How to Troubleshoot a Honda Civic Overheatingby John Stevens J.D.Updated July 10, 2023
A Honda Civic’s cooling system is a sealed system, meaning that it uses pressure to raise the boiling point of the fluid within the radiator. As the engine operates, the fluid within the radiator circulates throughout the engine. Most overheating problems with these vehicles can be traced to gasket failure, leaks or to worn components.
1. Twist the radiator cap off of the radiator
Twist the radiator cap off of the radiator after first waiting for the engine to cool, then look into the radiator and observe the fluid level. The fluid level should be approximately 1 inch below the top of the radiator. Add radiator fluid if necessary.
2. Visually inspect the cooling system for signs of leaks
Visually inspect the cooling system for signs of leaks. Even a small leak will gradually lower the fluid within the radiator and result in overheating. Inspect the upper and lower radiator hoses, the seams surrounding the water pump, the thermostat elbow and the radiator itself.
3. Pressurize the cooling system with a radiator pressure gauge
Pressurize the cooling system with a radiator pressure gauge and check for radiator fluid leaks. The pressure gauge fastens to the radiator in place of the radiator cap. The gauge consists of a pump and a gauge. As the pump is operated, air will fill the radiator and the gauge will display a pressure reading. Pump approximately 15 pounds-per-square-inch (psi) of air into the radiator. If the radiator rapidly looses pressure, inspect the cooling system for leaks.
4. Check for signs of antifreeze in the crankcase
Check for signs of antifreeze in the crankcase. Withdraw the engine’s oil dipstick and observe the fluid at the tip of the dipstick. Radiator fluid will appear as bubbles within the oil. If water is in the crankcase, the cylinder head should be removed and its gasket replaced. If the problem persists, the block and cylinder head should be inspected for cracks.
5. Check for combustion leaks into the cooling system
Check for combustion leaks into the cooling system if there are no signs of radiator fluid in the crankcase. Pressurize the cooling system with the radiator pressure gauge to approximately 15 psi, then start the engine and observe the needle on the gauge. If the gauge needle moves erratically, pull each spark plug wire off of its spark plugs, one wire at a time, and observe whether the needle steadies. If the needle does steady, that particular cylinder is leaking into the cooling system and the head gasket must be replaced.
6. Check the release point of the radiator cap
Check the release point of the radiator cap with the radiator pressure gauge. As a safety device, the radiator cap will release the pressure in the radiator if the pressure exceeds a certain amount. If the cap releases the pressure too early, overheating will result. The pressure gauge’s pump attaches to the underside of the cap. Quickly pump pressure into the cap and note the reading on the dial when the cap releases the pressure, then compare that reading with the cap’s specified rating. A radiator cap’s rating varies on the size of the radiator. As Honda does not use the same radiator in all of its Civics, its caps differ. The pressuring rating will be stamped into the cap. If the cap releases the pressure early, replace the radiator cap.
Video showing a Honda Civiv overheating:
Helpful comments on this video:
- I love how you mention everything but one of the most common actual issues with this car that could cause overheating. A blown head gasket. If your civic is overheating (especially after running it at highway speeds), and you keep on having coolant getting pushed out of your reservoir, its very likely you have a blown headgasket causing exhaust gases to enter your cooling system and push out the coolant with enough pressure (for me its about 15 minutes of highway driving and then if I stop at a light off the highway I will overheat because I have no more coolant in the car).
- I think the radiator cap can definitely be an issue as my coolant was simply disappearing and gauge would go way up but never actually overheated, so I changed mine twice, and the second one I noticed had a real firm seal as I screwed it on and topped up the coolant with the 5050. I got the more expensive $10 cap instead of the cheaper one at ORileys.
Things You'll Need
- Radiator pressure gauge
John Stevens has been a writer for various websites since 2008. He holds an Associate of Science in administration of justice from Riverside Community College, a Bachelor of Arts in criminal justice from California State University, San Bernardino, and a Juris Doctor from Whittier Law School. Stevens is a lawyer and licensed real-estate broker.