Reasons and Solutions: Why Is My Volkswagen Overheating?

Imagine you are out and about, driving your Volkswagen. Suddenly, you see the temperature gauge starts climbing. As expected, you are worried: “Why is my Volkswagen overheating?” It can leave anyone in a scary situation, especially in the middle of nowhere. Thus, this issue is a common thing for many Volkswagen owners.

Overheating in a Volkswagen (or any car) is when the engine’s temperature exceeds the normal range. It is like when we humans get a fever. It happens typically due to low coolant levels, a broken thermostat, a bad radiator, a broken water pump, a blown head gasket, and a plugged heater core.

Some common symptoms of Volkswagen are warning lights on the dashboard, rising temperature gauge, steam, or smoke from the engine bay. Also, you may notice strange smells from the vehicle. Now, please read the whole post to identify the reasons to solve Volkswagen overheating.

Some Reports of Volkswagen Overheating Issues

Car overheating is when the engine’s temperature exceeds its normal operating range. Usually, the average operating temperature of an engine (like Volkswagen) is 190°F or 87°C on average (source). If it rises on the temperature gauge, you should pay attention to prevent severe damage.

Volkswagen cars, like any other, can experience overheating issues. However, certain models have been reported to have specific overheating problems.

For instance, the Volkswagen Golf, Jetta, and Passat models have been associated with overheating engines. This issue subsequently affects the electronics of the car. While writing this post, I found similar complaints about Volkswagen overheating in different forums.

One Golf (MK7) owner discovered that his 2013 model goes 90°C to 120-130°C within a few seconds. It happens after every 3 hours of driving.

A Jetta owner has also faced an excessive temperature problem. He described the situation in this way,

My vehicle is overheating at idle and cools as I begin to drive at higher RPMs. It will still sit over 190 even while cruising at lower RPMs.

Another Volkswagen Passat (B8) owner reported,

“Car temperature builds to 90° in 3-4 miles and sits there with no issues. The temperature creeps up at 6-7 miles and hits the over-temp alarm.”

If you look over the internet, you will find many similar complaints regarding Volkswagen overheating. Some discussions may provide explanations for the problem.

Why is My Volkswagen Overheating – A Brief to Common Causes

According to Car Throttle, Mechanic Base, and other professionals, you can experience Volkswagen overheating for several reasons. Some of them are:

Various factors can trigger car overheating. Here are some of the most common causes:

CausesHow They Impact in Overheating Volkswagen
Low Coolant LevelThe coolant’s job is to absorb heat from the engine and carry it away. If the coolant level is low, there’s not enough to do this job effectively. In return, your car will overheat.
Broken ThermostatThe thermostat regulates the flow of coolant based on the temperature. If it’s broken, it prevents coolant from flowing when it should. Then, the car engine will overheat.
Bad Radiator FanA faulty radiator fan fails to dissipate the heat from the coolant. It may lead to overheating, especially during idle.
Broken Water PumpThe water pump flows coolant through the engine and the radiator. If it’s damaged, the coolant won’t circulate properly. Thus, it may cause a temperature rise.
Blown Head GasketThe head gasket caps the engine block and cylinder heads. It prevents coolant and oil from mixing. If it’s blown, coolant can leak into the oil system and cause a gradual overheating.
Plugged Heater CoreThe heater core helps to heat the interior. If it’s plugged up, it can compromise the coolant flow, and overheating will happen.

Checking Coolant Levels in a Volkswagen

The engine coolant or antifreeze absorbs heat from the engine. It carries the heat to the radiator to dissipate. When the coolant level is low, it may not function properly.

So, you should check the engine coolant level to quickly identify and fix the Volkswagen overheating.

How to Check and Top Up

  • Locate the coolant reservoir: The reservoir is a translucent plastic tank in the engine box in most Volkswagens. Check your vehicle’s manual if you’re unsure.
  • Check the coolant level: Ensure the engine is excellent before opening the coolant reservoir. It can avoid injury from pressurized hot water. On the side of the coolant reservoir, you will see ‘min’ and ‘max’ marks. The coolant level should be between these two marks. Add more coolant if the level is below the ‘min’ mark.
  • Add coolant if necessary: If the coolant level is low, slowly add coolant until the level is between the ‘min’ and ‘max’ lines. Hence, use a coolant that meets Volkswagen’s specs (available in the manual). You can use distilled water as a temporary solution without the correct coolant.

Inspecting the Water Pump in a Volkswagen

The timing belt drives the water pump. The centrifugal action of a fined impeller on the shaft circulates the coolant throughout the engine. However, sustaining optimal engine temperature, fuel economy, and emissions maintain the precise coolant circumstances (source). Improper coolant circulation will increase the heat of the engine.

How to Inspect the Water Pump for Issues

  • Check for Leaks: The water pump has multiple seals and gaskets. They can wear out over time and may cause leaks.
  • Listen for Noise: A failing water pump can also make a humming noise, usually indicating a worn bearing. If you notice such a noise from the front of your engine, having your water pump checked is a good idea.
  • Inspect for Coolant Contamination: If the water pump fails, the impeller may rub against the inside of the engine block. Therefore, it causes fragments and debris to contaminate the cooling system.

Understanding Radiator Problems in a Volkswagen

The radiator is an integral part of your VW’s cooling system. Its keeps the engine from overheating by transferring heat from the coolant. This heat flows through the engine to the air blown by the fan. This process maintains the engine at an optimal operating temperature.

How to Diagnose Volkswagen Car Radiator

  • Radiator Fan Not Working: Volkswagen’s radiator fan is designed to run only when necessary. If it’s not working, it can lead to an overheating engine. Check the fan for any visible damage, and ensure it spins freely. Also, check the fan relay and fuses.
  • Radiator Leak: Leaks are a common issue with radiators. You may notice a puddle of coolant under your car if you have a radiator leak due to corrosion or the wrong coolant. Thus, a professional mechanic can perform a pressure test on the system to confirm a leak.

Thermostat Failure in a Volkswagen

The thermostat regulates the coolant flow between the radiator and the engine. It remains closed to allow the engine to heat up in a cold engine. After the engine warms up, the thermostat gradually opens to let the coolant flow to the radiator. You will get an overheated engine in Volkswagen if it gets faulty.

Signs of a Failing Thermostat

  • Overheating Engine: If your VW has an overheated engine, there is a possibility of a failing thermostat. It indicates that the thermostat is stuck in a closed position. It will prevent the coolant from entering the engine. Usually, you can notice this issue shortly after starting the engine.
  • Engine Warning Light or Temperature Gauge Spike: If you observe these, pull over and turn off your engine as quickly as possible to prevent further damage.
  • Coolant Leaks: You might notice coolant leaking around the thermostat casing. It happens due to pressure buildup around a defective thermostat that is stuck shut. This leak is a sign of a faulty thermostat, not the cause.
  • Overcooling: It occurs when the thermostat gets stuck in the open position. It causes the engine never to reach its optimal operating temperature.

Other Potential Causes of Overheating in a Volkswagen

Some potential causes of overheating besides the above in a Volkswagen are:

Blocked Hoses

The hoses in the cooling system carry coolant between the engine and the radiator. Blocked hoses due to debris or buildup can prevent the coolant from circulating properly. Eventually, you will get an overheated VW vehicle.

Failed Head Gasket

A head gasket failure can cause overheating in several ways. According to  Haynes, If the head gasket is blown, hot exhaust gases can leak into the cooling system. Even coolant can leak into the cylinders and evaporate as steam. Soon, the temperature of the VW engine will rise. Overheating can also occur for a lack of coolant due to the engine consuming it or from the inability of the radiator to cool the dirty coolant.

Engine Oil Issues

Engine oil reduces friction and carries heat away. Hence, low or dirty engine oil can lead to overheating. Dirty oil can cause sludge in the engine, further exacerbating the issue.

How to Identify that My Volkswagen is Overheating

Some signs that your Volkswagen may be overheating are:

  • Warning Lights on the Dashboard: The engine temperature warning light often resembles a thermometer. If this light comes on, it’s a clear sign that your vehicle is overheating (source).
  • Rising Temperature Gauge: Another sign of overheating is a rising temperature gauge. The gauge typically has a “C” for cold and an “H” for hot. If the needle moves towards the “H”, it indicates that the engine is getting too hot.
  • Steam or Smoke from the Engine Bay: If you see steam or smoke coming from under the hood, it’s a sure sign that your vehicle is overheating. While an absence of steam doesn’t always mean the car isn’t overheating, the presence of steam is a definite indicator (source).
  • Strange Smells: Unusual smells from the engine area can also indicate overheating. For example, a sweet smell may exhibit a coolant leak, while a burnt smell might suggest an oil leak.

How to Prevent Your Volkswagen from Overheating

Here are some steps you can follow:

  • Regular Maintenance Checks: Regular maintenance checks are crucial to prevent overheating. It includes regular coolant flushes and exchanges. You should also stay up to date with radiator maintenance as suggested by your vehicle manufacturer.
  • Keeping an Eye on Coolant Levels: Monitoring your coolant level is essential to prevent overheating. If your coolant level is low, top it off to protect your engine and to avoid overheating.
  • Regular Oil Changes: Old or dirty oil can cause your engine to overheat. So, change your oil as your vehicle’s owner’s manual recommends.
  • Ensuring Radiator and Hoses Are in Good Condition: With regular maintenance, you can identify loose and deteriorating hoses. Also, it may help to discover other problems that cause a leaking radiator.
  • When to Seek Professional Inspection: If your car overheats quickly, the problem is severe. Too much heat can destroy an engine. It can cause head gaskets to leak. Also, it can even crack the block in extreme situations. Contact a professional mechanic to solve the problem immediately in such cases.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What is the average temperature of a Volkswagen engine? 

Answer: The average operating temperature of a Volkswagen engine is typically around 190°F to 220°F. If it exceeds this range, it may overheat.

How often should I change the coolant in my Volkswagen? 

Answer: You should change the coolant every 30000-40000 miles or two years. Otherwise, follow the manufacturer’s recommendation.  

How much does it cost to fix an overheating Volkswagen?

Answer: The cost to fix an overheating Volkswagen can differ depending on your location. Usually, the inspection costs $95, with $0 for parts and $95 for labor. 

Can I drive my Volkswagen when it is overheating?

Answer: No, you should not! Doing so can cause severe engine damage.

Can driving an overheated Volkswagen cause damage?

Answer: It can cause significant engine damage (for instance, a blown head gasket or a broken engine block).


Thanks for reading such a long post. I hope it assists you in maintaining your Volkswagen in top-notch condition. Let me summarize it for easy understanding.

In this article, I have provided detailed information regarding “Why is my Volkswagen overheating?” You have learned the reasons, symptoms, and ways to prevent overheating a VW engine or car.

Some common reasons for overheating are low coolant levels, a broken thermostat, a bad radiator, a damaged water pump, a blown head gasket, and plugged heater core. When overheating happens, you may see warning lights, rising temperature gauge, steam, smoke, and strange smells.

I have also suggested possible ways to prevent your Volkswagen from overheating. Follow them accordingly and drive safely!

Leave a Comment