As emission standards increase and the need for smaller displacement engines rises further, turbochargers are becoming more and more popular among car owners. While enjoying the extra boost provided by your turbo, it’s also essential to keep an eye out for the symptoms of a bad turbo.
Just like a car engine is prone to wear and tear, a turbocharger is a small device attached to a car engine that boosts its power and eventually wears out with usage. When your turbo turns bad or starts to go bad, you will experience a range of problems, including
- Poor performance, i.e., lower boost.
- Unusual noises from the engine.
- Your check engine light turns on.
- A strong smell of burning oil.
It’s essential to keep an eye out for these signs of a bad turbo, not just for the sake of the turbocharger but also for the engine. If left unchecked, any problems with the turbocharger can further lead to significant engine damage and other issues.
What is a Turbocharger and How Does it Work?
A turbo or turbocharger is a performance-enhancing device attached to a vehicle’s engine to boost engine energy and horsepower significantly.
There are many types of car turbos, including
- Single turbos
- Sequential turbos
- Twin turbos
- VGT turbos
- Electric turbos
How It Works
- A typical car engine uses fuel and air to generate enough power to move the vehicle. Did you know that you need 10,000 liters of air to burn just one liter of fuel?
- A turbocharger compresses and forces more air into the engine to produce more energy without needing a larger mixing chamber.
- It accomplishes this by utilizing the exhaust fumes from the car to power its air pump that pushes additional air into the engine, thereby pumping up its horsepower.
Now that you know how a turbo works. Let’s explore the early signs and symptoms of a bad turbo to help you identify turbo problems early on.
Common Signs and Symptoms of a Bad Turbo
A malfunctioning turbo can manifest in several ways. If your vehicle exhibits any of the symptoms outlined below, there’s a high chance that you’re dealing with a failing or blown turbocharger.
Excessive Fuel Consumption
One of the first signs indicating that your turbo is not performing as it should be is excessive oil consumption. Besides providing a significant boost in power and performance, a turbo is also expected to enhance engine performance and efficiency.
However, a failing turbocharger can have the opposite effect on an engine’s power generation and fuel economy. If you notice that your vehicle is consuming more fuel than usual over a long period. You should get your turbo and engine checked out by professionals.
Loss of Performance
Another early indicator of a failing or malfunctioning charger is poor acceleration or reduced power.
In case you are consistently getting a delayed response from your car whenever you press down the gas pedal or it does not match the speed you’re used to, it may be time to get an expert opinion.
Discolored Fumes Caused by Oil Leaks
Another surprising yet strong symptom of a bad turbo is visible or discolored fumes that result from oil leaks.
The oil that leaks into the exhaust system burns off with a characteristic blue/gray smoke. This can be caused by a crack in the turbo housing or the internal seals.
If the turbocharger has caused this problem, you may notice these discolored fumes when the engine revs up after idling for a while.
The Check Engine Light Keeps Blinking
A constantly blinking check engine light can indicate a turbo defect or failure. As Sheldon told Penny in The Big Bang Theory, you can’t ignore a check engine light. After all, it’s hotwired to report any problems in your engine and can also identify when your turbo needs to be checked out.
If the check engine light is on, it’s time to get your turbo and engine checked out by a professional as soon as possible. If you catch the problem in time. You may just need a minor turbocharger repair instead of a full system replacement.
The Boost Gauge Indicates a Problem
While boost gauges are not usually preinstalled, they are a smart aftermarket installation as they help monitor your turbocharger’s performance.
These devices can indicate a bad turbo if they show that the boost is not building up properly or holding at normal levels. Even though this device is primarily used to measure performance, it can play a critical role in identifying performance issues with your turbo early on.
Strange Noises Coming from the Turbo
While most turbos make a faint whooshing or whistling noise, however, the moment this noise changes into a relatively louder whining sound, there’s something wrong with your turbo. Moreover, humming or rattling noises can be symptoms of a bad turbo.
What Causes a Turbo to Break Down or Go Bad?
After looking at the symptoms of a bad turbo, let’s dive deeper and see what factors can damage your turbocharger.
Lack of Oil/Lubrication
If your engine is a body, the engine oil acts like its lifeblood. It lubricates essential components while protecting them from corrosion and cools them down when in use.
So, an engine and turbocharger need a constant flow of engine oil to function smoothly. A buildup of carbon deposits and contaminants can lower its effectiveness and even break down over time, causing damage to the engine and turbo.
In certain instances, foreign objects, including stones, road debris, or even broken auto components from other vehicles, can enter the turbo through the intake and damage the turbo.
Now, these particles can cause severe damage to the turbo’s wheels and blades. You need to service your air filter periodically to clear out any debris and keep a lookout for the symptoms of a bad turbo.
Pushing Your Turbo and Engine Too Far
Over-speeding or continuously pushing your turbo and engine to their limits can affect these systems, causing the turbocharger to wear down much faster.
Wear and Tear Over the Years
No machine lasts forever; even your turbo gets worn down with regular use and age. Depending on maintenance and usage, turbochargers usually have a lifespan of 100K to 150K miles.
Several additional factors can affect the functioning of the turbocharger as it functions under continuous pressure. However, different turbo parts can get overheated by excessive exhaust gas temperature (EGT), and moisture intrusion can result in corrosion and component damage. In addition, issues with the wastegate, fuel intake, and exhaust system can also impact your turbocharger’s performance.
Are You Experiencing the Symptoms of a Bad Turbo?
If your car is exhibiting any symptoms of a bad turbo. You need to check it out by the experts at Diesel Components Inc. today.
As a respected business catering to heavy-duty on and off-highway vehicle and equipment markets in the Minneapolis/St. Paul area, we’re recognized experts in diagnosing turbo problems.