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Turbo Care & Rebuild
By Mike Bumbeck/
Printable version
Degree of DifficultyDifficult
Estimated Time300 minutes
300 minutes
Maintaining the Inner Workings of Your Turbo -

The first big wave of automotive turbocharging came to auto showrooms during the Eighties. Everything from grocery getting Chrysler K-car station wagons to high-end Porsche sports cars packed a turbocharger under the hood. It seemed a requirement that these turbocharged cars of the '80s could not leave the factory without the word TURBO emblazoned somewhere, if not all over the car. The fact is that a turbocharger can add performance on demand to an otherwise economy minded engine. Turbochargers are again becoming more common as consumers demand more horsepower along with better fuel economy. With this ever-increasing number of cars and trucks using turbochargers as part of their power equation comes an equal number of turbochargers that will wear out and require replacement.
Turbo Care & Rebuild
Simple in Theory
The turbocharger sits in between the engine and exhaust and takes advantage of energy that usually runs out the tail pipe and puts it to better use. Inside the turbocharger are two finned wheels that spin together on a common shaft. The hot side turbine wheel captures the power of exhaust. The cold side compressor wheel takes the energy captured by the turbine wheel and uses it to force air back into the engine. The air is then mixed with fuel and presto—the puny four-cylinder Chihuahua of an engine suddenly makes like a Doberman V8. Since the compressed air forced into the combustion chambers contains more oxygen, the engine can make more power than it could by breathing without the turbo. When the additional power isn't needed the turbo simply spins along for the ride and lets the engine take it easy and realize economy.
Care and Feeding
While the turbocharger itself is a relatively simple device, replacement can be an expensive reality. A new replacement turbocharger can run into the multiple thousands of dollars not even counting installation and labor. The way to avoid premature turbo failure is to follow manufacturer's motor oil and service recommendations to the letter. Turbochargers can be brutally tough on motor oil. The same exhaust that spins the turbine wheel gives the hot side its name. The hot side housing can literally get red hot. Since the shaft can spin in the 100,000 revolutions per minute range oil is key to turbocharger survival. Advances in both motor oil and water-cooled turbocharger housings have made turbocharged engines more consumer friendly than ever, but neglecting motor oil can still spell the end of a turbocharger before its time.
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