Few aspects of your car are more synonymous with unbridled speed and power performance than your turbocharger. Whether you’re a grease monkey who loves nothing more than tinkering with an engine all day or don’t know a Chevy from a Honda Civic, you know that “turbo” means “fast,” and that a turbocharger can help your car go faster than ever. This is one of the great appeals of diesel and other premiere engines. The inclusion of a top-level turbocharger can help your car achieve top speeds and smoother acceleration like few other parts can.
Even so, however, a problem with your turbocharger can bring your vehicle to a grinding halt. That’s why you’ll want to know what kind of issues can befall a turbocharger, how to look for them, and what you can do about them.
A turbocharger is a forced induction system, which means that it forces air into your car’s airflow compression system in such a way as to increase pressure and thus performance. This process is intricate and requires a delicate balance of several moving parts to get just right. Essentially, compressing more air into a car cylinder means there is more room for fuel to be added and, as a result, the controlled explosions which power your combustion engine are more powerful.
Needless to say, if something obstructs the airflow or tampers with the forces which are necessary to keep that carefully controlled pressure at the proper levels, your turbocharger can run into problems.
Symptoms of a Turbocharger Problem
Some of the signs that you may be experiencing issues with your turbocharger include the following:
Check Engine Light
Most modern cars come with an onboard computer which can detect when something goes wrong with the airflow in the combustion system. That said, not every car has this and not every computer will register it all the time, so the lack of a check engine light warning you of an issue shouldn’t be taken as a lack thereof.
If your car has a turbocharger, it should also have a gauge which tells you how much boost pressure it is producing and thus the level of efficiency at which it is operating.
Drop in Power
Your turbocharger is supposed to give your car even more power. If your vehicle starts to experience a sudden drop in power, speed, and overall performance, a damaged or blocked turbocharger may be to blame.
One of the most telltale signs of an engine problem is your exhaust system spewing countless amounts of noxious black smoke into the air. For one thing, most modern vehicles are supposed to have efficient smog and exhaust systems which mitigate those emissions. For another, black smoky exhaust is always a cause for concern. It could be a sign of oil leaking or an excessive amount of oil being burned, which in turn could point to a problem with your turbocharger. This problem can be especially dangerous because it may indicate a problem with your cylinders as well, and you never want the chambers responsible for controlling the explosions which power your vehicle to start spewing smoke.
When it’s working properly, your turbocharger should operate smoothly and silently. If it has suffered damage, however, and if the compressor wheel in particular has been affected, it may start to whine or whistle while your vehicle accelerates, signalling a problem.
Increased Oil Usage
If you experience one or more of the issues above and your car is suddenly using more oil than is normal, a turbocharger malfunction may be one of the reasons at fault.
Causes of Turbocharger Issues
There are many potential causes for these different issues, including the following:
Remember, your turbocharger works by forcing more compressed air into the cylinders responsible for your car’s combustion. If there are cracks in your turbocharger, some of that air will escape, leading to performance issues as well as potential hazards.
Age and Use
As parts get older, they start to wear out and degrade in performance, and nothing ages a part faster than heavy usage. If you have driven over 10,000 miles with your current turbocharger and it starts suffering problems, chances are it has seen its best days and you will need to replace it.
Excessive oil deposits are never a good sign for the operational efficiency of most car parts, turbochargers included. You thus want to make sure you are changing your oil regularly and cleaning out the turbocharger and other parts where oil deposits are common as needed and with regularity.
Turbochargers work by forcing and redirecting air, so what if something is obstructing that airflow? Blockages in the turbocharger or the cylinders to which it is connected cause lower efficiency and can damage the turbines and blades inside, which, if left untreated, can result in a wholescale breakdown.
Cars don’t do well going from one extreme to another. Your turbocharger works at high temperatures, and shutting it off all at once can lead to a sharp temperature drop which can cause issues. Instead, you should let your engine idle for at least a minute after using it so as to allow the engine to cool down a bit before you shut the turbocharger off.
Replacing Your Turbocharger
If the issue is bad enough, you may need to replace your turbocharger, and if this is the case, you’ll need to choose between a new or reconditioned replacement.
A new turbocharger should be able to give you another 10,000 miles at least. However, you can expect to pay several hundred pounds for a new model.
By contrast, reconditioned turbochargers are far more affordable, as specialists go through them, remove any worn out or inefficient parts, and replace them. That said, this method may not give you as much mileage as a brand-new turbocharger.
Of course, the best way to avoid that dilemma is to keep your current turbocharger in good shape. By diagnosing the danger signs and treating them in time, you can keep your turbocharger humming along for many years and miles to come.
Last Updated On: April 29, 2020.