Turbochargers are critical components to an engine’s reliable operation, correct emission production, and under-bonnet thermal management.
The turbocharger, although situated outside the engine, is fed the same oil as the engine from the very engine’s oil pump. The oil is fed through an oil feed line, which is the main “artery” feeding the life blood to the turbocharger. While modern turbochargers are extremely reliable components in most new cars, normally lasting as long as a vehicle’s engine’s, most OEMs design turbochargers to last around 300 000km in terms of service in a single life cycle.
“But, many turbochargers don’t see this, due to engine maintenance-related issues,” says Chris Kambouris, founder of TurboDirect SA. He cites lack of maintenance, late maintenance, incomplete maintenance - all of which will shorten the life of your turbocharger. “Correct, timeous maintenance will prolong the life of your turbocharger. There are four main ‘killers’ of turbochargers which can easily be addressed and managed in order to protect and prolong your turbocharger’s life, and these are never mentioned to you by any vehicle manufacturers, or garages,” he says. The following are the four ‘big killers’ of turbochargers:
1. Lack of lubrication (oil starvation).
2. Oil contamination.
3. Foreign object damage (debris impact).
4. Exceptional operating conditions.
Kambouris advises that you service your vehicle on time, every time: “Also, use only genuine parts, including oil filters, air filters and the correct grade of oil (check the owner’s manual for this, there’s a very specific reason for this).
One big rule
“Allow your engine to idle for a short while to stabilise temperatures before shutting off the engine, or drive the last few kilometres of your journey slowly, ‘off boost’, to allow air flow to start to cool down the engine and turbo before you arrive at your destination. And, finally, replace the oil feed line at specific intervals depending on the vehicle make and application,” Kambouris says.
Handy maintenance tips:
1. Service your vehicle on time every time
2. Use only genuine parts including oil filters, air filters and the correct grade of oil (check the owner’s manual for this, there is a very specific reason for this)
3. Allow the engine to idle for a short while to stabilize temperatures before shutting off the engine, and drive the last few km’s of your journey slowly, and “off boost” to allow air flow to start to cool down the engine and turbo before you arrive at your destination.
4. Replace the oil feed line at specific intervals depending on the vehicle’s make and application - VW diesels, around 90k-100k kilometers, most French cars at around 65k-80k kilometers, German marques (BMW, Merc, Audi etc.) at around 100k-120k kilometers as a preventative measure.
5. When replacing a turbocharger always replace the oil feed line, oil, oil filter and air filter.
6. Regularly check the operation of the PCV valve and DPF as well as the EGR valve in your car, as these have a direct effect on the reliable operation of the turbocharger.
7. If your engine has a worn engine (blow-by past the rings) your turbocharger will also give you problems.
8. Make sure the engines breathers are not blocked, blocked breathers will cause a turbocharger to “leak oil” and smoke.