How To Clean a Turbo Without Removing It

The turbo is designed to give power to your engine and to boost the acceleration. The turbo is driven by exhaust gases. It is located with one side connected to the exhaust manifold and the other side to the mass airflow sensor.

Because the turbo is powered by exhaust gases, over time, it can get clogged up by a carbon deposit. A clogged turbo will result in a lack of power. If left unchecked, this can lead to premature wear. You should clean your turbo when you notice the lack of power or every 30,000 miles. Here is how to clean a turbo without removing it:

How To Clean a Turbo Without Removing It

The turbo gives power to your engine and makes driving and accelerating more exciting. But, it can also get dirty from the carbon buildup and fail. In the worst-case scenario, your engine can stop. Some of the early signs of clogging aren’t very consequential, but they’re easy to recognize. Left unchecked, these can become worse over time and cause catastrophic damage. There is a way on how to clean a turbo without removing it. Here is how to clean a turbo without removing it:

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1. Park your car outside

Your vehicle will be running while you are cleaning your turbo, so you need a place with great ventilation. Park your vehicle outside, preferably in shade, if it’s too hot outside. Whatever works for you, just get comfortable.

2. Get a turbo cleaner and gloves

How To Clean a Turbo Without Removing It

You will need a turbo cleaner in order to clean your turbo. The one that I use costs around $12. I got mine from, you can order it here. If you have some leftover turbo cleaner, that is fine. But, I recommend that you use the whole bottle for one cleaning. Also, the engine will be at a working temperature, so it’s best if you have gloves and don’t get burned.

3. Warm up your engine

Start your vehicle and run it until it reaches the proper operating temperature. Your vehicle will need to be working throughout the whole cleaning process. So, if you are not comfortable working around a hot engine, put on some long sleeves and gloves.

4. Disconnect the air inlet pipe

How To Clean a Turbo Without Removing It

Locate your mass airflow sensor and disconnect the air inlet pipe that goes after the mass airflow sensor. The location of the MAF will be different for different vehicles. The turbo is powered by exhaust gases. So, one side of the turbo is connected to the exhaust manifold and the other one is connecter to the air intake. Make sure to disconnect the air inlet after the MAF sensor and not before the MAF sensor.

5. Spray the whole turbo cleaner

How To Clean a Turbo Without Removing It

Spray the whole can of turbo cleaner in the air inlet with short sprays. Do not spray it in one long spray as you may overflood the engine. As you spray the turbo cleaner, you will notice that the engine revs will increase for a couple of seconds. This is because the air to fuel ratio is unbalanced. Wait for the engine to calm down before spraying again.

6. Leave the engine idling for 5 minutes

How To Clean a Turbo Without Removing It

After you spray the whole can of turbo cleaner, leave the engine running with the air inlet disconnected. Do not rev the engine at this point, just let it idle. You should notice a change in the exhaust gases coming out from the tailpipe. This is why I said you should do this in a place with great ventilation.

7. Rev up the engine

How To Clean a Turbo Without Removing It

Rev up the engine to 3000 RPMs 8-10 times. Do not exceed the 3000 RPMs. As soon as you reach 3000 RPMs let go of the gas pedal and then rev again. Again, you should notice a different smoke from the tailpipe.

8. Reconnect the air inlet pipe

Reconnect the air inlet pipe as it was before and take your vehicle for a 20 minute ride. Before you drive the car, make sure that there is no air leaking from the inlet. If your screws are rusty, replace them with new ones.

Most Common Signs Of a Clogged or Failing Turbo

A failing or clogged turbo usually is associated to a lack of power. But, there are some more signs and symptoms that a clogged or failing turbo can give you. Here are the most common signs of a clogged or failing turbo:

1. Lack of power

If you know your car, or if you have experienced driving turbocharged cars, this one can be difficult to overlook. The engine doesn’t produce the power output as it should. It’s just not as perky as it used to be. You can also feel a kind of lack of momentary engine response when you want to accelerate

Sometimes the engine won’t even get to a higher revs level and the turbo lag seems to be much longer than usual. Now, this all may refer to an under boost condition where the turbo suffers from some severe failure, it is clogged, or where the system can’t deliver the boost to the engine.

2. Blue/white smoke

A healthy engine should never emit any visible smoke from the exhaust system. There are many factors that can cause an engine to emit smoke, but a clogged or a failing turbo is one of them. Bluish white smoke is a sign the engine is burning oil. This is a real problem because oil should never be a part of the combustion process.

High engine wear or crankcase ventilation system malfunction is usually the root of the problem here. The most common turbo related issue is leaky shaft seals.

3. White smoke

White smoke can indicate that the engines burning coolant, there’s moisture present in the intake, or you have high EGR rates. In terms of the turbo link, coolant burning symptoms may occur because of leaks in water-cooled turbo models.

4. Black smoke

Black smoke refers to incomplete combustion. This just means that the fuel that’s getting into the engine isn’t burning completely. A lot of things can cause this, but the main one is a blockage in the proper oxygen supply. A broken or clogged turbo is a real issue, especially if we can’t deliver proper air to the engine.

Broken elements like a failing compressor wheel, seizures, or impaired boost control are all issues related to black smoke. Another issue could be leaks within the ducts that deliver the charge air or an intercooler that may not be sealed or suffer from inner clogs.

5. Whining/Siren noise

Noises can be an obvious symptom of severe turbocharger failure. You can’t miss them because they amplify as the engine revs up. Sometimes, you can even hear them loudly inside the cabin. A whining or siren noise is a very distinctive turbo failure sign and indicates that there’s a failure with the turbo on the compressor side.

6. Hissing noise

Whether it’s a shaft with too much play, out of balance, bent, or chipped compressor blades, they’ll all result in a hissing noise until the turbo completely collapses. Whistling noises are common for leaks within the charged air ducts, whereas hissing noises are usually accompanied by an exhaust smell in the cabin and are related to leaks on the exhaust side of the turbo.

7. Error codes from ECU

The last possible symptom caused by turbo failures are errors registered by the engine control unit or the ECU. The illuminated check engine light on the dashboard is pretty common. You’ll register specific error codes via OBD diagnostics. In some circumstances, the malfunctioning turbo can result in the engine being put into limp mode with reduced revs and power. But, this isn’t a fixed rule and some of the most catastrophic turbo failures can happen without any of the error codes.

These error codes can typically refer to lack of proper boost pressure, turbo boost control device failures, or erratic readings from the MAF. If some of these symptoms are present, it could be that the turbo is broken. A thorough system check has to be performed to confirm it before replacing the part.

Igor Iwanowski

I am a certified Automotive Service Excellence (ASE) mechanic since 2018. I specialize in Brake systems, dashboard warning lights, EGRs, general engine problems, EVAP and Emissions issues.

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