Problems With Turbo Cars: 14 Known Issues (Explained)

Turbo cars have many benefits, such as better fuel efficiency and lower pollution. However, they have a few problems that are worth considering.

These are some of the most familiar troubles and issues with turbo cars you should be aware of.

Some of these problems are unique to Diesel cars.

1. Carbon builds up.

Cars that have direct injection tend to have issues with carbon accumulation because of the lower pressure of the fuel charge. Some vehicle manufacturers addressed the issue by moving to port injection systems.

However, some manufacturers built turbo-charged engines without addressing the issue.

Those cars still have problems with excessive carbon buildup, which causes issues such as poor performance, misfiring, and harsh idling after 80,000 miles.

One example of a motor with this issue is GM’s 2.7-Liter turbo model.

2. Turbo seals go bad.

Because of the extra components in turbo cars, they’re prone to having additional leaks due to bad turbo seals. A leak in a turbo vehicle can cause issues such as loss of power, exhaust leaks, high gas consumption, excessive oil consumption, and more.

A bad turbo seal is often mistaken for a bad head gasket because of the smoke that comes from the exhaust.

It can be white, which is one of the critical signs of a blown head gasket.

However, mechanics consider that it may be a bad turbo seal when the individual has a turbo engine.

3. The exhaust wastegate fails.

A turbo car’s wastegate opens and closes to allow some of the pressure to leave from the system. Sometimes, those waste gates fail and a heap of problems occur because of that failure.

One of the top symptoms of a failing wastegate is a lack of the typical turbo “boost.”

Often, the “Check Engine” light will illuminate in a turbo vehicle when this problem is apparent as well. The fuel economy also decreases, and a lack of power may also exist.

4. Engine overheating occurs.

The engines inside turbo cars naturally work harder and work under much more heat than most.

These vehicles also have more parts than regular vehicles and are thus vulnerable to having more problems.

Overheating occurs commonly in these types of cars because oil gets from the turbo system into the intercooler. 

This problem happens because the bearings and seals wear over time, allowing oil to leak. When oil leaks into the intercooler, the vehicle may emit black or blue smoke and smell funny.

PCV valves can also cause oil to leak into the intercooler.

Other issues that can cause that problem include oil drain problems and dirty air filters. An oil leak into the intercooler is a severe problem that must be addressed immediately.

Failure to get the necessary repairs to fix the issue may result in a severely overheated engine that might not bounce back once the repairs are completed.

Maintaining proper maintenance is one way to keep a turbo car’s operations in check.

5. The piston rings wear.

The internal parts of turbo cars seem to have a much shorter lifespan than those of regular cars.

Therefore, you may notice that your turbo vehicle burns more oil than usual because of worn piston rings.

6. The turbo unit fails.

Another common issue that occurs in turbo vehicles is the complete failure of the turbo unit.

These are some of the reasons this problem occurs in such cars:

#1 The driver doesn’t let the turbo system cool.

Turbo systems need a lot of care and special treatment.

One process that many drivers fail to do is to let the turbo cool off after a long drive.

Instead of shutting the car off immediately upon ending a long and aggressive trip, turbo car owners should let their vehicles idle for a few minutes.

The short hesitation will allow the fresh oil to get to the system to cool and lubricate it.

#2 Debris gets into the turbo system.

Sometimes, turbo failures occur because items such as dust and leaves infiltrate the system through the compressor or turbine inlets.

An incident like this can cause the turbo system blades to get damaged, and that damage can spread to the entire system over time.

#3 The owner puts the wrong oil in the car.

Turbo vehicles typically require synthetic oil for proper operation. Many vehicle owners opt to select low-grade or cheap oil to put in their cars, and they pay the prices because of it.

Turbo engines must have adequate lubrication to deal with the overwhelming heat and extra pressure.

Low-grade oils can not provide that, and thus, many turbo motors go bad because of it.

Not keeping up with the appropriate oil change intervals can cause such a motor to go bad.

Drivers must be extra careful not to leave a vehicle with a turbo motor subjected to sludge or crud buildup.

#4 The car has high mileage.

Most cars start wearing down after 100,000 miles, but some of them deteriorate at a much faster pace than others.

Sometimes, the turbo system goes simply because the car has run its course.

The same can happen when a driver uses the vehicle aggressively or goes many miles in it. In that case, there isn’t much a driver can do if the car’s time has ended.

The turbo unit may need replacing. If the rest of the vehicle is in good condition, the driver might be able to get additional years out of the car.

#5 The vehicle’s seals are of poor quality.

A car’s turbo system is only as good as its best seal. Seals can have poor quality right from the manufacturing plant, and those poor seals can have leaks in them, causing the turbo system to malfunction before its time.

Seals can also go bad prematurely because of certain weather conditions or driving stress.

Worn seals tend to leak, and those leaks can cause other issues.

For instance, leaks can get into the intercooler and cause engine overheating. The leak by itself can cause overheating as well.

7. Hot stopping causes failure.

Hot stopping is typically a problem for people who use their turbo-equipped vehicles for racing. The start-and-stop motions of the car don’t allow the turbo system to cool down properly.

The unit is then pushed to its total capacity and strained internally.

Eventually, the turbo fails because of the tremendous amount of additional strain.

8. Delayed throttle response annoys drivers.

The delayed throttle response of a turbocharged engine is more of a complaint rather than an issue. Manufacturers are working hard every day to solve these little issues so people can get better performance out of their vehicles.

As it stands, the throttle does not respond to the driver’s pedal press immediately.

There’s a slight lag in time between when the driver presses the pedal and when the boost boom swoops in.

9. Torque curves cause aggravation.

Some drivers complain of a torque curve that happens before and after a peak.

For example, it might feel like a driver is driving a 2.0-Liter engine at first, then a 5.0-Liter at peak point, and back to a 2.0-Liter afterward.

That experience can be a little bit strange. However, manufacturers have improved this minor performance issue over the past few years and are constantly working to make it better.

10. The head gasket fails due to frailty.

Some cars with turbo motors are more prone to having failing head gaskets than others. One example of such a car is the Subaru 2.5-Liter turbo engine.

As mentioned before, turbo motors must withstand a high level of heat.

Cheap or poorly constructed head gaskets blow much more easily in a turbo vehicle than in a regular car. 

Unfortunately, head gaskets are some of the most expensive repairs a car owner will ever have to make.

Repairs can cost several thousand dollars because of the complexity of the job. Certain head gaskets are crafted of thick composite material, and it doesn’t take much for them to go out.

11. The rod bearings break.

Rod bearings break in some turbo models more than others, and the issue causes catastrophic problems.

The primary reason for the rods breaking is a lack of oil, which is a common problem in turbo engine cars.

Broken rods can hit the cylinder walls and can cause even more damage. For example, they can bang a hole into the engine block if no one takes care of the problem right away. The motor will most likely stop working at that time, and the repairs will be quite costly to get the vehicle up and running again.

12. The oil mixes with coolant.

Oil can mix with the coolant for a variety of reasons, but none of them is good.

As mentioned above, one common reason for this issue is a blown head gasket. The gasket is no longer performing well enough to keep coolant and oil in their proper places; thus, they mix.

Together they form a caustic sludge that can penetrate the motor and cause irreversible damage to it. 

You must immediately drive or tow your vehicle to a trustworthy mechanic if you notice an oil and coolant mixture. It will usually appear as a chocolate milk-type substance.

13. The filter clogs.

The oil filters on turbo-equipped engines are much smaller than the ones on regular cars.

Because of this characteristic, the oil filters get clogged much faster than those of traditional vehicles.

That’s why regular oil changes with filter changes are paramount for turbo car owners.

Once the filters get clogged, they stop circulating clean oil through the engine, and the internal parts suffer.

14. The engine becomes oil starved.

Oil starvation or lack of oil is a common problem in turbo engines because of the small oil filter and oil leaks. These problems can add an extra layer of trouble to vehicles that already run at extremely high temperatures.

Now you know several of the most typical problems you may have to face if you purchase a turbo vehicle.

You also know some of the issues you’ll have with your new turbo car if you own one.

These vehicles have many benefits for them, but they also carry some risks. Take the time to consider all of those aspects before you invest in a turbo vehicle.

You can have a long-lasting life with it as long as you commit yourself to give it the continuous care it needs.

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