Your car's turbo system - assuming it has one - boosts power and acceleration on the road. Turbochargers can make relatively small engines deliver performance more commonly associated with bigger engines. Turbos are popular because they give you more power without the financial and environmental costs that come with larger cars (and their larger engines).


How do turbochargers work?

Air and fuel mix together in your engine to produce power. The turbo injects more air into the mixture, which makes the engine more powerful. The turbo harnesses the exhaust system to spin an air pump, which pushes the extra air into the engine cylinders.

 

How to tell when your turbocharger is failing:

 

Poor acceleration

If you notice your car is not accelerating as powerfully as it once did, your turbo could be on the blink.

 

Burning too much oil

Your turbo could be faulty if your car is burning too much oil. To check, you'll need an endoscope. Find the downpipe at the face of the turbo unit, then unplug it. Use the endoscope to look inside. If you see oil, you may well have a problem. It's prudent to take your car to the garage as soon as you can, since the turbo is likely to fail relatively soon.

 

Too much exhaust smoke

Oil can get into your exhaust if your turbo unit develops cracks, or damage to its internal seals. The extra oil will burn off in a blue or grey hue. You're more likely to see these heavy fumes when using the turbocharger. Rev your engine and see if excessive smoke is emitted.

 

CEL: Check Engine Light

The Check Engine Light warning can come on for various reasons, one of them being a faulty turbocharger. For whatever reason your CEL is lit, it's important to visit your local garage and have it checked over.

 

Loud whining from engine

Turbochargers have a tendency to whine very loudly if malfunctioning. This noise will get worse as the fault becomes more serious. If you notice a whining in conjunction with one or more symptoms listed above, you should have your vehicle looked at by a professional.

 

Common reasons why your turbocharger has failed

There are various reasons why turbochargers fail. Here are the most common:

 

Wear and tear

Turbochargers are designed and built to last many years, but like all car components they will eventually fail.  You can expect your turbo to last up to around 150,000 miles - or even more if it’s seldom used.

 

Cracked/damaged seals

Turbos force additional air into your car's cylinders. The pressure necessary will reduce if there are cracks in the turbo. As a result, your turbo may have to work harder to deliver the required turbo boost.

 

Carbon/particle deposits

Carbon deposits can build up if you do not change your oil regularly. It's important to have your oil changed every time you get your car serviced. Beyond preserving your turbo, it delivers numerous benefits to the overall health of your vehicle. Even relatively low levels of contaminants can lead to costly and inconvenient mechanical issues.

 

Address any problem promptly

It's important to act if you notice any of the above warning signs. If you are unsure, take your car to your local garage for an expert opinion.