How to look after your turbocharged car

Ricardo Martinez-Botas is professor of turbomachinery at Imperial College London’s Mechanical Engineering department, and a world authority on turbo technology. He says that while current technology means modern car drivers can just get in and drive, that changes if the car is modified from standard.

“Engine management systems and current engine designs would take care of everything,” he says. “But if you modify a system it would be immediately altering the design intent and you’re liable to go outside the intended use of the device. If you modify, you really do have to be extremely cautious.

“You have an engine map that has been developed for the engine. If you change the type of oil, or add additives in the system, or change the ECU, then no one will assure you of the reliability of the machine, because the developer has not tested that machine with those changes.”

If you are modifying your turbocharged car, it’s imperative to have the software and often the hardware upgraded accordingly by an expert.

“If you do it without significant inside knowledge of the consequence, changes to the boosting system can be extremely damaging to your machine,” the professor says. “Your engine cylinders will be exposed to much higher pressures than they were before, and you blow the piston rings – for a start. If you make a change and have professional knowledge and check that your mapping is OK, then of course it will be fine. But that is a process that is difficult.

“The UK is world-leading with an incredible amount of expertise, and there are people out there that can do these things very well. But if you go to the wrong person they may well do the wrong type of change and two years on you’ll find you have a damaged engine.”

Professor Martinez-Botas says that for older cars, which don’t benefit from modern electronic safety nets, the above advice is largely valid.

“All these issues are sensible things,” he says. “But for the last 10 years, no tips are given to the customer when purchasing a car, because these things are taken care of.”

Professor Ricardo Martinez-Botas gives his thoughts on the five common tips for turbocharged cars. These apply mainly to cars older than 10 years, and modified cars.

1: Warm your car up before driving – let the engine run and bring the oil up to temperature.

“Absolutely. If you’re concerned about the age of your car, or you’ve modified it, that would be a sensible thing to consider.”

2: Don’t switch the engine off immediately – let it cool down.

“In today’s engine the oil system will not switch off immediately, there will be some cooling going on. But if your car doesn’t have that run down cooling system then you do have to be careful. I would imagine most cars would, so I have some doubts. But it can’t hurt to do it.”

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