to Content

What Happens When Your Truck or RV Engine Overheats?

What Happens When Your Truck or RV Engine Overheats?

Whether you’re on an exciting adventure or on your way to work, seeing the dashboard temperature needle climb can create a sinking feeling in your stomach. There are many reasons why this might occur, but you must get to the bottom of the issue no matter why it’s happening. Failing to do so can cause permanent damage to your engine and result in a costly mechanic bill.

If you’re curious about what happens when your truck or RV engine overheats, keep reading! We’re sharing everything you need to know. Let’s dive in!

How to Replace the Thermostat on a 6.7 Dodge Cummins Truck that Won't Warm Up and overheats
We were experiencing overheating because of a bad thermostat that would not open fully, this is how we fixed it

What Causes Engine Overheating?

There are a few common reasons for an engine to overheat. One of the most familiar is a leak or insufficient coolant in the system. Coolant does what its name implies; it keeps the engine cool. You may fix your overheating issues by adding more coolant to the system. However, if there is a leak in the radiator or a hose, it will be a temporary solution.

A vehicle has a thermostat that helps regulate the temperature of its engine. A faulty thermostat can stick in a position that causes the engine to overheat. This can be a simple fix, depending on your vehicle, that will quickly get you back on the road. However, if you don’t know what you’re doing, you’ll want to hire a professional.

Another common cause of an engine overheating is debris blocking the airflow. The front of your vehicle pulls in air from the outside through the radiator. You can pick up trash on the road that prevents air from circulating correctly. If this is your issue, pulling over to remove the debris will usually resolve the situation.

Lastly, engines can overheat if they are worked beyond the capabilities of the cooling system. Towing a heavy load up a hill in hot temperatures may just exceed the working limitations of the cooling system and overheat the engine even if nothing is wrong.

overheating truck engine

Can Low Oil Cause an Engine to Overheat?

It’s unlikely, as most of the time overheating is another cause, but low oil can occasionally cause an engine to overheat. This occurs because the oil heats up as it circulates and lubricates the moving parts in your engine. As a result of this movement, the oil can heat up. When there’s an appropriate amount of oil in your vehicle, the oil will sit and cool. However, the more you use it, the less time it has to cool.

Low oil can also cause your water pump to work harder than necessary. If you already have an aging water pump or one approaching the end of its useful life, having low oil may be enough to throw in the towel. The water pump is one of the primary components of a vehicle’s cooling system. Once the water pump goes out, the engine will quickly overheat.

Did You Know: You can get clues about the state of your engine by looking for a few key things, like if there is oil on your spark plugs.

Car engine with red hue from overheating
If your engine is overheating, you’ll want to find the source of the problem as quick as possible.

What Happens When Your Truck or RV Engine Overheats?

Various things can happen when your truck or RV engine overheats. A common thing you will see is coolant overflowing and leaking from the cap or hoses. This is because it may be boiling inside the engine and pressurizing the system.

However, in extreme cases or when drivers ignore the problem, the engine temperature can overheat enough to warp components. This could cause gaskets to fail, the engine block to crack, or cylinders and pistons to experience severe damage.

As parts experience excessive temperatures and begin to warp, fluids can reach places they shouldn’t. When parts warm or even melt, you also risk starting a fire. Sadly, very few people carry fire extinguishers in their vehicles, and once a fire occurs in your engine compartment, it will be hard to stop.

Pro Tip: Keep your vehicle running smoothly by knowing How Often You Should Check Your Oil.

Engine coolant container inside of vehicle.
Check to make sure you have enough coolant in your vehicle before you hit the road to stop your engine from overheating.

How Can I Cool Down My Engine Fast?

If you notice that your engine is getting hot, you should immediately turn off your air conditioner. Air conditioners can cause your engine and cooling system to run harder than necessary and cause your engine to overheat. This is why you often see signs before steep inclines that inform drivers to turn off their air conditioner before proceeding.

The second thing you can do to cool off your engine quickly is crank the heater. This may seem odd, but this will pull some of the heat away from your engine and allow it to cool down. You may need to roll your windows down to avoid getting too warm, but it could cause your engine temperature to drop.

Some vehicle engines are prone to overheat when going up steep hills. The engine has to work incredibly hard, especially when towing. If you find that your vehicle overheats when going up steep inclines, you may have to find a safe place to pull over and give your engine time to cool down before getting back on the road.

Misting water into the radiator of a hot engine can help it cool very quickly as well. Only mist do not douse with water. This is because if you use too much cold water on hot parts, things can warp.

Is It Safe to Drive With an Engine Overheating? 

If you are continually experiencing your vehicle overheating, you should stop driving it. It’s never safe to drive a car that is constantly overheating. You are putting yourself and your vehicle in grave danger if you drive an overheating vehicle.

Overheating when going up hills is a whole different story. You should watch the temperatures and pull over as needed when you see the temperature begin to climb. You may need to park for ten to 15 minutes and give the engine time to cool down to avoid causing any damage to your vehicle.

Woman checking vehicle engine
Your engine overheating can do damage in a matter of seconds.

How Long Does It Take to Damage an Engine From Overheating?

You can damage a vehicle’s engine with as little as 30 to 60 seconds of overheating. This is why you must stop driving as soon as you see the temperature rise for your engine as it begins to overheat. Once your engine hits 230 to 245 degrees Fahrenheit, your engine and various components can experience severe damage. Pull over as soon as possible, and don’t take any chances!

Pro Tip: Unsure what vehicle is safest for you to drive? We compared Diesel vs. Gas Trucks: Which Is Better for Towing?

Couple holding hands while driving into the sunset
Ensure a safe road trip by checking to make sure your engine temperature is not rising to a risky level.

How Much Does It Cost to Fix an Engine That Overheats?

Fixing a cooling system isn’t typically cheap. You can expect to pay anywhere from $500 to $1500 for most repairs. Parts are costly, and labor can sometimes be even more expensive than the parts. The longer you put off addressing the issue, the more extensive and expensive the damage. 

Replacing a Dodge Cummins 6.7 coolant / water pump , 2008,2009,2010,2011,2012

How Do You Diagnose an Overheating Engine? 

One of the most obvious signs that your car is overheating will be your temperature gauge and the smoke billowing out of your engine compartment. Pull over to a safe location and give your engine a few minutes to cool down. Immediately popping the hood can be very dangerous as the engine is scorching.

Look for signs of damaged hoses or leaks to figure out what’s wrong. If you’re not comfortable driving your vehicle any longer, call roadside assistance and get a tow to a trusted mechanic.

Have you ever had a truck or RV engine overheat while driving? Tell us about your experience in the comments!

Become A Mortons On The Move Insider

Join 10,000+ other adventurers to receive educating, entertaining, and inspiring articles about RV Travel Destinations, RV Gear, and Off-Grid Living to jump-start your adventures today!

Read More From The Mortons:

About Mortons on the Move

Tom & Caitlin Morton of Mortons on the Move gave up the stationary life for one where they are constantly on the move. They are full-time travelers, television hosts, and digital media producers.
They left their jobs, sold their house and possessions, and hit the road in September 2015 in their full-time “home on wheels”. Since then they have traveled the US, Canada, and even internationally by RV.
Now, they are Discovery Channel & PBS TV Co-stars of “Go North” on Amazon Prime Video, co-founders and instructors of RV Masterclass, and contributing authors for and an Arizona travel guide.

About Us

Sharing is caring!


Monday 23rd of May 2022

Sometimes shifting to a lower gear going uphill will rev up the engine and turn the fan faster to help cool the engine especially when towing

Mortons on the Move

Tuesday 24th of May 2022

Thanks for the tip! :)