Do I really need my TDI's turbocharger replaced, and if so, how much should it cost?
June 6, 2007 2:56 PM   Subscribe

TDI filter. My Toronto mechanic says my 2002 Beetle TDI needs a new turbocharger, and parts and labour should come to about $2,228. Is this a good price, and can anyone recommend a place for a second opinion? What questions should I ask to see if these guys are telling the truth? Please help this clueless girlie man fix his much loved gay car!

I am one of those people who drive too little to justify owning a car. Today I was told that my car needs a new turbocharger. So help me, I have no idea what this is, but the price, $2,228 Canadian (between $2000- $2,227 US in today's markets) seems high. Occassionally the 'check engine' light goes on at high speeds. When I restart the car, all is well.

It's 2002 with 28,000km on it. (yeah, I know, as I said, I don't drive enough to justify owning a car, it's an independence issue I have from growing up in the suburbs) Should I sell it and cut bait? Fix it? Or better yet, does anyone know a great place in the GTA to get a v.w. fixed?
posted by gesamtkunstwerk to Travel & Transportation (12 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
A lot of things can be wrong with your TDI that can seem similar to a non-functional turbo, and this problem seems to be misdiagnosed often. There are a ton of things that could cause the turbo not to kick in. One common one is the Mass Airflow Sensor, which only costs $100 and can be installed by anyone. But if you don't trust your mechanic, you need to find a better mechanic who will find out what the problem is (and it may be the turbo, which is expensive). Get yourself to the TDI Club and have a look through the forums for a Toronto mechanic recommendation.

On another note, you really don't need a diesel if you drive ~5000km/year. The fuel savings from driving a diesel only make sense if you are driving much more than that, TDIs take more maintenance than other cars and can be a bit more finicky. Luckily, they also hold their value really well. My recommendation: fix whatever is wrong with your car, then sell it. If you decide you need another car, buy a cheap used little Japanese car or something like that.
posted by ssg at 3:07 PM on June 6, 2007

Check out They have a thread somewhere with recommended mechanics in various locations.
posted by disaster77 at 3:09 PM on June 6, 2007

If the turbo has indeed failed, there are places that will rebuild turbos for roughly $500. I used Majestic Turbo last time, but they're in Texas, USA, so that may not help you. I dunno how handy you are, but it shouldn't be too difficult a job to replace.

The turbo should not have failed after just 28k km, so I'm a little skeptical of the diagnosis. Did you get slack on changing the oil or *gasp* did it somehow get low on oil? Oil starvation kills turbo bearings quick!

on preview: Yep, *great* TDI resources online that can give more specific advice than AskMe. Good luck!
posted by LordSludge at 3:13 PM on June 6, 2007

No beetle experience, but for reference I just had the turbo replaced on my Volvo T5 at similar cost to your quote. Cause might have been low oil when the car was borrowed for a CA-TN-CA trip. I do some mechanic work but the turbo job was more than my skills and tools.

The bad news for me is that the valve stems have also gone now, to be replaced for another similar cost. Guess I should've sold the car right after fixing the turbo ...
posted by anadem at 3:58 PM on June 6, 2007

It's only got 28,000 km on it? Isn't it still under warranty?

Like other posters, I can't recommend TDI Club enough. If you want to try and solve your car's problem yourself, go to the A4 Forum and ask a question. If you just want to find a Toronto-area mechanic, ask in the Ontario Owners Forum.
posted by harkin banks at 4:40 PM on June 6, 2007

I'll definitely check out TDI club. I'm absolutely anal about keeping the oil and filter changed, so I will definitely explore the possibilities.

Thanks. It's intimidating when you don't really understanding the workings of a car beyond the clutch, radiator and exhaust system.
posted by gesamtkunstwerk at 5:11 PM on June 6, 2007

The TDI forum is great. Ask Mefi has never let me down!

I am beginning to suspect that a TDI is compatible with downtown Toronto and my driving habits since moving here. It's just such a fun car to drive!
posted by gesamtkunstwerk at 6:13 PM on June 6, 2007

There was a great toolmonger podcast abount verifying mechanic quotes - here it is.
posted by zamboni at 6:14 PM on June 6, 2007

Just stepping in to remind everyone that, even though it might seem a tad wasteful, there are a few basic things you can do to keep the engine in your car alive for a good long time.

1. Drive it often. Don't let it sit for six months. If it's sitting for a few weeks, take it out on a nice drive somewhere. Mechanical parts like to be lubricated, and batteries like to be charged.

2. Change your oil and filter every 3,000 miles. Sure, some cars can go somewhat longer (and synthetic oil lasts a LOT longer, talking about dinosaur oil here) but for $20 a change, that's really cheap insurance. Just make sure you take it somewhere that recycles the old oil, and that you're sure actually does the change (ie you can watch.)

3. Always get a second, and if possible a third, opinion before having work done -- and don't tell the second or third mechanic what the first one said, for heaven's sake! I've had mechanics (on my old 1985 Jetta in fact) claim hundreds of dollars of repairs were necessary to cure a chronic running-hot problem, then found an old German guy who usually fixed Porsches in a little hole-in-the-wall shop who (correctly) diagnosed it as a $20 part and did the fix in ten minutes.

4. Befriend someone who actually knows something about cars. If you can, marry them or become otherwise entangled, and let them rescue you when you need rescuing. If they can't keep their own car(s) running, they don't actually know anything about cars, and should not be trusted. This person also should not run their own shop, and insist you have the work done there.

5. If you have a turbo, let the car idle for a minute or so before you shut it down -- it gives the turbo a chance to spin down, and the oil to cool off the bearing before it stops being pumped. This prevents the bearing from coking. Twenty years ago, they actually made aftermarket systems to keep oil pumping through your turbo for 3-5 minutes after you shut it down just to prevent costly turbo failure, but a simple brief wait before turning off the car should do wonders.

6. Finally, remember that check engine lights come on for expensive things, but also for inexpensive things, including having a loose gas cap -- it might be worthwhile for you to invest in (or borrow, or rent) a code reader so that you can determine what might be wrong (or at least the scope of the code) before you roll into the mechanic's domain. After all, if you know the code is for a possible bad oxygen sensor, and your mechanic claims the code is for "imminent engine failure" or "bad turbo", you'll know where you stand.
posted by davejay at 8:48 PM on June 6, 2007

Oh, and remember: the proper order is "if you're not sure, fix the cheap before the expensive." I can't tell you how many times people I know have had starters replaced for a few hundred dollars, followed by "well, that didn't fix it -- let's try replacing the rusty battery cable to the starter for $30." Any mechanic who says it could be A or B, and says you should do (the much pricier) B first, is on crack or dishonest*.

*unless safety is on the line, but then again, many will claim safety is on the line even when it is not.
posted by davejay at 8:51 PM on June 6, 2007

A couple things regarding davejay's post:

Since this is a TDI, it doesn't require oil changes every 3000km. 16000km will be fine and you can longer if you use special long wearing oil. I imagine the OP knows this, but it might as well be out there.

Unless you were pushing the car hard right before stopping, there isn't any reason to let the car idle to protect the turbo. Sure, if you were hammering it up a hill right before you stopped, let it idle a bit, but if you were just gently pulling in to your parking spot, then there is no need.

I'll second the advice to get a code reader or find someone who has one. Once you know what the code is, you can search by the code number on the TDIClub site, which will likely lead you to many posts concerning the very same problem you have.
posted by ssg at 9:29 PM on June 6, 2007

Many chain auto parts stores have Check Engine code readers that you can use at the store for free. Just go in and ask!
posted by autojack at 10:43 PM on June 6, 2007

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