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To save turbo, keep oil clean – and your foot light

Bruce Mallinson | August 07, 2014

Turbochargers are sensitive pieces of equipment and are abused many times during everyday driving conditions. They are put through hell, and to survive, they need clean oil, clean air filters, blow-by tubes that are not restricted and cool exhaust gas temperatures before the key is turned off. 

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They also need a gentle right foot. I’ve written for years that semi-truck drivers need to drive as if they have an uncooked egg between the right foot and the throttle – easy on, easy off. To keep your turbocharger alive and healthy, go back to the basics of driving.

Dirty oil will kill a turbo; it attacks a turbocharger faster than any other part on the diesel engine. When pulling a hill, the turbo can spin as fast as 112,000 rpm, with engine oil being the only thing that keeps it cool and lubricated and keeps metal from touching metal. That’s why engine oil has to be clean.

Lastly, allow your engine to cool before cutting the key off. Your exhaust gas temperature should be below 300 degrees before taking the keys out of the ignition. 

Here are a few pictures of some damaged turbos and what caused them: 

This broken turbine shaft was caused by pushing too hard on the accelerator, causing the turbine wheel to spool up too quickly. This also can be caused by rapid deceleration. The throttle must be worked gently both ways.

This broken turbine shaft was caused by pushing too hard on the accelerator, causing the turbine wheel to spool up too quickly. This also can be caused by rapid deceleration. The throttle must be worked gently both ways.

 

This turbine wheel was hit by engine pieces that came through the exhaust manifold.

This turbine wheel was hit by engine pieces that came through the exhaust manifold.

 

These heat cracks resulted from lugging the engine – pulling hills at 1,000 through 1,300 rpm, which is too low. Such cracks also are caused by not having a working pyrometer, having a clogged air filter or leaks in the charge-air system.

These heat cracks resulted from lugging the engine – pulling hills at 1,000 through 1,300 rpm, which is too low. Such cracks also are caused by not having a working pyrometer, having a clogged air filter or leaks in the charge-air system.

 

Dirty oil wiped out these turbo bearings, which are brass or copper sleeves. The bearing spins at half the rate of the turbine shaft: At idle, the bearings are spinning at 4,000 rpm, while the wheels and shaft are at 8,000 rpm.

Dirty oil wiped out these turbo bearings, which are brass or copper sleeves. The bearing spins at half the rate of the turbine shaft: At idle, the bearings are spinning at 4,000 rpm, while the wheels and shaft are at 8,000 rpm.

 

-Bruce Mallinson is the owner of Pittsburgh Power, an engine performance shop in Saxonburg, Pa.

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