The Vehicle Lab is reader-supported. If you decide to buy through a link on this page, we may earn an affiliate commission.  Learn More

Signs and Symptoms of a Bad Turbocharger

Assuming that you aren’t a car enthusiast who knows their way around cars, let’s first explain what a turbocharger or turbo is.

Basically, it is a part that helps boost the power of your engine. Even if you have a smaller engine, you can enjoy more performance benefits without having to deal with the extra financial burden and environmental issues that normally come with larger engines.

How Does a Turbo Work?

Your engine uses a mixture of air and fuel to produce power. A turbo works by adding more air in order to increase the power of your engine (without increasing the costs). By spinning an air pump using the exhaust. The pump pushes all the extra air into your engine’s cylinders and thus delivers greater horsepower.

Turbos are supposed to be long-lasting; however, it is still possible that some damage may happen over time.

Common Warning Signs of Turbocharger Failure

1. Slow Acceleration

The primary function of a turbo is to make your car more powerful. One of the first noticeable symptoms is a lack of power and slow acceleration. If you notice that it doesn’t accelerate as fast as it used to, the first thing you should consider checking is the turbo

2. Burning Oil

Burning excessive amounts of oil is typically a sign of a turbo failure. Locate the downpipe, at the front of the turbo, and disconnect it. You can look inside the turbine by using an endoscope; if there is oil inside, that’s a sign of gradual failure. You should resolve the problem as soon as possible; if left untreated, your turbo will eventually fail.

3. Excessive Exhaust Smoke

If the turbo housing cracks and or if there are worn internal seals, this may lead to oil leaking into your exhaust. As the oil burns off you will see a distinct grey or blue smoke. This symptom is more apparent when the turbo is in use. So if you notice smoke when you rev your engine, it could be a sign of a faulty turbo.

4. Check Engine Light or CEL

On most modern cars, the computer diagnostics will detect a failing turbo resulting in the “check your engine.” With that said, the CEL is displayed for a number of problems, sometimes it warns us of a loose gas cap and sometimes about far more serious issues. One of those more serious issues could be the turbo. It’s best to have a mechanic look at your vehicle if the CEL is displayed.

5. Loud Whining Noise

When the boost is running, a failing turbo could make a loud whining noise. The noise usually sounds like a siren, and it tends to get louder as the problem aggravates. If you notice an unusual noise paired with some of the above symptoms, your turbo might be failing.

An example of what this sounds like can be heard in the video:

Source of Faulty Turbo

1. Cracks or Failing Seals

A turbocharger forces air back into the cylinders. If there are any cracks or broken seals, then some of that necessary air is lost. This often means the turbo will become overworked in order to maintain the applied boost. This is a fairly common problem that leads to a faulty turbocharger.

2. Age and Normal Wear and Tear

As with most car parts, everything has a life expectancy. A turbocharger can typically last anywhere from 100,000 to 150,000 miles. This number varies greatly based on the driver and their driving habits.

3. Carbon Deposits

At each servicing, you should have your oil changed. A lack of oil change results in a build-up of carbon deposits. Fresh oil benefits the entire motor, including the turbo. Remember, even the smallest amount of particles and contaminants can cause serious problems.


When a turbo becomes faulty, there are plenty of warning signs. They are often audible or they offer visual queues. Ensure at each servicing that you have your oil changed to avoid carbon deposits. If your turbo is older, consider having it replaced. If you aren’t experienced with vehicle components, have a licensed mechanic diagnose the problem.


Richard Reed
I've been a General Manager of a moving company and I've also been a Professional Mover for over 30 years. I've driven flat beds, reefers, dropdecks, moving vans, heavy machinery, etc. In my time as a Mover I've driven over 1,000,000 safe miles. My days of moving and driving truck are past me but The Vehicle Lab allows me to share the knowledge I've gained over the past 40 years.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Copyright © 2020 is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for website owners to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon(.com,, .ca etc) and any other website that may be affiliated with Amazon Service LLC Associates Program.

linkedin facebook pinterest youtube rss twitter instagram facebook-blank rss-blank linkedin-blank pinterest youtube twitter instagram