- Car Care & Maintenance
How to Troubleshoot Your Turbo
Troubleshooting a turbocharger
All turbocharged engines since the 1960s are generally the same when it comes to diagnosing why they are or are not working. They comprise of a:
· Actuator, which is a spring loaded diaphragm device that sense and controls the pressure in the compressor discharge
· Compressor, which is a centrifugal radial outflow type
· Turbine, which drives the compressor and is a radial inflow type
· Wastegate, which allows a portion of the exhaust gas to bypass the turbine wheel limiting compressor speed to limit boost pressure. Boost itself is controlled by the Wastegate, which closes to optimize vehicle performance. It opens to limit boost when the maximum limit is reached.
· Center housing, which supports the bearings, compressor, turbine and oil seals
The turbocharger is driven by waste exhaust gases forced through an exhaust housing onto a turbine wheel. The turbine wheel is connected by a common shaft to a compressor wheel so that both wheels rotate simultaneously when the exhaust gases hit the turbine wheel. Rotation of the turbo assembly compresses the intake air routed through a compressor housing, forcing the compressed air into the engine’s cylinders. The increased amount of air forced into the engine creates more power than a similarly sized non-turbocharged engine and power similar to a larger, non-turbocharged engine. For comparison, a non turbo engine in a 1994 Mercury Capri has 100 hp, while the XR2 Turbo model, has 132 hp, using the same 4 cyl. Engine. The difference to a driver is substantial. The non-turbo engine is underpowered and has no get up and go, while the turbo is quite the opposite. In 1966, Chevy sold their rear engine Corvair Corsa Turbo which created 180 hp, compare it to the standard Monza model that had 110 hp. One downside to a turbocharger, is the superheating of the intake air. Since the turbine must be run by hot exhaust gasses, the heat transfers via conduction to the compressor. The compressor becomes superheated, and therefore heats the incoming air to the engine. The other main con of a turbocharger is something called turbo-lag. Turbo-lag is the time it takes for the turbo to spool up and produce power. Since an engine does not create large amounts of exhaust in low RPMs, the turbo creates small amounts of boost, and must have time to gain rotational inertia from the exhaust. The Turbos of the 60s and 70s are known for their finicky operation, or, everything had to be perfect in synch and to spec to avoid problems. They required frequent tweaking. Turbos from the 80s on, are much more reliable. If maintained, they will last 100,000 miles before replacement.
Compressor inlet hose collapsed, Compressor outlet to throttle body hose leaking, turbo or compressor wheel is damaged, turbo bearings have seized, wastegate is stuck open, clogged air cleaner, clogged air passage upstream of compressor
Tighten hoses, replace turbocharger, open wastegate, replace air cleaner, unclog air passages
Lack of Power
Bad engine compression, incorrect valve timing or clearance, incorrect ignition timing, clogged air cleaner or hose restriction upstream from compressor, oxygen sensor bad, volume of air flow incorrect
Do compression check, correct timing and readjust valves, find air flow restriction, test oxygen sensor
Detonation with No Boost
Low grade fuel, ignition timing is too far advanced
Add higher octane to fuel or drain and replace, correct timing to spec.
Detonation with Normal Boost
Same as no boost and: insufficient fuel supply, low fuel pressure, bad oxygen sensor, engine overheating, oil leaking into compressor from turbo, Valve seals leaking oil
Excessive Fuel Consumption (black exhaust smoke)
Engine needs tuneup, high fuel pressure, fuel line plugged, injectors are leaking, oxygen sensor bad
Tuneup, test for fuel pressure in line and clogs, install new injectors, test oxygen sensor
Excessive Oil Consumption (blue, gray or white smoke)
Incorrect oil type, clogged air cleaner or hose restriction upstream from compressor, PCV malfunctions, Oxygen sensor bad,
Noise or Vibration
Leaks at turbocharger inlet and outlet, foreign object damage to turbine or compressor blade, turbine bearings failed
Wastegate is not functioning, leak in exhaust system before muffler, leak in wastegate activator to compressor
If exhaust is smoky
Check compressor outlet for oil, check compressor inlet for oil.
If compressor outlet is not oily, check turbine outlet for oil.
If oil is present, Turbo is OK, check PCV system for clogs.
If oil is found, it is an internal engine issue. If it is not found in turbine, Turbo is OK, smoke is from car engine.
If compressor inlet is not oily, check for restriction in turbo oil supply tube.
Repair restriction if found. If none is found, check for restriction in the turbo oil return tube. Remove restriction if found, if now, replace turbocharger.
Wastegate- check diaphragm
Remove actuator diaphragm hose at diaphragm. Connect pressure diagnostic gauge to diaphragm inlet. Apply recommended air pressure to diaphragm.
Actuator rod should move, if no, replace turbocharger.