Are Turbocharged Engines Reliable?

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Are Turbocharged Engines Reliable?

Turbochargers are becoming more and more popular. Automakers are constantly looking for ways to improve their fuel-economy figures without sacrificing performance and these little exhaust-driven blowers can really help out.

Downsized, force-fed engines are often used to replace larger naturally aspirated units, a strategy that on paper tends to be more economical. But oftentimes these powerplants are more complicated than the ones they’re substituting, with intercoolers, extra oil lines, convoluted plumbing and more potential headaches down the road.

Should you worry about owning a car or truck that’s turbocharged as more and more vehicles make this powertrain switch? For answers we reached out to some folks that closely monitor vehicle quality to find out what’s really going on out there.

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Putting major fears to bed, Michael Karesh, developer of TrueDelta.com said, “I’m not seeing many turbocharger failures, at least not yet.” His quarterly quality survey includes responses from nearly 100,000 participants.

“A typical failure rate for a turbocharger is probably around one or two percent,” he said. According to Karesh, many of his participants’ vehicles typically have fewer than 100,000 miles on their odometers. He doesn’t have much data for cars that have gone farther than that. Still he said, “I would of expected [the failure rate] to be higher.”

True-Delta-LogoIn the TrueDelta survey turbocharged engines are generally pretty reliable but there are a few exceptions. “The main case [that] stuck out as being much higher than others was the 2008 BMW 535i,” said Karesh. This was the “first year of the turbocharged engine in the 5 Series.” Karesh said about one in six of these 535i models has had turbo-related issues over the past two years, though he cautioned that his sample size is small. Still, “It’s not a fluke, either,” he said. Curiously he said the failure rate in the 335i, which for the same year featured an identical engine, only has about a two percent failure rate.

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Given their reputation for outstanding quality and reliability it was surprising that a couple turbocharged Japanese vehicles popped up in Karesh’s survey. Compared to the abovementioned 5 Series he said, “At about half that we have the Mazda CX7 [from] 2007, which everyone knows is a really bad engine … It’s a known horror story.”

2004 Subaru Forester XTBut Mazda isn’t alone. “The other one that stuck out was the 2004 Subaru Forester XT, which is the first year for the turbocharged Forester,” said Karesh. “Unlike other vehicles in the survey they have a lot more miles on them.”

According to Karesh the issue with these cars is a small filter in the oil line that runs to the turbo. If it ever gets plugged with sludge or other detritus the blower can be starved of lubricant and fail. “A lot of people go and remove the filter preemptively,” said Karesh, preventing this issue. Fortunately Subaru appears to have corrected it in subsequent years.

SEE ALSO: Are Japanese Cars Really Reliable?

The final sore thumb in TrueDelta’s survey is a Volkswagen. Karesh said, “And then the fourth car is the 2012 and 2013 Passat TDI.” He has reports of multiple turbo failures, three for one year and five for another. Again, the sample sizes are small but he said this indicates there is an issue with these models.

Ford has been a major player in the downsizing, turbocharging movement with their EcoBoost line of engines. When asked about these powerplants Karesh said, “I don’t think I’ve had any reported turbo failures in those yet,” but he cautioned that these vehicles aren’t that old yet.

Consumer Reports Weighs In

Corroborating TrueDelta’s data, Jake Fisher, director of auto testing at Consumer Reports said, “We’ve seen some turbocharged engines that have some initial problems.” He noted some of BMW’s engines from a few years ago were troublesome.

Fisher said the real issue with these force-fed engines is time. How will they fare when more of them pass the 100,000-mile mark? This is a question nobody can really answer right now, though he said, “From a standpoint of complexity and the parts, you know, and how much stress some components have, there’s definitely a chance for more things to go bad with these turbocharged engines.”

Turbocharger“If you’re concerned about reliability, you should always steer clear of the latest technology,” Fisher said. While turbocharging is hardly new, its adoption in mainstream vehicles certainly is.

Open Forum

In some instances reported issues can actually appear to be a lot worse than they might be in reality. “Problems can seem much more common on an active [internet] forum than they actually are,” said Karesh. “If you have a few thousand members and even just a couple percent have a problem it can seem like everyone’s having the problem because you see the same thing reported 20 or 30 times.”

SEE ALSO: Do You Have to Change Your Oil Every 3,000 Miles?

But there’s good news in all of this. “I think the key thing to note is common turbocharger failures are the exception rather than the rule,” Karesh said. “Aside from that one BMW they just don’t affect many cars.”

For more stories like this one check out our Tips and Advice section.

  • MavusiKenpachi

    They can run those compression ratio’s because their turbos don’t push that much air into the cylinders. I was surprised to find that the ecoboost you mentioned actually has a turbo running at 1.6bar (24psi). But at any rate, 1.6 bar from a tiny turbocharger isn’t the same as 1.6 bar from a big ‘ole TD04.

  • Behzad

    Are Turbocharged Engines Reliable?

    No ,is the Answer .

  • bgf

    turbo’s, ANY turbo … its ONLY a matter of time before it goes … some go at 34,500, other’s after 5 years, some go at 70k miles … IT WILL GO … JUST A MATTER OF WHEN, NOT IF.

  • Mike Williams

    How are you 25 years old but worked on turbo’s over the past 30 years? Are you some sort of Alien?

  • Paul Anderson

    “”Still he said, “I would of expected [the failure rate] to be higher.” “”

    He [Michael Karesh] is clearly of supreme intelligence. Would OF? What a fucking retard he is

  • Paul Anderson

    Worked on cars over 30 years when 25 years old?

  • Paul Anderson

    90k is nothing special. my BMW 528i has over 300,000 miles on it.

  • Paul Anderson

    BMW reliability is superb. Where do you get this info to the contrary?

  • adam

    My friend, I beg to differ. Ive easily spent 40% of my cars value on repairs for my 08 335i coupe. The list of problems ive had with it includes but is not limited to: starter went bad, radiator bad, all pipes connected to the cooling system in the car bad, left headlight bad, oil gasket leaks, ac unit needed fixed, water pump had to be replaced, oil pump replaced (on recall thankfully), and my current problem is with the transmission. My car makes a terrible howling noise when I accelerate due to low transmission oil pressure and requires a $3k job to get in and make repairs. I will never buy a BMW again unless its on a lease.

  • Lance501

    I was an engineer with turbo, and I will never buy a vehicle with turbo. The shaft in the turbo rotated at 100,000 RPM and it constantly needed lubrication, and cooling. A small debris would cause damage and out of balance. It required oil change every 3,000 miles or less. Most turbo wasn’t designed to lasted more than 100,000 miles. Therefore sooner or later it would needed to be replaced. I saw turbo as a cop out from manufacturer who couldn’t design a more fuel efficient engine. However, there is a limit of how high could the MPG go.

  • Mike Daniel

    lol.

  • Mike Daniel

    30 yr career and your 25 years old. You must mean your alternate universe person is 25 yrs old. lol.

  • Mike Daniel

    I have 500,000 miles on my turbo.

  • Mike Daniel

    Subaru has enough problems with half their cars burning motor oil faster than gasoline. Turbo failures are ignored by them.

  • Raiders!

    2005 Outback XT. A hoot to drive and reliable at first. Around 130,000 miles the problems began. All related to the immense heat. The turbo was mounted on the passenger side of the engine bay. Everything located on that side of the engine bay, head gasket, air conditioning lines, Radiator hoses, valve cover gasket all got brittle and started leaking. Replacing the valve cover gasket was $700 (it was leaking oil onto the exhaust manifold and smoked like crazy, it had melted!) . The mechanic told me to come to the shop he had some bad news. He showed me hoses that literally crumbled in his hands. All had to be replaced. To Subaru’s credit, the engine never stopped delivering neck snapping power and was reliable till the day I sold it 170,000k. Talk about complexity though! Variable valve timing, Waste gate, banjo filters and 91 octane gas only. I’d do it again if it was the same car but I wouldn’t rely on it as a daily driver. Too much maintenance.

  • Raiders!

    He meant cars that were over 30 yo. Hello.

  • Raiders!

    Sure, mitsubishi turbos last forever and are only $4-500 to replace. It’s all the stuff surrounding the turbo that melts.

  • Raiders!

    Exactly, I laughed at people that bought those 2005 Dodge Magnum wagons while I had my 2005 Turbo outback. Guess which ones are still on the road today. Yeah, the dodge. Heh

  • Raiders!

    You see plenty of BMWs roadside. The service is very expensive and most people neglect repairs.

  • Shukovsky

    I can answer this question at least for GM’s Saab. I am friends with a mechanic who has a number of these cars running of his clients with over 200,000 on the original turbocharger and some with over 300,000 miles. Mine is a 2006 and has nearly 160,000 with absolutely no engine problems whatsoever. Subaru’s design has more problems as my parents had one and the turbo had problems like oil leaks around 100,000 miles. It depends on the design and manufacture, plain and simple – just like regular aspirated engines.

  • Toooooot

    Here are my 5 cents. I owned new fusion 2013 1.6 turbocharged. While maintained well, with normal oil changes and moderate driving, several times engine coolant went to the lowest mark in the reservoir. Both times, I went to the dealership and they just topped the fluid. Both incidents happen before I did 15k on it. I traded it for v6 engine car from Ford later.