Common Turbocharger Damage Causes & Remedies

Turbo DamageTurbochargers are used to optimize combustion and boost a vehicle’s performance. Turbocharged vehicles have an elevated density of air intake, which increases the volumetric efficiency, improves the efficiency of the combustion engine, and increases torque and performance. The construction and function of turbochargers is designed for the service life of the engine. However, high-performance components situated in the exhaust gas system are exposed to multiple risk factors that often contribute to immature failure.

In order for any repairs to be successful, thorough analysis and rectification of the cause must be achieved.

Typical turbocharger damage scenarios and their possible causes include:

  • Insufficient Lubrication

Failure to supply the turbocharger with sufficient oil is one of the most common causes of damage, due to the high speeds associated with them.

Some of the effects of inadequate lubrication include:

• Bearing damage causing the turbine wheel and impeller to strike the housing

• Mixed friction, which prevents the rotating assembly from reaching its maximum speed, resulting in low boost pressure and poor engine performance

• Emission of black smoke due to insufficient air supply and a corresponding rich fuel-air mixture

• Broken shaft due to prolonged operation without enough oil

Insufficient lubrication in the turbocharger can be caused by a variety of factors including:

• Very low oil level in the engine

Carbonization of the turbocharger oil supply line and bearing oil bores because of using oil that is not adequately temperature-resistant

• Carbonization of the oil supply lines if the engine is turned off while hot

• Bringing the engine to high speeds immediately after starting, while the engine is still cold

• Foreign substances clogging the oil supply lines

• Too low oil viscosity leading to mixed friction, or too high oil viscosity leading to delayed oil transport

These challenges can be prevented or rectified by:

• Warming up and cooling down the engine as required

• Supplying the engine with enough oil

• Using the engine oils specified by the engine or vehicle manufacturer

• Following maintenance intervals recommended by the manufacturer

• Using high-quality oil filters specified for your vehicle

Contaminated Oil 

Oil can be contaminated by water, fuel, soot, dirt, metal abrasion, or combustion residues and even the smallest foreign substances in oil can cause severe damage to the turbochargers since they move at extremely high speeds.
Common effects of contaminated oil include:

• Increased wear to turbocharger piston rings and formation of grooves in the bushings, leading to inadequate oil sealing and increased oil consumption

• Increased bearing play of the rotating assembly due to worn bushings, causing the turbine impeller to touch the housing and possibly break the shaft

• Grooves in the bearing collar and axial bearing

Oil contamination can be caused by:

• Damaged oil filters due to prolonged maintenance intervals

• Blocked oil filter that is unable to filter out small abrasive substances from the oil

• Reduced oil carrying capacity due to contamination with water, in the event of leakages

• Poor cleaning of the engine during repair

• Failure to replace the charge air cooler causing accumulated fragments from previous damage to get into the engine

These challenges can be addressed by:

• Complying with the manufacturer’s recommendations on maintenance intervals

• Using high-quality filters recommended for your vehicle

• Installing a new air filter and charge air cooler when replacing the turbocharger

• Occasional cleaning of the charge air line and air filter housing by suction

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