An overheating engine is never good, but it can be difficult to deduce the reason your car's engine cannot maintain the appropriate temperature levels, as there are many different possibilities. When you're driving, it is important to keep an eye on the temperature gauge on the dash panel. If it starts to climb rapidly or near the red zone, you'll want to pull over as soon as possible and shut off the motor.

Unless you address the issue, you car will continue to overheat whenever you drive it. This can be dangerous and will likely cause major damage to the motor. Check the coolant and oil levels first and top off anything that appears low. Then, you should inspect the accessory belt and any hoses and rubber parts of the cooling system for signs of damage. The owner's manual can point you in the right direction if you are unsure which hoses to check. 

You'll also want to take a look at the thermostat. When the engine overheats, it can damage the thermostat. This part connects directly to the radiator hose. If it is damaged, be sure to replace it with a thermostat that has the same temperature rating. Most newer vehicles require one that reads up to 191 or 195 degrees Fahrenheit. You can test whether they thermostat is working by start a cold engine and feeling the radiator hose that connects to the part. The hose should not start to get hot right away, but the temperature should increase as the engine warms up. If it does not, odds are the thermostat is broken.

While there are a few other possible reasons for an overheating engine, the odds are there is a problem with the cooling system. One of the first things you should look at is the coolant level. If it is low, you'll want to add more. Bear in mind, you should add equal parts distilled water and coolant or use a premixed solution. Check back in a day or two to see whether the level has dropped significantly. If it has, you're probably looking at a leak in the system. You will also want to examine the pressure cap. If this is damaged or malfunctioning, a loss of pressure can make it difficult for the cooling system to function properly.

Other possible issues that may be affecting the engine's ability to maintain temperatures could be low oil levels or problems with the thermostat, water pump or accessory belt. You may also have a leaking head gasket or a malfunctioning fan. Dragging brakes from sticking calipers or malfunctioning parking brakes may force the engine to work harder to overcome the friction on the wheels. This unexpected effort can lead to higher engine temperatures. An issue with the exhaust system may affect engine temperatures as well. If the catalytic converter is clogged, it can force some of the hot air trying to escape back into the engine, which will in turn increase the engine temperature.

If you live in an area where temperatures are higher than most, you put your car under excessive strain by driving up a lot of hills or towing a trailer, and these things can increase the risk of overheating the engine. You may need a radiator with a higher capacity in order to compensate for the additional work your car is doing.