Updated: Jan 29
A turbocharger is a method of forced induction (compression of air into the engine to create more power), they are simple in mechanism but complicated in design. There are multiple ways they could fail.
If a turbocharger fails, can it be repaired? In most cases a failed turbo can be repaired, but sometimes it is more cost effective to simply replace the turbo with a new one. However, if damage to the turbine wheel or housing is sustained, it can become irreparable.
Causes & Signs of Turbo Failure
It's important to figure out what caused a problem first.
Loss of power
Smoke from the exhaust or engine bay
Excessive fuel consumption
Oil leaks from the turbocharger
These are all signs of a failing turbocharger. However, keep in mind that faults in various automotive components might exhibit similar or identical symptoms.
If you hear whistling coming from the turbo, it might be caused by an air leak. Check the piping and clamps, you may find damage to piping or connections or they may have simply come loose.
You could also take off the induction or exhaust system and check the turbocharger impellers for clearance or rotation issues.
It's also possible that the issue is caused by deteriorating lubricating oil. When oil deteriorates, it may cause carbon to build up in the bearing housing. Rotation will be restricted in the near future as a result of carbon development.
A loss in oil pressure, as well as dirt or debris in the oil, might cause the turbo to seize.
Examine the turbine wheel or impeller to see whether the turbo has been affected by foreign particles or debris. Any material that has entered the turbine or compressor may be visible.
If the turbo blades are damaged, the turbo is entirely destroyed. In the intake tubes, look for metal that has fallen off the turbo. At this point, metal particles might damage the engine further and should not be switched on until the issue is resolved.
Repairing a Turbo
Once you've determined what's wrong with the turbocharger, it's time to find a professional to assist you.
They are an important component of your vehicle, and you don't want to jeopardise its reliability by entrusting it to someone who is unfamiliar with turbochargers.
In most cases, a qualified technician can repair a turbocharger. Only after the turbocharger's blades have been severely damaged does the turbocharger become unrepairable.
There are a few ways to prevent a turbo from failing.
Servicing your car regularly is one of the best ways to ensure your turbo and engine lasts a long time, it ensures the engine oil is properly absorbing any metal particles and lubricating moving parts.
If the oil is left unserviced for too long (over 15,000 miles) it can result in gradual carbon build up and will begin to fail to lubricate, fail to remove heat effectively, fail to protect from suspended metal and debris particles.
This can result in engine and turbo failure quickly, possibly requiring replacement parts.
Tip: Service according to your cars handbook schedule, usually this is every 6,000-15,000 miles.
Properly Warming Up & Cooling Down
Allowing the engine oil and coolant to properly warm and cool down before and after hard driving will help to prevent premature engine and turbo failure.
Failure to warm up to optimum operating temperature can result in damage to the engine and turbo, it can also prevent the oil from working properly.
Properly cooling down after driving can help oil and coolant circulation, preventing hot spots and ensuring correct cool down of the engine and turbocharger.
Tip: Allow between 10-20 minutes after engine start-up to use full throttle, allow the engine to idle for 1-2 minutes after hard driving for proper coolant and oil circulation. Driving within 1 minute after start-up will warm up the engine much quicker than idling.
Turbo Timer / Idling After Driving
This ties in with properly cooling down after driving, a turbo timer (or idling after driving) can prevent carbon build up in the turbo, preventing bearing seizure and helps ensure correct cool down.
Properly Filtering Intake Air
Using a proper air filter on the intake system will prevent debris and foreign particles from entering the engine. If you have the standard OEM filter, servicing regularly and replacing this will ensure effecting filtering and also improve power slightly by removing restriction from debris.
If you have an aftermarket air filter (foam, paper, etc) cleaning it regularly will improve air flow and prevent debris from entering the intake system.