It’s no secret that forced induction is a proven method to yield big increases in engine output. By forcing more air into the combustion chamber, an engine can function more efficiently and in turn provide more power. Either supercharging or turbocharging can provide this benefit to an engine; superchargers are belt-driven and are therefore operating whenever the engine is running, while a turbocharger is driven by the exhaust gases that the engine generates as it builds revs throughout the powerband.
The turbocharger does not have the same parasitic loss a supercharger does, and for that reason, turbocharging has become an increasingly popular choice for OEMs looking to improve power output, fuel economy, and emissions over similarly powerful, larger-displacement naturally-aspirated or supercharged engines. But while turbos commonly offer increased efficiency as well as a clear path for tuning to make more power, they also bring with them an added amount of complexity that can be a bit daunting for the uninitiated.
Here we’ll check out some of the most frequently encountered issues that befall turbochargers with some insight from the experts atMahle–suppliers for many OEMturbochargers–about how to deal with these issues when they arise and steps you can take to prevent this kind of damage from happening in the first place.
Turbochargers are asked to deal with pressure, heat, and high-speed operation amid a tightly-controlled environment, so their longevity is largely dependent on a steady supply of oil to keep the bearing section properly lubricated and cooled.
“Without a doubt, the most common problem we see killing turbochargers is a general lack of engine maintenance,” says Mahle’s Larry Ireland. “People who just don’t change their oil and it gums up. That often ends up clogging the return line, which means the turbo can’t return its oil and it starts leaking.”
When you also consider the fact that a turbocharger is a precision device with parts that operate at high speed, it’s clear that anything which compromises the functions of those moving parts will take a toll on the turbo in very short order. “That old, gritty oil running through the bearings can also take out the shaft or/and allow the impeller to hit the inside of the turbo housing,” Ireland explains. “A lot of the inadequate oiling issues that we see on light vehicle applications involves a screen that OEMs often put on the oil fill to the turbo – that screen gets clogged up then the turbo isn’t getting proper oil flow, and that’s the sort of thing that can quickly cause failures.”
Impeller damage caused by contact with the turbo housing. On the right, we can see a broken shaft shank, which is usually caused by operating the turbocharger for a prolonged time without enough oil. The shaft material can thus burnout and break due to the friction between the shaft and the bearings.
Fortunately for those running turbocharged engines – particularly in OEM applications – the formula fordamage prevention is pretty straightforward. “Ultimately you want to try and follow a manufacturer’s recommendations as closely as possible,” Ireland says. “If an automaker recommends an oil change every 5,000 miles, that might not be just for the sake of engine internals. Because of the tight tolerances in an engine bay, it’s not really feasible for a manufacturer to expect consumers to check the turbo and its lines for issues, so the best insurance is really just to stick to the recommended oil filter and air filter replacement schedules.”
As far as the type of oil to use in turbocharged engines, Ireland suggests that the OE is the best source here as well; they have spent the time to engineer the products to work together properly.
“A lot of the early turbo engines that we were seeing for light vehicles ran a full synthetic,” he told us. “Now that’s not really the case – these days a lot of manufacturers specify a semi-synthetic. The important thing is just to not ignore those oil recommendations from the OE, both in terms of type of oil and viscosity.”
Foreign Object Damage
Because of the extremely high speeds where turbochargers operate best, introducing debris into the mix can lead to catastrophic turbocharger damage, and can potentially hurt the charge air cooler as well. This isn’t so much an issue of debris from the outside world mingling with the workings of the turbocharger, though.
If the return line becomes clogged, the oil can no longer flow out and oil is forced out of the turbocharger itself as a result.
“You see this more on the heavy-duty vehicle side of things,” Ireland says.
“For instance, on a diesel engine what often happens is an injector tip will break off. That tip has to go somewhere, and it usually goes through the exhaust valve, out the exhaust, ends up in the turbine side of the turbocharger, and takes off that turbine wheel.”
Preventing this kind of damage is a bit trickier though – more often than not, the culprit ends up being maintenance or repairs that have been performed without adequate cleanup afterward.
Foreign object damage can cause issues without a complete turbo failure. The damaged vane on this impeller will significantly reduce the turbo’s efficiency.
“A lot of the debris we see in these cases is because they’ve had an engine failure and the systems that feed the turbo weren’t properly cleaned afterward,” Ireland says.
“Intercooler, charged air piping, even inside the head – if they don’t get all the debris out it’s just floating around, it can go either way through the intake or the exhaust. We also see a lot of cases of folks going mudding, removing the air cleaner, and that obviously allows dirt and water to get sucked into the systems. But usually if it’s a debris issue, it stems from a previous failure if it’s on the intake side of the turbo. If it’s a failure that’s currently happening at the time, that usually affects the exhaust side of the turbo.”
Because of the high speeds turbochargers see, it can be tough to prevent serious damage once it becomes clear that something’s amiss. Ireland recommends simply shutting down the engine at the first sign of an issue and not operating it again until you’ve had a chance to get in there and clean out the systems of any debris.
An overabundance of heat is never a desired condition for any engine components, and turbochargers are of course no exception. And like any other engine component, turbochargers are designed to function within a specified range of temperatures – exceed that and you run the risk of causing some problems.
The most common issue associated with excess heat and turbochargers is housing damage.
“You have a lot of expansion and contraction happening on the turbine side because that’s where all your exhaust heat is,” says Ireland.
“Then you shut down the engine and it cools down and contracts quickly. Doing that repeatedly can eventually lead the metal to fatigue over time and cause cracks in the housing. Sometimes it’s not even an issue of operating the turbocharger outside its specified range – sometimes it’s just a problem with theactual design of the housing.”
Cracks in the turbo housing like this can be caused not only by excess heat but simply by bad housing designs, which can see this kind of damage over time from metal fatigue in areas where the housing material is especially thin.
For high performance applications, it’s wise to allow the engine to cool down gradually after high stress use – like a proper cool-down lap after a lapping session on a road course, for instance.
Sticking To The Program
At the end of the day, many of the issues that arise with turbochargers can be mitigated by working within the specifications provided by the manufacturer and ensuring that the turbo is getting proper lubrication in a contaminant-free environment.
Signs of foreign substance impact on the air guide plates of the VTG unit and in the intake passage of the compressor housing.
“Make sure none of the lines are getting kinked or rubbed on,” Ireland says.
“Ignoring that sort of thing can lead to leaks and much bigger issues down the road. And if a customer is in the process of replacing a turbo, it’s important to not only clean the charge air cooler and charge air lines, they also need to clean their oil feed and drain lines to make sure that stuff is clear. Even on light vehicle engines, buildup in the lines can start to develop and it can restrict oil flow, either to turbo or out of it, which can be detrimental to the turbo either way.”
Ireland says that these lines can usually be cleaned by simply running a parts washing solution through the affected lines and scrubbing them down with a wire brush, but replacing them altogether is also worth considering if it seems like they’re too far gone.
What is the most common cause of turbocharger failure? ›
Most failures are caused by the three 'turbo killers' of oil starvation, oil contamination and foreign object damage. More than 90% of turbocharger failures are caused oil related either by oil starvation or oil contamination. Blocked or leaking pipes or lack of priming on fitting usually causes oil starvation.How do you prevent turbo damage? ›
Prevention of turbo failure caused by impact damage.
Always replace old gaskets with new gaskets to ensure a perfect seal. Dispose of the old air filter and replace it with a new air filter. Ensure that there are no turbo/ engine particles in the system from the previous failure, before fitting the replacement.
Inadequate lubrication is one of the most frequent causes for turbochargers to fail. If the turbocharger is not sufficiently supplied with oil, damage will occur within a very short time. This is due to the very high speeds of the turbocharger.Can low oil cause turbo failure? ›
If oil levels are too low, the turbocharger will fail; If the wrong grade of oil is used, the turbocharger will fail; If oil becomes contaminated, the turbocharger will fail.How do you maintain a turbo on a car? ›
- Check and change your engine oil regularly. Oil check is always important, regardless of your car's model and make. ...
- Use the right type of fuel. A turbo car needs good quality fuel to maintain its performance and efficiency. ...
- Clean air filter.
Whilst turbochargers are built to withstand the high temperatures generated during normal operation, if the temperature of the exhaust gases is too high, then it can cause catastrophic damage.What maintenance do turbos need? ›
Turbocharged engines will require more frequent oil changes and fresh spark plugs, though turbo engines typically don't require additional service compared to naturally aspirated engines.What causes a turbo to lose pressure? ›
Possible causes of low boost pressure can be broken hoses, contamination build-up within the turbine or compressor areas, leaking seals, damaged shaft bearings, the wastegate sticking open or operating incorrectly, a leak in the intercooler, a blocked air filter, a damaged diesel particle filter, or a damaged catalytic ...What happens when a turbocharger fails? ›
Be aware that when your turbo fails the pieces will drop down into the intercooler and the oil seals will fail. Unfortunately the engine can actually run on this oil and can run away at maximum RPM until all the oil is used up, at which point the engine will seize.Can you repair a turbocharger? ›
Yes! In the right hands, almost all problems of turbochargers can be repaired. What is more important is to identify the problem with the turbocharger and how to repair it. To understand how to diagnose turbocharger repairs, here are a couple of significant repair tips to remember.
Can I drive my car if the turbo has gone? ›
Yes, you'll still be able to drive your car if your turbocharger fails; however, engine failure won't be far behind, so only drive on if you have to. As soon as you spot any of the turbo failure symptoms outlined above, you should get your turbo checked as soon as possible by a qualified technician.How long does a turbocharger last? ›
Ideally, your turbocharger should last roughly the same time as your vehicle. Specifically, most turbochargers need replacement between 100,000 to 150,000 miles. If you stay on top of car maintenance and scheduled oil changes, your turbocharger can potentially last beyond that.What does a failing turbo sound like? ›
Loud noises: If your vehicle has a bad turbo, you may hear loud noises that sound like whining or screeching. So if your vehicle is running and you hear a loud whining sound that increases in volume as the problem goes unfixed, this is most likely to do a turbo problem.Does dirty oil affect turbo? ›
Contaminated or dirty oil will scratch or score the bearings in the blink of an eye as they rotate so fast, leading to rapid wear and ultimately turbocharger failure.How long will turbo last without oil? ›
Any leak that cuts off or drastically reduces the supply of oil to the turbo bearings will cause problems. Running a turbo without oil for five seconds is as harmful as running an engine without oil for five minutes.What should I check after turbo failure? ›
- Make sure all pipes and air filters are clean and seals or gaskets are air-tight.
- Make sure all oil lines are in good condition, and free from damage (especially internally where it damage may be less obvious).
The national cost for a turbocharger replacement in 2023 is between $282 and $2441 with an average of $1218Should you let a turbo car idle before turning it off? ›
Take care of your turbo so that it gives your engine adequate boost and thus, an enjoyable driving experience for years to come. When Starting Off (especially in the morning): Let the car idle for 30 (minimum) - 60 (maximum) seconds before you drive off.How often should you clean your turbo? ›
If you drive in town or only run short distances, use Bardahl Turbo cleaner every 5,000 km or once a year. If you often drive on highways, use Bardahl Turbo cleaner every 10,000 km or once a year. It is recommended to drive occasionally at a lower engine rpm.What are things to avoid in a turbo car? ›
- Don't Run Your Car Immediately. Firstly, don't run your vehicle straight away after you turn it on. ...
- Don't Switch Off Immediately. ...
- Don't Lug Your Engine. ...
- Octane Fuel - Don't Use Lower Than Recomended. ...
- If You Have A Laggy Turbo - Don't Mash The Throttle.
Which is most important when replacing turbocharger? ›
The most important point when replacing a turbo is to eliminate the cause of its malfunction, in order to avoid a repetition of the situation of the turbocharger getting out of order. It is equally important when replacing all engine oil, oil and air filters. Use only high-quality, type-appropriate, clean oil.How often should you change spark plugs on a turbo car? ›
Afterward, it's recommended that it be changed every 5,000 miles or six months. The turbo 2.0 liter also requires the spark plugs to be changed more frequently — about every 45,000 miles or three years, compared to a 2.4 liter engine, which only requires they be changed every 105,000 miles or seven years.How often should you change oil in a turbo engine? ›
Most auto manufacturers recommend oil changes once each year or 20,000km on petrol engines. Diesel engines and turbo charged petrol engines should be changed every 6 months or 10,000 km. Changing the oil once a year (20,000 km) is OK for vehicles driven in ideal circumstances.What controls the turbo pressure? ›
A boost controller is a device that helps regulate the amount of boost pressure created by your turbocharger. Boost pressure forces more air into your engine, ultimately creating more power. The more air you can force into your engine, the more power it can produce.What causes turbocharger underboost? ›
One of the most common causes of this error code is a faulty turbo or supercharger. Your car may also have or a faulty boost pressure sensor. Low oil pressure will result in the turbo component of your vehicle being starved of lubrication, which will cause internal bearings of the turbo to fail.How do you check turbo boost? ›
From the System Utilities screen, select System Configuration > BIOS/Platform Configuration (RBSU) > Performance Options > Intel (R) Turbo Boost Technology and press Enter. Select a setting and press Enter. Enabled—Enables the logical processor cores on processors supporting hyperthreading technology.How often do turbos need to be rebuilt? ›
How often do turbos need to be rebuilt? Specifically, most turbochargers need replacement between 100,000 to 150,000 miles. If you stay on top of car maintenance and scheduled oil changes, your turbocharger can potentially last beyond that.How do I know if my turbo actuator is broken? ›
- A flashing engine management light.
- Complete loss of power, causing the vehicle to enter limp mode.
- Intermittent low pressure.
- Low boost.
- Noise from the turbocharger.
- ECU error symptoms control.
- Fault codes.
A Rebuild May Be Much Quicker
This is because some industrial turbocharger parts may take a long time to source, or could have a long lead time. So, the best alternative is to go for a turbocharger repair or full rebuild.
So for turbo-charged engines, one should wait for 30-60 seconds after stopping at a signal before thinking about turning off the engine.
What color smoke is a blown turbo? ›
A leaking turbo will usually present itself through white smoke exiting the exhaust. Usually the white smoke will result from the turbo leaking oil internally but will occasionally result from internal coolant leakage.Are turbo engines expensive to repair? ›
Cars with turbocharged engines often cost more to insure because they cost more to repair than their non-turbocharged counterparts. They also have more power and speed than a standard engine, increasing the risk of an accident.How far can you drive with a blown turbo? ›
Be sure to keep an eye on your oil level if you do decide to drive on a blown turbo, and don't go more than around 100 miles.What happens to engine when turbo fails? ›
Be aware that when your turbo fails the pieces will drop down into the intercooler and the oil seals will fail. Unfortunately the engine can actually run on this oil and can run away at maximum RPM until all the oil is used up, at which point the engine will seize.How long should a turbocharger last? ›
Ideally, your turbocharger should last roughly the same time as your vehicle. Specifically, most turbochargers need replacement between 100,000 to 150,000 miles. If you stay on top of car maintenance and scheduled oil changes, your turbocharger can potentially last beyond that.How do you diagnose a failed turbo? ›
- Loss of power.
- Slower, louder acceleration.
- Difficulty maintaining high speeds.
- Blue/grey smoke coming from the exhaust.
- Engine dashboard light is showing.
Yes, you'll still be able to drive your car if your turbocharger fails; however, engine failure won't be far behind, so only drive on if you have to. As soon as you spot any of the turbo failure symptoms outlined above, you should get your turbo checked as soon as possible by a qualified technician.What does a blown turbo sound like? ›
Loud noises: If your vehicle has a bad turbo, you may hear loud noises that sound like whining or screeching. So if your vehicle is running and you hear a loud whining sound that increases in volume as the problem goes unfixed, this is most likely to do a turbo problem.What should be replaced with a turbo? ›
Before you install the replacement turbocharger, the first job is to change the oil and associated filtration systems. Remove and replace the oil feed pipe from the turbocharger and ensure that the new pipe is free from kinks and blockages. Then replace the oil filter and replace the engine oil.