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Are Turbocharged Engines Less Reliable?

Turbocharged, smaller engines are becoming more and more popular for many reasons. Turbocharged engines can offer better fuel economy without sacrificing an enjoyable driving experience with decent power and accelerations, but many companies are still too new to the technology to produce turbocharged engines that are genuinely reliable and effective.

While muscle car and big-block enthusiasts claim there is no replacement for displacement, the modern car industry doesn’t seem to agree. In fact, it isn’t uncommon to see many cars on the road with smaller engines supported by turbochargers. With this setup of having turbocharger-boosted engines that are smaller, automakers can provide buyers with responsible fuel economy without sacrificing an enjoyable driving experience. But, are turbochargers decreasing our car’s reliability?

Are turbochargers reliable?

Just like any mechanical system, adding additional parts can prove challenging, especially when they directly affect the performance of the system in question. In this case, the additional part is the turbocharger, and the major part of the system is the engine itself. Of course, whenever you add more parts to a system, that just means there are more parts that can break, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that it makes the system unreliable.

A turbocharged four-cylinder 2009 Hyundai Genesis
The turbocharged four-cylinder motor of the 2009 Hyundai Genesis Coupe | Jonathan Fickies, Getty Images

What sources have to say

According to Consumer Reports, there are a lot of benefits to buying a car with a smaller, turbocharged engine. They’re very appealing to customers because they balance the factors of cars that we care about most, like fuel economy and driving experience.

“That might sound like a win-win situation, except not all automakers are making high-quality turbo engines”

Consumer Reports, from their annual Auto Reliability Survey

The problem arises when manufacturers don’t put their best foot forward when it comes to producing reliable turbocharged engines. In their annual Auto Reliability Survey, Consumer Reports polled members owning a wide variety of vehicles. The survey took into account as many as 500,000 vehicles including cars, minivans, trucks, and SUVs. The survey showed a mixture of results.

A prototype diesel turbocharged engine
Japan’s auto giant Nissan Motor displays a cut-model of the prototype diesel turbo-charged engine “M9R ” | YOSHIKAZU TSUNO/AFP, Getty Images

What did the Consumer Reports survey say?

It seems that when consumers reported on having issues, the problems arose with the engine rather than the turbo — though, again, that wasn’t the case 100% of the time. The overall data showed turbocharged engines to be reliable and effective, with some issues arising due to a variety of reasons including the turbocharger itself and engine computer.

“Truth is, when automakers introduce such new technology, it can take several model years to get it working correctly.”

Jake Fisher, director of auto testing, Consumer Reports

It seems that there is a relatively direct correlation between how new turbocharging systems are to each company, meaning that as time goes on, they will likely get better and become more reliable and efficient for companies who are newer to the turbocharged engine market.

Consumer Reports did point out that these issues typically occur while the vehicles are still under warranty — but that isn’t always the case. If it is, owners can still find issues with their new car frustrating, as it takes time and planning to have the recall work repaired, even if it’s free to the consumer.

Overall, just like buying any new car, researching statistics and reviews on what experts think will be a reliable car is important, but sometimes only time will show if any problems will arise. While turbocharged engines themselves aren’t unreliable, they do add an additional factor for issues, and if companies aren’t taking the time to produce high-quality engines it can prove to be problematic.


Turbocharging Your Cars Requires More Than Just a Turbo