Troubles With Turbo Engine Reliability

CR's exclusive reliability data can point you to the brands and models you can depend on and those you should steer clear of

Turbo engine reliability

Automakers are dropping more turbocharged engines under the hoods of their latest models as they try to boost fuel efficiency without sacrificing engine performance.

Smaller turbocharged engines appeal to consumers and auto companies because they offer the promise of more power but with the fuel efficiency of a smaller engine. Automakers also like them because they see turbos as a way to help meet government fuel-economy standards.

That might sound like a win-win situation, except not all automakers are making high-quality turbo engines, according to data from our annual Auto Reliability Survey, which polls CR members about their experience with more than 500,000 cars, minivans, SUVs, and trucks. Consumers should be aware of potentially problematic turbos when shopping for a new car.

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“Small turbo engines can save gas while delivering the power people want, but only if the engines are reliable,” says Jake Fisher, director of auto testing for Consumer Reports. “Sometimes the added complexity means trouble arises down the road.”

Our survey data show that many turbo engines are highly effective and reliable. But some CR members reported problems with certain turbocharged engines when compared with nonturbo engines, including problems with the turbochargers and engine computers. A few members also told us they needed engine replacements.

Turbos work by forcing air into an engine on demand, which burns more gas and creates more power but only when it’s needed, potentially saving fuel. They’re also increasingly paired to high-tech transmissions with eight, nine, or even 10 gears, which also can help fuel efficiency.

Many new engines with these problems are likely to be under warranty, but there’s still a hassle factor when a car doesn’t work like it should. There’s also time lost to repairs.

Some owners in our survey reported various problems with the 3.0-liter turbo V6 engine in the Lincoln MKZ sedan and with the Hyundai Tucson’s 1.6-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine. With that engine, Hyundai uses a seven-speed transmission to save gas and improve performance. Some members also told us that the transmission had problems.

There hasn’t been a common thread to explain the problems, but new engine technologies can falter in their first few years. “Truth is, when automakers introduce such new technology, it can take several model years to get it working correctly,” Fisher says. He adds that cars made by automakers with more experience building turbos tend to have fewer problems. “Audi has been building turbo engines since the 1980s, and our survey data show its 2.0-liter turbo engines have been reliable.”

Of the automakers with problems mentioned here, only Hyundai provided comment to CR. In an email, the automaker said it’s “aware of the issues reported by Consumer Reports’ [members]. Hyundai recommends that any customer that has any concerns with their vehicle bring it into a dealership for evaluation.”

Shoppers in the market for a new car should check CR’s reliability predictions before buying.