Easy Turbocharger Repairs You Can Do (And What You Can't Do)

You may be having probliems with your turbocharged engine. Below are several repairs that can be plaguing your system.

Turbocharged cars are very popular today and most automotive manufacturers offer a model in their line that utilizes a turbocharged engine - whether it is the Ford F-350 turbo diesel pick-up or a fuel sipping Volkswagen Golf TDI. Turbos are becoming increasingly popular due to their fuel efficiency, longevity and ability to increase the power level of an engine by over 40%.

However, on higher mileage turbocharged cars, different problems can start to appear which can be relatively cheap and straight-forward to fix or a very costly repair.

So what are some turbocharger repairs that are easy for an owner to do and which ones should be left to the professional mechanic?

Some of the most common problems related to turbocharged cars are:

1) Loss of power

2) Noisy turbo

3) Blue exhaust smoke

Loss of Power: A loss of power is a very common issue that arises in high mileage turbocharged cars. While the symptoms sound serious, the fix could be very straight forward and easy to do. Typical causes of a noticeable reduction in engine power can be anything from a clogged air filter element, to a disconnected pipe in the turbo system, (causing a reduction or complete loss of peak boost) to a worn-out boost controller.

Checking for a clogged filter element is very easy and takes just a few minutes to perform. After referring to your owner's manual in the section related to air filter replacement, locate the air filter box in your car's engine bay and undo the clamps/screws that hold it together. Once you're able to open the air box, remove the air filter located inside. If the air filter is caked in dirt or other items such as bugs, leaves, etc., you should replace it with a new filter from your local parts store/ dealership. If your filter isn't clogged or if the new filter doesn't improve the engine's power, move to the next check.

A turbocharged engine will have series of pipes and hoses that must be completely sealed in order to prevent any loss of boost from the system. The main hoses/pipes to check will be the ones that'll run from the turbo to the intercooler, and from the intercooler to the intake duct (if there is no intercooler then pipe will run from the turbo housing to the intake duct). With age the clamps sealing off the ends of the hoses get weakened or rusted, causing the hose to leak pressure from the system or even completely pop-off! These hoses are generally easy to check with a little patience and if none have popped-off it might be a good idea to tighten or even replace the clamps with new ones. If you do find a hose that has popped off, that hose may need to be replaced as it could have ripped when it came off the clamp. If the hose is in good condition, get a new clamp and re-attach hose.

Another cause for a loss in power will be a worn spring in the boost controller. The boost controller is used to monitor the amount of boost that's fed into the intake of your engine. Most factory systems will use a pre-loaded spring mechanism that will cause a valve to open when boost levels exceed a certain preset value. Over time the spring can become worn resulting in max boost pressure not being able to be reached. Simply replacing the factory unit with a cheap $20.00 aftermarket manual boost controller can return lost power. Replacement of the unit is very easy, and most aftermarket boost controllers come with step-by-step installation instructions.

If none of the above fixes restores your car's power, then it's probably something more serious, and you should take it into your local dealership or mechanic for a thorough inspection. It is very likely that the turbocharger housing could be worn with age and a re-built turbo would be necessary. Re-builds can run anywhere from $500 to well over $1,500 per turbo excluding labor.

Noisy Turbo: A noisy turbo is also a very common problem with high mileage turbocharged engines. The turbine housing can become noisier with age as its moving parts become worn. However, the excess noise can be caused by some other factors that might be at play.

A turbo can become noisier if the pipe/hoses taking air to the turbo or away from it become clogged or have a leak. Similar to the fix for the loss of engine power, check all pipes and hoses leading to the turbo or away from it to the intercooler or intake duct. Loosen the clamps and check for any obstruction in the pipe. When completed, re-attach the pipe and tighten the clamps back securely.

Another cause for a noisy turbo can be a clogged oil drain line leading from the turbo to the engine. This drain line can be tricky to get to, but if you're able to remove it, check to see if the oil coming out of it looks sludgy or very smooth and easy flowing. If it's the former, then there is most likely an obstruction or clog in the drain line and you will need to get a new oil drain line from your local dealership.

If the above fixes don't make your turbo any quieter, then you should take your car into your mechanic or dealership. The moving turbine wheels in the turbocharger are most likely worn with age, and your turbo will need to be re-built or replaced.

Blue Exhaust Smoke: Blue exhaust smoke is a very issue that arises on high mileage turbocharged cars. This is generally a repair that you won't be able to do yourself as it is often a clear indication of either turbocharger or engine damage which can lead to failure. If you notice blue smoke coming from your exhaust pipes, then you should take your car into a mechanic or dealer when your budget permits. A rebuilt turbocharger can run upwards of $1,500 per turbo excluding labor, while a rebuilt engine can run upwards of $3,000-$4,000.

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