Cleaning a turbocharger is critical to ensure that an engine runs efficiently. You don’t want to reduce the life of the turbocharger or the engine by allowing too much dirt to accumulate. Learning how to clean a turbocharger can ensure you take care of your vehicle, regardless of whether it is a truck, farm equipment, or construction vehicle.
How Do Turbochargers Get Dirty?
Turbochargers are bound to get dirty based on how they operate. It’s important to remember that compressed air is what helps to achieve the turbine-driven forced induction that allows the device to increase an engine’s power. With all of that extra air being forced into the combustion chamber, it’s going to serve as a vacuum – sucking up dirt and dust along the way.
Additionally, with all of the kinetic energy found in the exhaust gas, it can generate quite a bit of soot. If you have poor fuel atomization, there will be even more buildup. Over time, it’s going to clog up the exhaust system. You’ll start to see smoke and experience a burning smell.
If you’re doing a lot of short trips or start/stop driving, this will also impact the buildup on the turbocharger. Much of this is because the temperature of the engine isn’t getting hot enough to burn off the carbon deposits. As such, there are more hydrocarbons being produced in the warm-up cycle, and it’s creating more buildup.
When you acknowledge that turbochargers will get dirty without you doing anything above and beyond the basics, it makes it easier to know that they have to be cleaned.
Why Turbochargers Have to Be Cleaned
The dirt, buildup, and soot have to be cleaned out of turbochargers. Otherwise, your engine is going to experience performance problems and your exhaust system will start to suffer.
Too much soot will put negative pressure on the turbocharger, which will reduce engine power. Additionally, you’ll start to experience various other symptoms:
- Loud noises
- White/black exhaust smoke
- Over-consumption of oil
- Burning smells
- Error codes from ECU
As you experience the various symptoms that tell you that you have a dirty turbocharger, you have to act quickly. White smoke tells you that you are burning coolant while black smoke tells you that the combustion cycle is incomplete. Other issues will simply affect the performance. If you continue to drive with a dirty turbocharger, you may end up damaging other parts, creating expensive repairs.
Additionally, depending on where you live, a dirty turbocharger could prevent you from passing a state inspection.
Considering that turbochargers can be cleaned relatively easily (and even without removing the turbocharger from the engine, there’s no reason why it shouldn’t be done often.
How to Clean a Turbocharger
You have options in terms of how to clean a turbocharger. The simplest but more expensive option is to replace the part. If your part is older and hasn’t been cleaned in months or years, it may be the more realistic option. You can also pay a professional to clean the turbocharger, which usually involves a special hydrogen treatment. While this might be fine for a deep cleaning, it’s not something you’ll likely want to pay for regularly.
If you have recently acquired a turbocharger, it’s better to learn how to clean it. Since buildup is inevitable, you don’t want to have to replace the part every time it gets dirty (or pay for a professional cleaning).
You will want to find a quality turbocharger cleaner that is capable of getting rid of all of the different deposits. A good cleaner will:
- Lubricate vanes and actuators that are sticky
- Clean the EGR
- Prevent carbon deposits
When you start the process, you need to park your vehicle outside where there is plenty of ventilation. Your engine will be running while you are cleaning, so you don’t want to experience carbon monoxide poisoning.
- Choose a turbo cleaner you like. Most bottles will last for only one cleaning. You will also want a good pair of gloves so that you don’t burn your hands as you work.
- Warm up your engine. Depending on the vehicle, it will need to run for at least 10 minutes to get to the optimal operating temperature.
- Locate the mass airflow sensor (MAF) and disconnect the air inlet pipe that connects to it.
- Using short sprays, spray the entire can of cleaner into the air inlet. One long spray will cause the engine to overflood, so take your time. The engine will rev a bit higher as the cleaner works its way in. Don’t worry – this is because the air to fuel ratio is off balance. Just wait for the engine to rev down before you spray again.
- Once the entire can has been emptied, let your engine run idly for about 10 minutes. Don’t reconnect the air inlet just yet. You may also see a lot more exhaust gas leaving the tailpipe.
- Hop into the driver’s seat of the vehicle so you can rev the engine. Rev it up to approximately 3000 RPMs about 8 to 10 times.
- Go ahead and reconnect the air inlet pipe to the MAF sensor. Be sure that there is no air leaking from the inlet. If there are connection issues due to rusty screws, replace with new ones.
Once all of the steps have been followed, wait about 20 minutes before driving your vehicle.
Knowing where to get quality parts and rebuilds is critical. By working with professionals like Thompson Diesel, you can be sure to get a quality turbocharger – and learn a few tips for how to keep it clean on a regular basis. If you have inherited an older turbocharger that hasn’t been cleaned regularly, you may also find yourself having to replace it – and knowing where to go to get one that you can depend on is critical.
Ultimately, you want to clean your turbocharger at least once a month. This will keep it operating in the most efficient way possible. By learning how to clean it yourself, you can save money and take better care of your vehicle.