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The Turbo Life

Recently while waiting for completion of some maintenance on one of our hot shot trucks I listened to the service manager chat with some customers on the phone and in the shop about turbo issues. 

I of course eavesdropped attentively as a new turbo for any of our hotshot trucks could be $5000 plus the labour costs. Thats $3000 plus “labor” if you are tuning in from the USA LOL

The service tech asked each customer the mileage on their turbos and when they replied something like 200,000 km he then explained that was typically the life expectancy of the turbo! What?!

We have never had to replace a turbo in our hot shot trucks and we run 400,000 to 650,000 km so far on stock original turbos. So what gives?

Our hotshotting trucks get used primarily for towing heavy loads for thousands of miles and most often up and down steep grades like the infamous Coquihalla not to mention the Rocky Mountains so the turbos get punished… or do they?

The average one ton diesel truck owner is not into hotshotting but uses his rig to haul a work trailer around town or take their travel trailer or boat to the lake a few times a year. 

So what’s our advantage as a hot shot carrier that extends the life of our turbos?

Well diesel truck don’t love short distances for one thing and our truck once started may run continuously for 1000 or more miles before shut down. 

But there’s good news even if you use your truck in town and not for hot shot. If you have a VGT turbo we have a tip for you.

VGT stands for Variable Geometry Turbo. In essence your turbo has vanes that open and close to mimic various sized turbo orifices so you have consistent power as you accelerate. It’s also environmentally friendly as it increases the scavenging ability of your turbo thus reducing that black soot expelled which is just wasted fuel. 

Another advantage of the VGT is the truck can use the vanes as an exhaust brake. Yes the truck tells the vanes to close partially creating back pressure and thus slowing the engine, your truck and your load. 

When we are towing heavy loads hotshotting we use our turbo exhaust brake all the time so those vanes are always opening and closing. When you don’t use your exhaust brake because you are just getting groceries and driving around town the vanes can get seized up with soot etc and eventually won’t function and you are then told you need a new turbo.

So tip number one- use your exhaust brake all the time like a hot shot carrier even when not towing. It won’t hurt anything but instead it will keep those vanes in motion and prolong the life of your turbo.

What’s another thing we do as professional hot shot operators that you can also do even if you are just picking up lumber at Home Depot?

After parking don’t shut the engine down right away! You might get some dirty looks from granola drivers in the parking lot in some areas but you will save on a new turbo in the long run.

If it’s warm out or you have a load your EGT or Exhaust Gas Temperature travelling through your turbo could be quite high. When towing up a hill it might reach 1200 F and when driving around town maybe 700-900 F. 

When you park the EGT could still be 500 degrees or more. Your truck uses oil circulated through your turbo to keep it cool and lubricate the shaft. When you immediately shut the engine down at 500 degrees there is a stop to the flow of oil to lube and cool the turbo. This can damage the turbo and any oil remaining it it will get cooked at 500 degrees and coke up the turbo. 

So tip 2- Let your engine idle briefly to cool the EGT and your turbo….EVERY TIME. 

Our hot shot trucks have a display of the EGT so we can watch the temperature not only when towing but also when we stop. We patiently wait as EGT temps drop to at least 400 degrees before finally shutting the engine down. 

If your truck is not equipped with an EGT gauge you can simply let it idle based on how hard you estimate it has just been working. 

With the costs of replacing turbos however why not invest in an EGT gauge? Another option available is programming that keeps your truck running until the desired low temperature has been reached so you never have to worry about forgetting or when others drive your truck.

Yes you can extend the life of your turbo just like a hot shot carrier and put that money toward fuel or beer.