Problem with '91 Toyota Tercel

I was driving my roommate to the airport on a fairly warm morning. We were taking a small hill and I tried to pick up speed to pass a couple of trucks that were slowing down. My car started losing power and I tried giving it more gas. At that point the car started running rough and the loss of power became more pronounced. At that point, it acted like my transmission did not want to shift when I tried to give it gas and the car started overheating. We started working our way over to the shoulder and the car died the second I parked it. At that point, the heat gauge was nearly up to the red mark. My roommate checked the oil (my car has had an oil leak for quite some time) but the oil was within the normal operating range and so was the transmission fluid. We tried to start the car but it kept dying on us. My roommate finally checked the radiator and found that there was plenty of fluid in the radiator. We waited a few more minutes to let the car cool down a little more and it was able to start and keep running. I gave it some gas and there was plenty of power. After driving it for a little while, it was as if nothing had happened. I dropped my roommate off at the airport and drove back home without any problems.

I checked the car later and it needed about 2 cups of water in the radiator. The radiator fluid was a normal green anti-freeze color with some traces of rust but nothing really unusual. I took a quick test drive and the car seems to be perfect. It was as if nothing had happened.

My question is, what happened to make my car overheat and stop running like that and should I be concerned that there is something seriously wrong with my car?

If the car is running fine, I doubt any serious problem or damage was done. This problem can happen with a sticking thermostat. If the thermostat sticks closed, then the water gets trapped in the engine, and doesn’ circulate through the radiator to cool, and causes an overheat. Especially since you see traces of rust in the coolant, I suggest a complete flush, with clear water, and fill of the cooling system. This should always include a new thermostat and radiator cap. Seeing rust means the anti-corrosion additives have worn out, and you need to change the coolant. Also, because of the age of the car, double check all the coolant hoses, including the upper and lower radiator hoses, and heater hoses for cracks, age, bubbles, weakness, etc. It is typical to replace these hoses after 10 years of service.

i think you suffer from a combination of probs poss an old radiator whos efficiency is depleated an overloaded car going to air port follwing truck reducing fresh air to radiator and climbing hill i rairly see a car driven hot till it quits live on to drive normally the test is to retrace your condition load up your car and climb that hill again if it gets hots again id replace the radiator if not id shrug it off for now and pay attention for it to happen again