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Diagnosing Turbo Failures by the Color of the Exhaust

Learn how to identify the cause of turbo failures by the color of the exhaust and save your customers money.

Episode 119: If your customer has had a turbo failure, you can often identify the cause by the color of the exhaust. After listening to this episode, you will be able to help your customers diagnose potential problems that led to a turbo failure so that the problem doesn’t happen again and that will save the fleet or owner-operator money. 

For today’s turbo talk I wanted to make sure that I had someone who knows turbos inside and out. So I invited returning guest John Ferry who is the Vice-President at Turbo Solutions and was on the show in episode 33

Turbo Solutions Logo. In this episode, they talk to us about how to identify the cause of a turbo failure by the color of the exhaust.

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Complete Transcript of Episode:

Jamie Irvine:

You’re listening to The Heavy-Duty Parts Report. I’m your host, Jamie Irvine. And this is the show where you get expert advice about heavy-duty parts that keeps trucks and trailers on the road longer while lowering costs per mile.

If your customer has had a turbo failure, they’re going to need to replace that turbo. But why did the turbo fail in the first place? Often you can identify the cause of a turbo failure or at least other things that need to be addressed by the color of the exhaust. After listening to this episode today, you will be able to help your customers diagnose potential problems that led to the turbo failure so that problem doesn’t happen again. And that’s going to save your customer or the fleet money.

For today’s turbo talk I wanted to make sure that I had someone who would join us who was able to provide the expertise to really help us to learn this important information. And so I’ve invited John Ferry, vice-president at Turbo Solutions to come back on the show. If you recognize his name, he was on our podcast back in Episode 33. John, welcome back to the Heavy-Duty Parts Report. So glad to have you here.

John Ferry:

Glad to be here. And you have a great show, Jamie. Thank you.

Jamie Irvine:

Thank you, John. I appreciate that. So let’s get right to the heart of the matter. On average what does it cost to replace a turbocharger if you’re going to go to the dealer?

John Ferry:

Dealer and I’m talking ranges, you’re probably looking for the component for the turbo only, between $3,500 – $6500. And you know, when you look at it today, that’s more expensive than a transmission, a manual transmission for a truck. So that’s probably why I’m on this show because it is an important component on the vehicle and expensive component. And of course the labor is going to be somewhere between three and five hours, average labor time, average labor costs $150 an hour, so quite expensive.

Jamie Irvine:

So that labor time is in addition to the $3,500 to $6,500 range for the actual turbo?

John Ferry:

That’s correct.

Jamie Irvine:

So that adds up very, very quickly. One of the things that I know about any maintenance and repair issue is if you only throw parts at it, it doesn’t necessarily solve the problem. And long-term, that can be very, very costly. So if the cause of a turbocharger is ignored, when this turbocharger is replaced, what does that cost the fleet in the end? I’d like you to walk me through all of the costs that perhaps are below the surface and are unseen.

John Ferry:

Sure. Well, I mean, if a turbocharger, a root cause issue is not addressed and parts changing is a big issue in our business, then you’re going to start out with a very expensive tow bill. The job’s going to have to be done again, rediagnosed.

One of the most important things that we stress to our distributors is that when a customer has a turbo that fails, it’s really important to understand why it failed. And you know, the turbos today, the VGT turbos, that were produced by Cummins, you know, they have a life in many cases of a million miles.

So if you’re a distributor and you have a customer that has 300,000 miles and he tells you that the turbo failed because it just wore out. And I would say, that’s a red flag. Figure out what it was that killed the turbo, because if you don’t, we could be the greatest remanufacturer in the world, but the same problem is going to repeat itself.

Jamie Irvine:

Yeah, that’s interesting. And when you start to add up all those costs, like you said, if it’s a breakdown situation that is very expensive, it’s the tow bill, it’s the hotel bill for the driver, the extra food, perhaps some overtime, then it’s the downtime. To me the truck going back into the shop for a second time, that truck can’t go to work and can’t earn you revenues. This is a big cost there as well.

John Ferry:

Yeah. I mean, you could make the case that that’s the most expensive cost. You know, it’s more than just the tangible invoices that are accrued, but that is a real world, real case scenario that happens unfortunately.

Jamie Irvine:

So John, as you mentioned, Turbo Solutions provides remanufactured turbos. Why should a fleet buy turbo solutions products from a distributor like HDA Truck Pride?

John Ferry:

So what I would say about that is that, number one, we only focus on turbochargers, which I mentioned earlier. And I’ll tell you, we have people that really understand the turbo and they understand why the premature failure happens. You know, I’ll give you an example. One of the things that we see with the Cummins VGT turbos that come back prematurely failed in the field is soot and that soot is a direct reflection that there’s a problem with the DPF system.

And by being able to provide that feedback back to the customer and have them be able to check their DPF system and fix the problem that’s going to result in a long-term fix for the problems that they’re having. And the customers want to know this information because they’ve past failures and they really want to make sure that they understand why they happen. As far as Turbo Solutions.

You know, we’ve made some decisions, we want to be able to make the product better. A good example of that is on many of the OEM turbos they use rebuilt electronic actuators. We use new actuators. We have the equipment to be able to make sure when the turbo leaves it was built properly.

All of our remanufactured turbos are precision balanced before they’re even packaged. So we’re doing everything on our side, not only to provide that feedback through our distributors, but we want to make the product better than maybe it was designed originally.

Jamie Irvine:

We’re going to take a quick break. We’ll be right back.

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We’re back from our break. And before the break, we were talking about the cost of failing to identify the root cause of a turbo failure. And we were talking about what Turbo Solutions is doing to support their distributors and their customers on that.

John, you mentioned that in your manufacturing facility, you have the ability to look at things like the metal composition, things like what’s going on internally with the turbo to identify possible causes of the turbo failure, a parts technician, or even a repair technician may not have that ability. So let’s talk a little bit about what the exhaust, the color of the exhaust indicates about why a turbo might be failing prematurely.

So we’ve got a customer, they come in, they say, look, my turbo needs to be replaced. And we say, okay, well, what color is the exhaust? And they say, well, the exhaust was actually a real black color. What should that immediately alert the parts technician or the repair technician to, and where should they point the customer’s attention to look at root causes?

John Ferry:

Yeah. Good question. So, yeah, I mean, if it’s black, that’s a direct indication that there’s a fuel issue and the fuel was too rich, too much fuel going into the combustion chamber. That could be an ejector issue, it could be a number of things, but black think about fuel.

Jamie Irvine:

Think about fuel. Okay. So if, for example, it was like an injector issue, that’s a much bigger problem than the customers anticipating, but at least then you do the repair only once.

So the truck’s already in the shop, the downtime has already been incurred, hopefully getting those injectors fixed or getting that fuel issue fixed is going to get the truck back on the road. And the outcome of that is yes, a bit more cost upfront, but of course they get to avoid all of that additional costs with a secondary failure.

So there’s a couple of different colors that, that give us an indication. So let’s say that the customer says, okay, well actually the smoke was kind of like white. So what would indicate about, about what’s going on and what maybe caused that turbo to fail?

John Ferry:

Well, when we hear white, we think cooling, that’s usually something to do with the cooling system. It could be a blown head gasket on the engine. It could be a crack in the engine block, but a white would designate moisture, most likely cooling.

Jamie Irvine:

Okay. And I guess what’s really important here is we have to ask the right questions. So what kind of questions could we ask them to figure out if it was just a coolant issue, maybe in the cooling system versus an engine issue, like a blown head gasket. How would we help them to diagnose that?

John Ferry:

Really a lot of it has to do with where we start is on the history of the vehicle. You know, how long has it been in service? What’s the history, any other problems, how many miles on the engine? So, you know, we would do our best to be able to, give the customers some help. Obviously a lot of the fleets and the shops, they know to do oil analysis. And they’re going to be able to tell a lot of things by doing that.

Jamie Irvine:

Right. Okay. So the last one is blue exhaust. What does blue exhaust indicate about what could be going on and causing that turbo to fail prematurely?

John Ferry:

Blue is going to be an oil-related issue. And it could be a seal in the engine that failed that the engine has a lot of miles. And these are the types of questions that are going to get to the answer. But you know, with us black, we think fuel, white we think cooling and blue, we think that there’s an oil issue, the engines burning oil away, where you got to find out why.

Jamie Irvine:

Okay, that’s fantastic. So this information will help people to help their customers. If you’re a parts person or a repair person you’ve got to ask the right questions. If you don’t know the right questions to ask, how should they work with you, John, to be able to help diagnose these problems.

John Ferry:

The top-notch, tier-one distributors around the country, they already understand that education is a part of the responsibility, product education, and getting that out at the shops and becoming a resource for the guy that’s in charge of keeping the trucks on the road is invaluable.

And you know, it’s not really about being the greatest salesman in the world that could sell ice to an Eskimo, it’s really about having some answers, not only based on experience, but based on research, that when you come back to the customer and you can tell them what causes these issues, you become a resource. You become very valuable and the secret is that’s how you sell a lot of parts.

So we’re here to assist our distributors. We only know about turbochargers and how other components affect the turbochargers. The people that we have at turbo solutions. Even the guys that are out on the road, touching the customers are turbocharger experts, and they provide a lot of value. And I will tell you that has been a real key to the differentiation between us and other people that are in the turbocharger business.

Jamie Irvine:

We’ll take a quick break. We’ll be right back. Don’t have a heavy-duty part number and need to look up a part? Diesel parts is a cross-reference and parts lookup tool that makes it easier to identify heavy-duty parts than ever before. Go to parts.diesellaptops.com or download the app on Apple or Android to create your free account. We’re back from our break.

Before the break, we were talking all about how to help the vehicle owner to figure out why did that turbo fail by looking at the different colors of exhausts, John, how does properly diagnosing the root cause of turbo failures, help vehicle owners lower their total cost of operation?

I just want to really emphasize this point.

We’ve got truck drivers that are listening on TNC radio right now. We want them to go back to their shops and if there’s blue or white or black smoke coming out of their exhaust right now, we want them to sound really smart. So how does all of this information help them with their total costs?

John Ferry:

Yeah, I’ll tell you, it’s a little bit repetitive, but understanding what the failure was, I mean the number one failure and the number one killer of turbochargers is oil. Whether that’s contaminated oil, whether it is oil delay or oil starvation. A stat that I want to share today, that if you start up your vehicle and the oil is not properly feeding your turbocharger, good clean oil, Cummins and says that you can burn your turbo up, your brand new turbo in three seconds. That’s kind of amazing.

But when you dig down deep and you look at the fact that turbochargers are capable of spinning at 120,000 revolutions per minute, if you break that down by 60 seconds, the turbochargers spinning 2000 times a second. So that kind of speed requires lubrication, good lubrication. And unfortunately a lot of times at the shops and at the fleets, maybe the best practices are not observed.

And I hear a lot of truck owners and shops talking about the fact that they never lost an engine. They take care of their oil, they never lost an engine. Well, you have to understand that if a turbo spinning at 120,000 revolutions per minute, and an engine is turning at about 1500, you really can’t take that logic to the bank. These turbochargers have to have good clean oil. I would recommend that people maintained their engine after treatment, EGR failure, DPF failure, kill the turbocharger.

And if you’re just swapping out turbos and you’re not really addressing the root cause, problem, that turbocharger is going to wind up being a very expensive filter. And you don’t want to have that happen.

Jamie Irvine:

And, you know, before we started recording, we were talking about the current situation in the industry with supply shortage, people shortage. So if we’re failing to diagnose these problems and fix them right, the first time, we’re just exacerbating that issue because you might now have a second failure. You have all those costs that we’ve already talked about. And then the part isn’t available. I mean, this would be kind of a worst-case scenario times two.

John Ferry:

Yeah, no doubt about it. And you know, we really stand behind our product. And you know, we like to say that a warranty is only as good as the people that stand behind it.

We stand behind the product and in a lot of cases with the OEs and the OEM turbos, if you buy a turbocharger over the counter from the dealer and you have a problem with it, then they don’t want to give you a replacement or probably very little help on why it happened. They want you to bring their vehicle back to the shop and leave the keys.

And so another key reason why someone would want to buy a turbocharger from one of our distributors is that we’re not only going to stand behind the product, but if there’s a problem, we’re going to be able to give them assistance on how to make sure that they understand how to prevent it from happening again.

Jamie Irvine:

And you’ve created a great tool for your distributors to help them with identification and to really get the information they need quickly. Can you tell us a little bit about that?

John Ferry:

Yeah, sure. I’d love to, it’s one of my favorite subjects. What we have decided to do is we want to get the information out in the field, all over the country, to the guys at the shop level. So if you have a phone, all of that information about turbochargers is right there. I would encourage the listeners to go to turbo key, two words, turbo key, and that is available in the Apple app store and the Google app store.

And what you will get is plenty of information and it’s information on why turbochargers go bad, how to prevent it. And it’s done in a format of two-minute videos. Everybody’s busy today, but everybody can make two minutes to be able to better themselves and have a better understanding. Product knowledge is power. Once they understand what is the cause they can deal with the real problem.

Jamie Irvine:

Absolutely. So we’ll make sure that there are links in the show notes for getting directly to the app stores, as well as of course, there’s going to be a link to your website. If somebody wants to become a distributor and sell your parts there, they’re very impressed with everything they’ve heard, and they said we need a partner with our turbos. How should they go about contacting your organization and what process are they going to go through to become a distributor?

John Ferry:

You know the easiest way would be to send us an email. The email address is [email protected]. And if you send us a email, we will reach out to you and we will reach out very quickly.

And what does it take to become a distributor? Well, we would like to have a commitment on the distributors and that means they’re going to stock the most popular product. They’re going to be able to do field training with their counter people, their salespeople, we provide all of that support.

We take our app Turbo Key. Once they become a distributor, Turbo Key has the ability to help them identify turbos based on the engine serial number of the vehicle, VIN number.

So we make it very easy for their people to understand how to identify and properly quote the turbocharger and how to sell, how to sell and how to make sure that when they go out and talk to the fleets, they talk to the shops, they’re hitting all of the high points on why that customer would want to buy the turbo.

Jamie Irvine:

You provide a true partnership, which is what all distributors should be looking for from their manufacturers. You’ve been listening to the Heavy-Duty Parts Report. I’m your host, Jamie Irvine. We’ve been speaking to John Ferry, vice president at Turbo Solutions.

If you’d like to buy a turbocharger today, go to heavydutypartsreport.com/buy parts, and you’ll get access to one of Turbo Solutions distributors, HDA Truck Pride.

And if you’d like to learn more about Turbo Solutions, again, the website is tsreman.com. Links are in the show notes. And if you want to become a distributor, just shoot that email over to John and his team [email protected]. That link will be in the show notes as well. John, thank you so much for being on the Heavy-Duty Parts Report. It’s been so nice to have you back.

John Ferry:

Thank you very much, Jamie. And I appreciate the fact that you allow us to come on.

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