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September 1, 2013

Car Talk

Dad is wrong about turbo-charged engines

Syndicated columnists

Dear Tom and Ray: My dad and I are looking for new cars. I test-drove a car, and then I test-drove the same car with a turbo engine. It had more power and got better gas mileage. I liked it. My dad said no to the turbo model. He said turbo charging an engine takes the life out of it. He says it will not last as long as the non-turbo-charged engine. Do you agree with my dad? Who should buy a turbo? — Hayley

Tom:
You should buy a turbo, Hayley. And so should most people.

Ray:
In the early days of turbo charging, it was common for turbos to fail at less than 100,000 miles. The failure often was catastrophic, leading to thousands of dollars in engine repairs.

Tom:
Ask anyone who owned an '80s-era Saab turbo about this phenomenon. But first, be prepared for them to start weeping.

Ray:
Unlike those devices, today's turbos are very reliable, partly because we have a lot more experience in designing them, but also because today's motor oils do a far superior job of keeping them cooled and lubricated.

Tom: The advantage of a turbo is that it allows you to use a smaller, more fuel-efficient engine while having the turbo on standby for when you do need some extra oomph.

Ray:
The truth is, a smaller engine is all you need most of the time. Then, once in a while, when you need to pass a truck, enter a highway or peel away from a boyfriend's house after he says those shoes make your feet look fat, you step on the gas, and the turbo adds all the extra power you need.

Tom:
Your dad does make a fair point — that a turbo can be harder on the engine if it's abused. So if you drive like an animal and stomp on the gas all the time, a turbo is not for you. Traffic court is for you.

Ray:
But for all reasonable drivers, a turbo does exactly what you say it does, Hayley: It allows a smaller engine to provide additional power when it's needed, and better mileage the rest of the time. Enjoy your new car.

(Car Talk is a nationally syndicated column by automotive experts (and brothers) Tom and Ray Magliozzi. Write to them at the Car Talk website.)

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