The Turbocharger Survival Guide: How to Extend the Life of Your Turbo

The Turbocharger Survival Guide: How to Extend the Life of Your Turbo

Turbochargers have become critical for improving modern engines; they significantly increase power, efficiency, and lower emissions.

Nevertheless, like any mechanical part, turbochargers demand proper care and maintenance to insure longevity.

Let’s look at the fundamental aspects of extending the life of your turbocharger by covering essential maintenance practices, troubleshooting tips, and common mistakes to avoid:

Understanding Turbocharger Basics

It's crucial to have a basic understanding of how a turbocharger works. A turbocharger consists of three main components: The turbine wheel/housing, bearing housing or center section (CHRA), and the compressor wheel/housing.

Exhaust gases from the engine drive the turbine wheel—causing it to spin a shaft which is supported by the bearing housing, which, in turn, drives the compressor wheel, forcing air into the engine for combustion. This process results in increased power output and improved performance. And engine efficiency.

8 Regular Maintenance Practices

1. Regular Oil Changes

One critical element of turbocharger longevity is a consistent and clean oil supply. Turbochargers rely on oil for lubrication and cooling—and regular oil changes prevent contaminants that can cause premature wear and damage.

2. Cool Down Periods

After driving your vehicle, allow the engine to idle for a few minutes before turning it off. This practice lets the turbocharger cool down gradually, stopping oil from coking and restricting the oil feed cavity. Lessoning oil flow can result in failed bearings and a damaged turbo.

3. Use High-Quality Oil

Choose high quality oil with the appropriate viscosity. Quality oil ensures proper lubrication and heat dissipation, lessening the risk of premature wear on turbocharger components. Ensure the oil meets the lubrication requirements for your engine based off the manufacturers’ guidelines.

4. Air Filtration

Maintain a clean air filter to prevent debris from entering the turbocharger. Ingesting contaminants in the intake air can cause damage to the compressor wheel and other internal components.

5. Inspect Turbocharger Mounting

Periodically check the mounting hardware and securing bolts/clamps of the turbocharger. Ensure they are tight and free from any signs of corrosion or damage. Loose or damaged mounting bolts can lead to excessive vibrations and misalignment, impacting the turbocharger's performance and reliability.

6. Turbocharger Heat Shield Maintenance

If your turbocharger has a heat shield, inspect it regularly for any signs of loose hardware.  A damaged or improperly secured heat shield can cause damage to the shield itself which is there to lower under-hood temperatures, improving the turbocharger's efficiency.

7. Check Turbocharger Hoses and Connections

Inspect all hoses and connections associated with the turbocharger, including intercooler hoses and vacuum lines. You should look for signs of wear, cracks, or leaks and replace any damaged components promptly to maintain proper airflow and boost pressure.

8. Turbocharger Waste Gate Functionality

Ensure the wastegate, if applicable, is functioning correctly. The wastegate regulates exhaust gas flow to the turbine and regulates boost pressure.

You should regularly check for any sticking or malfunctions, as issues with the wastegate can lead to over-boosting or under-boosting, affecting performance.

10 Most Common Turbocharger Mistakes to Avoid

1. Excessive Boost Pressure

Avoid tuning or modifying the engine to produce excessive boost pressure beyond the turbocharger's capacity. As a result, this may cause overworking or over speeding of the turbocharger, resulting in premature failure.

2. Neglecting Coolant Lines

Turbochargers often have coolant lines for extra heat dissipation. Neglecting the coolant system can lead to overheating and accelerated wear on the turbo. Check for loose fittings or cracked, dried out, leaking lines.  Contact if replacement parts are required.

3. Ignoring Regular Inspections

Regularly inspect the turbocharger and associated components for signs of wear or damage. Missing early warning signs can lead to more extensive and costly repairs.  Look for oil residue in the downpipe, charge pipe, or around the blow off valve. Remove the intake filter and inspect the shaft for excessive play and movement.

4. Using Poor-Quality Fuel

Low-quality or contaminated fuel can contribute to carbon deposits on the turbocharger's internal components, thus affecting efficiency and reducing performance over time.

5. Skipping Cool Down After Heavy Use

After engaging in spirited driving or towing heavy loads, neglecting to allow the turbocharger to cool down by idling for a few minutes can lead to oil coking and reduced longevity. Adding water cooling, if it’s an option, will extend the life of your turbo by dissipating heat faster from the center section and better stabilizing the turbo temperatures.

6. Ignoring Manufacturer Recommendations or Signs of Engine Damage

Disregarding the manufacturer's guidelines regarding oil specifications, maintenance intervals, and recommended maintenance procedures can result in accelerated wear and potential damage.  Furthermore, if you a have “sick” engine- deteriorating engine bearings, worn piston rings, leaking seals or gaskets, will all shorten the life of your turbo. Oil contamination from internal engine materials are one of the most common culprits of turbo failure. 

7. Excessive Engine Idling

Extended periods of engine idling can lead to inadequate oil flow to the turbocharger.  Some engine oil pumps produce less oil pressure/flow volume at idle, limiting the delivery of oil to the turbo.

8. Using the Wrong Type of Oil

Using oil with the incorrect viscosity or not meeting the manufacturer's specifications can compromise lubrication and cooling, often leading to turbocharger and or engine failure. Always seek assistance if you’re not sure of the correct oil.

9. Inadequate Air Filtration

Failing to clean the air filter regularly allows debris and contaminants to enter the turbocharger.  Damage to the compressor wheel and other internal components can occur if the air filter is missing or dirty.

10. Overlooking Exhaust System Leaks

Exhaust leaks before the turbocharger will reduce exhaust gas energy feeding the turbo, affecting air-fuel mixture, lowering boost output, limiting power, and potentially causing damage to the turbocharger and other engine components.

Troubleshooting and Early Detection

  • Monitor Your Boost Levels: Regularly check boost levels to ensure they remain within the manufacturer's specifications. Abnormal boost levels may indicate issues with the wastegate, vacuum lines, couplers, charge air system, or turbocharger.
  • Listen for Unusual Noises: Unusual noises—such as whining, grinding, or hissing—can indicate impending turbocharger issues. Address any abnormal sounds to prevent further damage.
  • Check for Oil Leaks: You should inspect the turbocharger for oil leaks. Pay attention to the oil feed and drain line fittings. Check for oil residue in the exhaust, intake, charge air system and around the Blow off Valve. Addressing oil leaks NOW can prevent damage to other engine components.
  • Examine Exhaust Smoke: Pay attention to the color of the exhaust smoke. Excessive smoke, especially blue smoke, may indicate oil burning in the exhaust, suggesting a potential issue with the turbocharger. Luckily, offers turbo rebuild services, replacement CHRAs, and rebuild kits. To determine repair options for your turbo, please note the TURBO manufacturer’s part # (NOT vehicle manufacturer) which is found on the turbocharger itself prior to contacting us.

Final Thoughts

Extending your turbocharger's life requires regular maintenance practices, vigilant troubleshooting, and avoiding common mistakes. If you understand the fundamental principles of turbocharger operation and implement these best practices—you can ensure your turbocharger will deliver optimal performance for many years and thousands of miles! offers rebuild and repair services, upgrade, replacement, and turbo conversion kits for hundreds of applications.  If you have questions—please get in touch with us.