Understanding Turbocharger Failure: Causes, Symptoms, and Prevention

Turbochargers have become a standard feature in modern cars, providing increased engine performance and fuel efficiency. However, turbocharger failure can be a frustrating and expensive problem for car owners. If left unchecked, it can cause significant engine damage and costly repairs.

In this blog post, we will explore the causes and symptoms of turbocharger failure, as well as prevention techniques to keep your engine running smoothly.

Summary: In this blog post, we will discuss the common causes and symptoms of turbocharger failure, including the dangers it poses to your engine. We will also provide tips on how to prevent turbocharger failure and extend the lifespan of your engine.

What is a Turbocharger and How Does it Work?

A turbocharger is a mechanical device that compresses the air flowing into an internal combustion engine. This compressed air allows the engine to burn more fuel, providing more power and better fuel efficiency. Turbochargers are known for their ability to increase the performance and efficiency of cars, while also improving fuel economy. In 4-cylinder engines, turbochargers can increase horsepower output, allowing for more power and better acceleration.

The turbocharger is made up of two main components, the turbine and the compressor.

The turbine is connected to the exhaust system and spins as exhaust gas is expelled from the engine.

The compressor, which is connected to the engine’s air intake, uses the energy from the spinning turbine to compress the air before it enters the engine.

How Does a Turbocharger Fail?

Turbochargers are designed to be robust and durable. However, like all parts of a car, they can fail. There are a few ways in which a turbocharger can fail, including:

  • Overheating
  • Lack of lubrication
  • Foreign object damage
  • Worn bearings
  • Impeller damage

Common Causes of Turbocharger Failure

Turbochargers can fail for a variety of reasons, including:

  1. Lack of Maintenance – Turbochargers require regular maintenance, including oil changes, filter replacements, and cleaning. Failure to perform these tasks can cause buildup of dirt and debris, which can damage the turbocharger’s components.
  2. Overboosting – Overboosting occurs when the turbocharger is pushed beyond its limits, resulting in excessive pressure and heat buildup. This can cause the turbocharger’s components to warp or crack, leading to failure.
  3. Oil Contamination – Turbochargers require clean and high-quality oil to operate correctly. Contaminated oil, such as that containing dirt, metal particles, or other debris, can cause significant damage to the turbocharger.
  4. Foreign Object Damage – Small particles or debris entering the turbocharger can cause damage to the compressor or turbine wheel, leading to failure.

Symptoms of Turbocharger Failure

There are several symptoms that can indicate turbocharger failure, including:

  1. Loss of Power – A failing turbocharger can cause a significant loss of engine power.
  2. Increased Exhaust Smoke – Black or blue smoke coming from the exhaust may indicate that the turbocharger is failing.
  3. Loud Whining Noise – A loud whining noise coming from the engine compartment may indicate a failing turbocharger.
  4. High Pitched Siren Noise – A high pitched siren noise coming from the turbocharger itself may indicate a bearing failure.

Can Turbo Failure cause Engine Damage?

Yes, turbo failure can cause engine damage. When a turbocharger fails, it can cause a loss of engine power, which can put extra stress on other engine components. This increased stress can lead to engine damage if the problem is not addressed promptly.

Additionally, if a turbocharger fails catastrophically, it can send metal fragments into the engine, causing even more damage. Therefore, it is important to address turbocharger failure as soon as possible to prevent potential engine damage.

Prevention Techniques for Turbocharger Failure

To prevent turbocharger failure, you should:

  1. Follow the Manufacturer’s Maintenance Schedule – Regular maintenance, including oil changes, filter replacements, and cleaning, is essential for the longevity of your turbocharger.
  2. Use High-Quality Oil – Always use high-quality oil recommended by your car’s manufacturer.
  3. Avoid Overboosting – Avoid excessive pressure and heat buildup by avoiding overboosting your turbocharger.
  4. Use a Quality Air Filter – A high-quality air filter can help prevent foreign object damage to your turbocharger.
  5. Allow for Proper Cool Down – Always allow your engine to cool down properly before turning off the ignition. This will prevent oil from pooling in the turbocharger, causing damage.

Expert Opinion

As an experienced mechanical engineer, I have seen many instances of turbocharger failure caused by lack of maintenance or overuse. It is essential to perform regular maintenance on your turbocharger to extend its lifespan and prevent any potential damage to your engine.

Additionally, following the manufacturer’s guidelines and avoiding overboosting can go a long way in preventing turbocharger failure.


Can turbo failure cause engine damage?

Yes, if left unchecked, turbocharger failure can cause significant engine damage. This is because a failing turbocharger can cause a loss of engine power, leading to increased stress on other engine components.

How long do turbochargers last?

The lifespan of a turbocharger can vary depending on usage and maintenance. However, with proper maintenance, a turbocharger can last anywhere from 100,000 to 150,000 miles.

Can you drive a car with a failed turbocharger?

While it is technically possible to drive a car with a failed turbocharger, it is not recommended. A failing turbocharger can cause significant engine damage and a loss of power, making it unsafe to drive.

How much does it cost to replace a turbocharger?

The cost of replacing a turbocharger can vary depending on the make and model of the car. However, on average, the cost can range from $1,500 to $4,000, including parts and labor.

Can a turbocharger be repaired?

In some cases, a turbocharger can be repaired instead of replaced. However, this depends on the extent of the damage and the availability of replacement parts. It is best to consult with a professional mechanic to determine the best course of action.


Turbocharger failure can be a frustrating and expensive problem for car owners. However, by following proper maintenance techniques and avoiding overuse, you can extend the lifespan of your turbocharger and prevent significant engine damage.

If you notice any symptoms of turbocharger failure, such as a loss of power or unusual engine noise, it is best to consult with a professional mechanic for diagnosis and repair.

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