No doubt about it, your engine is overheating.

Dear Car Talk

Dear Car Talk | Jan 01, 1996

Dear Tom and Ray:

Help. I have a mystery problem. Grandma gave me her '82 Volkswagen Rabbit with only 41,000 miles on it. Lately it's running hot and the heat does not dissipate. On a particularly hot, humid day, while stuck in traffic, the oil warning light came on. A buzzer sounded and the car shut off and wouldn't start again 'til it cooled off. There was plenty of oil in the crankcase. I took the car to my local dealer who checked the oil pressure and changed two switches. The very next day it stalled again. The dealer doesn't have a clue and suggested I run the car until it gets worse and then he'll be better able to identify the problem. Worse than what? Do you believe these guys? I'd appreciate any suggestions you have.

RAY: I'm going to suggest another repair shop, Marilynn. And I'm also going to take a guess at what the problem is.

TOM: A guess? As opposed to what?

RAY: A wild guess! I'm going to guess that your oil problem is a symptom of something else. And what I believe it's a symptom of is a bad cooling fan.

TOM: Whoa! A veritable stab in the dark!

RAY: Well, it may not be the cooling fan, Marilynn, but something is causing your car to overheat. When the engine overheats, the oil gets very thin. And when it gets too thin, it can't create sufficient pressure. That's why the oil warning buzzer goes off. And the overheating is what'sprobably causing the car to stall, too.

TOM: By the time you get it restarted, and get it to your dealer, it's not overheating anymore and the oil pressure is OK. So your dealer does a five minute oil pressure test and gives you the "mechanic's shrug."

RAY: I'd ask a more interested mechanic to check for overheating. The overheating could be caused by a plugged radiator or a stuck thermostat, but since it happens when you're stuck in traffic, I'd put my money on an inoperative cooling fan.

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