Tips for owning a turbocharged car
Tips for owning a turbocharged car
We all have that one friend who will tell you what a bad idea it is buying a car with a turbo, how unreliable they are, and how they have a friend who spent millions fixing their turbo’d car back in the early 90’s. Regardless, Turbochargers are here to stay. Over the last three decades there has been a big drive in the motoring industry fuelled by the EU (European Union) rules and regulations to drive down emissions and decrease fuel consumption that all new cars being sold in Europe must meet. This is not however all doom and gloom for you and me the consumer. Having a Turbocharged car is a lot of fun and just requires a few simple mindset changes around owning and driving a turbo’d car. The plus side is you will get better fuel consumption and more power with less emissions which is great for the environment.
Let’s start at the beginning, what is a turbocharger and what does a turbocharger do?
A turbocharger or otherwise known as a turbo is a device that is attached to the exhaust and to the air intake of the car. Using exhaust gases, it propels a turbine that is connected to a shaft that is connected to another turbine. Now you don’t need to know the technical workings of a turbo to understand that it’s a device that creates compressed air that is fed into the motor. The higher the rpm(revs per minute) of the motor the faster the Turbo spools (spins) and the more air is forced into the motor. The excess air is passed through a wastegate or dump valve
Think of it this way, if you want to get a fire going, you add wood, a match and air. Now with that same fire you add lots of air, the fire will grow very big very quickly and burn up the wood quickly. A turbo works the same, it adds more air to the motor which allows for more fuel to be added which creates a bigger bang which produces more power. This process also means the fuel is burnt more optimally and then produces less emissions.
Now you might ask, what is the difference between a Turbocharger and a Supercharger?
Well a Supercharger uses the same principle as a Turbocharger but instead of using exhaust gasses to propel the turbine it uses a belt connect directly to the crank shaft of the motor. The benefit of this is the power comes in at a lower rpm then that of a turbo.
Owning a Turbocharged Car
Owning a Turbocharged car is slightly different to owning a naturally aspirated (or non-turbo) car. Here are 5 things you should NEVER do to a Turbocharged car:
- Do not run the car hard until the car is at the optimal operating temperature. The reason is simply the turbo needs oil to lubricate the internal components, if the oil isn’t at the correct temperature it won’t flow as fast to the Turbocharger which means you will have less lubrication and protection for the Turbocharger. The best thing to do is to wait until the engine is at the optimal temperature and then wait a few minutes after that before driving hard.
- Do not immediately shut the engine off after driving the car hard or after a long drive in the car. When you shut the engine off you shut off oil flow and that means no oil flows to the turbo which is still spinning at a high rpm, best thing to do is to reduce your driving style and speed about 2km from your destination to use as little turbo as possible and then idle your car for 60 seconds before turning the motor off.
- Never put your engine under high load at low RPM, in other words: say you are in 5th gear at 1000rpm and you put your foot down, this is putting the motor under high load.
What happens is the ECU (engine control unit) will see that you want to go faster and then put more fuel into the motor, at this point there will not be enough air available as the turbo is still spooling at the low RPM and you will start running a very rich mixture which will push unburnt fuel through your motor and into your exhaust which will cause additional wear to your catalytic converter which in the long run becomes a costly item to replace. Over and above this you can also damage your motor, this is caused by low speed pre-ignition or stochastic pre-ignition which in layman’s terms means there is ignition or spark far earlier than designed. This can damage the motor including damaging the pistons and destroy the spark plugs. This normally happens on small engines with turbos. The easiest way to avoid this is by simply selecting a lower gear (5th to 4th or 3rd) unless you have an automatic car which the gearbox will select the correct gear.
- Never buy low quality fuel: Always buy 95 octane fuels for petrol cars and 10ppm fuel for diesel cars. (or whatever the recommended fuel is as specified by the manufacturer in the user manual normally found in your cubbyhole.)
Basically, do not put 93 octane Petrol or 500ppm Diesel in unless you are stuck somewhere that doesn't have 95 octane petrol or 10ppm diesel. If you are in a scenario where the petrol station doesn’t have these fuels available, then only put a small amount of the incorrect fuel to get you to a place that has the correct fuel. Turbo charged motors are designed to run the highest octane available (which in SA is 95 Octane Petrol or 10PPm Diesel), when you run a low octane you cause something called engine knock, pinging or detonation which means the fuel / air mixture in the cylinder is not propagating a flame at the time the piston is at the correct position within the stroke. This can cause massive amount of damage to the motor internals.
- Never let the Turbo car go past its due service (as directed by the manufacturer in the manual or online).Turbochargers need oil to be at the correct viscosity (this varies from manufacturer to manufacturer), once the oil becomes too thick (which happens over time and use) it fails to correctly lubricate the Turbo’s shaft and seals. This will cause added wear on the Turbo which will eventually cause it to fail.
A few things to look out for when purchasing a used turbocharged car
- On a cold start, see if any smoke comes out the exhaust. White smoke on a turbo charged car can be an indication that oil is leaking into the Turbo and that the Turbo might be due for a replacement or service (this goes for both Diesel and Petrol). noting that a little steam is normal
- Check for white smoke while driving the car especially on pull off, gear change and hard driving.
- Listen for any noises that sound out of place, like a scraping sound coming from the motor.
- Make sure it has a full-service history, Turbo cars need to be correctly maintained as specified in the owner’s manual.
- Beware of modified Turbo cars. Sometimes previous owners try to get more power or better fuel consumption out of their cars and they then modified the car. It is very easy to modify a Turbo Charged car and this can cause increased wear of the motor and turbo. It’s not always easy to tell if a car has been modified but I would strongly suggest avoiding modified turbo cars as a rule.
In conclusion a Turbo charged car is a great option, it gives you better performance and fuel economy while producing less emissions however it does require a different driving style and proactive maintenance. If you keep in mind the items mentioned in this article you will have a great experience with a Turbocharged car.