Common Turbocharger Problems and Turbo Failure Warning Signs

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Turbochargers are one of the most sought after but also one of the most misunderstood and uncared for car parts. We’ve put together this guide to help you spot a potential problem with your turbo and advise what to do to best care for your turbo and help prevent failure.
There are several main causes of damage to your turbocharger:

Poor Oil Quality

Turbochargers work best when supplied with a constant flow of clean oil. Ensuring your turbo achieves optimal performance levels requires you to change the oil and filter regularly. By doing this you help prevent the build-up of carbon deposits, contaminants and other nasties that can damage your turbo over time.

Foreign Objects

Servicing your air filter regularly will help rid your turbocharger of any foreign objects such as debris, stones, leaves or even broken engine components. These items can cause damage to your turbocharger as they enter through the compressor or turbine inlets and over time wear the compressor wheels and turbine blades.

Overspooling

You can be reducing the efficiency and performance of your turbo if you have a leak, crack or poor seal between the engine and compressor. If an issue is present this forces the turbo to work harder to increase the air pressure leading to long-term problems and turbo degradation.

Other Causes

Amongst the other problems highlighted above general wear and tear, moisture ingress, excessive exhaust gas temperatures, fuel intake systems, the wastegate and exhaust system can all be causing damage to your turbocharger.
 
Now that you’ve got to grips with the most common causes of turbo damage it’s also worthwhile recognising and understanding the warning signs that your turbo requires some TLC or replacing:

Loss of Power

If your vehicle is struggling to accelerate or is taking longer than usual to achieve the desired speed this can be a sign of a faulty turbo. In addition, you may also encounter difficulty maintaining speeds on demanding stretches of road such as hill climbs.

Smoky Exhaust

You may notice bluey/grey smoke emanating from your exhaust when you accelerate quickly or when you first drive off after starting your vehicle. If you have a crack in the turbo housing or the internal seals have blown oil can enter the exhaust system and when heated burns off as smoke.

Check Engine Warning Light Is On

On-board diagnostics will identify a potential turbo issue and alert you with the check engine warning light. However, be mindful that this light covers a wide-range of potential engine issues and might not correspond with a turbocharger issue. You’ll need to conduct some further tests to pinpoint the exact cause.

Inactive Boost Gauge

Some vehicles come equipped with an on-board boost gauge which clearly shows you how much boost is being produced when the turbocharger is engaged. If you’ve noticed unusual activity in your gauge or unresponsive boost output this can be a warning sign of a problem turbocharger.

Turbo Whining

The most obvious sign that your turbo is failing is the accompaniment of a horrible whining noise when the turbo is engaged. If this has happened or is happening to you get it checked out by a trained professional ASAP.
 
If you are experiencing any of the warning signs we’ve covered we recommend taking your vehicle to a garage as soon as you can for a more thorough inspection. Like anything in life the longer you ignore the warning the greater the agony will be.
 
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