What Causes Turbochargers To Fail?     

Turbochargers play a crucial role in modern engines, acting as an integral part that boosts power and efficiency. However, they are not immune to damage. Incorrect operation can strain components, causing faults that lead to failure. This includes actions like sudden accelerations without proper warm-up or prolonged idling. Additionally, faults in the oil or cooling systems can expedite turbos failing prematurely.

During the engine combustion process, turbochargers endure extreme conditions, facing higher pressures and temperatures. This continuous exposure contributes to wear over time, particularly if oil or fuel quality is compromised. Consequently, engine repairs may be necessary sooner than expected, affecting the engine’s lifespan. Despite efforts by car manufacturers to enhance turbocharged models, issues persist, especially in smaller engines like Ford’s 1.0-litre turbo EcoBoost unit.


Explaining how a turbo works unveils a mesmerizing process. As the engine burns fuel, it creates hot air in the cylinders. This hot air, along with exhaust, is directed towards the turbocharger. Here, the exhaust spins a compressor which, in turn, pumps more air into the engine. This enriched air-fuel mixture ignites with greater intensity, boosting power. But this process isn’t without its challenges. 

Turbochargers operate under extreme conditions of speeds, pressures, and temperatures. Such conditions demand robust cooling systems and proper oil circulation to prevent overheating and ensure optimal performance. However, despite advancements, turbos can still fail due to several factors. While turbos are renowned for enhancing engine performance, their failure can be attributed to various reasons. Inadequate lubrication can lead to friction and wear, especially at high speeds. 

Foreign particles in the air or fuel can damage compressor blades or bearings, disrupting the balance crucial for smooth operation. Moreover, excessive heat from prolonged high-speed operation can degrade seals and gaskets, causing leaks and loss of efficiency. In essence, maintaining proper cooling and oil systems, along with vigilance against contaminants, is vital for prolonging turbocharger life.

Turbocharger Failures: A Closer Look

As an enthusiast and mechanic, I’ve encountered various turbocharger issues, each presenting unique challenges. One of the most crucial aspects is identifying symptoms early on. Let’s delve into the signs of a failing turbo.

Power Loss: The Silent Struggle

Picture this: you press the accelerator, expecting a surge of power, but your car hesitates. The turbocharged engine struggles to maintain speed, failing to react as swiftly as before. It’s a frustrating scenario, especially when you need that extra kick during high-speed maneuvers. Accelerating feels like an arduous task, with the engine slow to reach desired speeds.

The Whining Engine: A Telltale Sound

A distinct noise emanates from under the hood—a blend of a dentist’s drill and a distant police siren. This whining isn’t a melodic symphony; it’s a symptom of turbo failure. The engine, gasping for air, manifests its distress through this unsettling whine. Ignoring it could lead to catastrophic turbocharger faults.

Unveiling Exhaust Smoke: A Smoky Revelation

Imagine a puff of blue/gray smoke trailing behind your vehicle, reminiscent of a foggy morning. Underneath this veil lies a turbocharger issue. The exhaust system belches discolored fumes, indicating trouble within. Internal seals might be compromised, or the turbo housing could be cracked, allowing oil to seep into the combustion chamber. This symptom should never be ignored, as it hints at potential turbocharger damage.

Illuminating the Check Engine Light: An Urgent Signal

In the modern era, cars have become more vocal about their ailments. The check engine light, affectionately known as the CELL, serves as a dashboard sentinel. When turbo faults appear, this light illuminates, notifying the driver of an engine problem. While some dismiss it as a minor inconvenience, a prudent move is to heed its warning. Consulting a professional mechanic for diagnostics is imperative to unearth the exact nature of the issue.

In essence, understanding turbocharger failures demands a keen ear, vigilant eye, and a willingness to address issues promptly. Ignoring these symptoms can lead to costly repairs and, in severe cases, irreversible damage. So, the next time your car exhibits unusual behavior, pay attention—it might just be signaling turbo trouble.


Turbochargers rarely fail due to inherent faults but rather external factors such as engine lubrication issues or the intrusion of foreign objects into the turbo. My years of experience in automotive engineering have shown that blown turbos are often the result of inadequate maintenance or neglect.

 Despite the fact that less than 1% of turbocharged engines encounter problems, it’s crucial to understand the critical role of regular warranty inspections in identifying potential issues early on. This proactive approach not only ensures optimal turbo performance but also extends the longevity of engines.


In the intricate dance of an engine’s internal components, lubrication plays the role of a silent guardian, ensuring seamless movement and protection against corrosion. Yet, when this lifeblood fails to flow properly, it spells trouble for the turbocharger.

 Picture this: a turbocharger spinning at tens of thousands of revolutions per minute, relying on a constant stream of quality oil to keep it cool and lubricated. However, if this flow is disrupted due to oil starvation, incorrect grade, or poor quality oil, the consequences can be dire.


One of the critical players in this symphony of oil and engine components are the seals. Think of them as the gatekeepers, preventing oil leaks and ensuring the compressor and engine work harmoniously. 

But over time, these seals can wear down, crack, or become damaged, leading to a host of issues. When the seals fail, it’s like opening the floodgates to a myriad of problems, including decreased efficiency, loss of boost pressure, and increased wear on vital parts.

Carbon buildup

Now, let’s talk about a silent saboteur: carbon buildup. As engines run, they produce a cocktail of gasses, including carbon. Over time, these emissions can leave behind a sticky residue, particularly in areas like the Exhaust Gas Recirculation (EGR) valve.

 This buildup acts like cholesterol in the arteries, clogging the system and restricting airflow. The result? Increased strain on the turbocharger as it tries to compensate for the reduced airflow, ultimately leading to premature failure.

Impact damage

Imagine your turbocharger as a delicate balance of precision engineering, spinning at incredible speeds to deliver that extra boost your engine craves. Now, picture the havoc wreaked by impact damage. Whether it’s a stray bolt, rock, or other foreign matter finding its way into the turbo’s path, the consequences can be catastrophic. These seemingly minor collisions can lead to cracks, obstructions, and damage to the compressor wheel. Regular maintenance and protective measures are crucial to safeguard against such destructive forces.


In the intricate ecosystem of an engine, even the tiniest intruders can cause chaos. From leaves to dust particles, foreign objects can find their way into the most unexpected places, including the compressor and turbine inlet. Without proper filtration and maintenance, these invaders can wreak havoc, causing damage to turbine blades and compressor wheels alike. Regular air filter service and engine checks are essential to keep these unwanted guests at bay.

Excessive wear and tear

Turbochargers are marvels of engineering, capable of delivering incredible performance. However, like any mechanical component, they have their limits. Excessive wear and tear, often exacerbated by human error or neglect, can push a turbocharger beyond its breaking point. Whether it’s driving at excessively high speeds, revving the engine beyond its limits, or failing to allow for proper cooldown periods, each action contributes to the turbo’s demise. Regular checks and mindful driving can go a long way in extending the lifespan of this vital component.

Oil Leaks or contamination

Picture this: a tiny crack in the oil feed pipe, a malfunctioning bypass valve, or contamination from foreign particles. These seemingly minor issues can spell disaster for your turbocharger. Oil leaks or contamination not only starve the turbo of its much-needed lubrication but also introduce abrasive particles into the system, accelerating wear and tear. Professional maintenance, proper oil selection, and vigilant monitoring are essential to protect against these insidious threats.

Broken pipes

Every engine component plays a crucial role in the delicate dance of power and performance. Yet, it’s often the unsung heroes like boost pipes and intercoolers that bear the brunt of wear and tear. Broken or disconnected pipes can disrupt the flow of air and oil to the turbocharger, compromising its efficiency and longevity. Regular inspections, prompt repairs, and quality replacements are essential to ensure these vital components remain in top condition, safeguarding the health of your turbocharger.

In the world of turbochargers, reliability is paramount. From impact damage to oil contamination, each threat presents its own set of challenges. By understanding the factors that contribute to turbo failure and taking proactive measures to address them, you can ensure your turbocharger continues to deliver peak performance mile after mile.

Blocked catalytic converter can cause turbochargers to fail

When it comes to the failures of turbochargers, one often overlooked culprit is the blocked catalytic converter. This seemingly innocuous component can wreak havoc on your engine’s performance. When the catalytic converter becomes clogged with pollutants, it acts as a chokehold, suffocating the oxygen flow vital for the engine. As a result, the intake impeller struggles to function, leading to fatal overheating. 

The buffering of non-toxic substances is impeded, causing a chain reaction that can prevent proper engine function altogether. Replacement of this part is often necessary, but the process can be a nightmare if handled by inexperienced technicians. At All Bay Diesel, we’ve seen the aftermath of neglecting this critical component. Over miles, we’ve learned that addressing a blocked catalytic converter early can prevent costly turbocharger replacement down the line.

Turbo maintenance tips

  • Understanding Turbochargers: Gaining professional knowledge about turbochargers is essential for maintaining optimal performance and preventing premature failure. The complexity of turbocharger systems demands a simple yet comprehensive approach to care and maintenance.
  • Proactive Measures for Longevity: Regular maintenance checks are crucial for catching any failures or abnormalities early on. From inspecting for leaks to ensuring proper fixes, proactive measures can prevent minor issues from escalating into major problems.
  • Personal Experience and Expertise: Drawing from personal experience and expertise in turbocharger care and maintenance, attention to detail is key. Regular checks and timely interventions can help avoid costly repairs and unnecessary failures, leading to enhanced performance and longevity.


Turbochargers serve as vital components in modern engines, significantly boosting power and efficiency. However, they are susceptible to failure due to various external factors. Incorrect operation, such as sudden accelerations without proper warm-up or prolonged idling, can strain components, leading to faults. Additionally, issues with the oil or cooling systems can expedite turbo failure. 

The continuous exposure to high pressures and temperatures during the engine combustion process contributes to wear over time, especially if oil or fuel quality is compromised. Despite advancements in turbocharger technology, issues persist, particularly in smaller engines. Understanding the causes of turbo failure, such as inadequate lubrication, damaged seals, carbon buildup, impact damage, foreign objects, excessive wear and tear, oil leaks, and broken pipes, is essential for proactive maintenance. 

By addressing these factors promptly and implementing preventive measures, such as regular inspections and quality replacements, turbochargers can be maintained effectively, ensuring optimal performance and longevity for engines.


What is the most common reason for turbo failure?

More than 90% of turbocharger failures are caused either by oil starvation or oil contamination. Blocked or leaking pipes or lack of priming on fitting usually causes oil starvation. There are many types of contamination which may be carried by the engine oil into the turbo bearing system and cause damage.

What are the signs of turbo failure?

The symptoms of a damaged or failing turbo are:

  • Loss of power.
  • Slower, louder acceleration.
  • Difficulty maintaining high speeds.
  • Blue/gray smoke coming from the exhaust.
  • Engine dashboard light is showing.

What are the failures of turbochargers?

The following are some common turbo problems and failures: – Cracked housings and/or worn seals allow air to escape and cause the turbocharger to work harder and wear down quicker. – A buildup of carbon deposits and contaminants traveling through the system can damage inner engine components.

Can a turbo suddenly fail?

The axial bearing supports the axial movement of the shaft. Both bearings are very dependent on the oil supplied to them. If the oil quality (particles in the oil) is bad or not enough oil is supplied, failure of the turbocharger can happen within seconds.

Can low oil cause turbo failure?

A common cause of turbocharger failure is insufficient quality or supply of oil. If a turbocharger has failed due to oil starvation, there are several key indicators to investigate. Firstly, if the compressor wheel nut is missing, this is a clear indication of main shaft seizure.

What are the 3 main factors that cause turbo failure?

Here are 5 reasons why turbochargers fail:

  • Oil Starvation. Undoubtedly the most common reason for turbocharger failures is the presence of problems in engine lubrication
  • Oil Contamination. This could result from a poor-quality oil filter
  • Foreign Object Entry
  • Restricted Airflow and Boost Leaks
  • Engine Wear