The Turbocharger Boost Leak – Don’t Panic

Having a boost leak is never good. A minor leak can make your vehicle run rough, misfire, feel down on power, and run rich because the ECU is expecting air that it isn’t getting.  Major boost leaks will cause flashing check engine lights (massive misfires) and engine stalls.  Whether or not you have a minor boost leak from something like a cracked intercooler, or a major one from a disconnected hose, it’s important to know what you’re looking at and most importantly DON’T panic.  It’s common to blow off an intercooler hose, especially if you’ve just had one off while doing a repair.  If your car suddenly and completely loses power, stalls, has a flashing CEL, check your turbo intake piping.  It’s likely that you have a problem that’s easy to fix.  Here’s what happened to me.

I was on my way from from work, taking a co worker home. It was dark and raining (the start to every bad story) and I was still on my summer tires, so as I turn up a steep hill my tires slip, traction control comes to save me and the car shook as traction control stopped my tires from spinning and the tires gripping spots of dry pavement. The Saab was IMMEDIATELY down on power and gasping for air.

Boost Leak Flatbed

We got to my co workers house and got our flashlights and started looking around, we didn’t find anything but the car idles fine until you tried to move. I sat there for a second and wondered if I should drive home and make it to the interstate. At this point I had no idea what had gone wrong so my mind is racing a million miles and hour.

The car had no acceleration, it barely moved. I pulled into a gas station and thought about having it towed from there, but I knew of a more open parking lot nearby that would facilitate a truck getting in. There was a challenge, the only thing between me and a nearby open hospital parking lot was a very steep hill. I had a game plan in my head, it had to get enough speed that I could go up the hill with minimal acceleration. I knew there was a most likely a police officer sitting on top of the hill because I had been pulled over here before. It was late, so luckily the usual spot was vacant. I made it to the parking lot, loaded it up onto a flatbed tow truck and headed home. After we dropped the car off, I parked it and it sat for a couple days until I had time to mess with it.

Fast forward a few days and I had finally gotten around to looking into the problem. I broke out the jack and jack stands and got to it. As I was raising up the car I thought the problem could be an oxygen sensor, but once I crawled under the car it only took a few seconds to spot the issue. The intercooler pipe stay/bracket that connected the charge pipe to the transmission broke off the pipe, and took a chunk of aluminum from the pipe with it.  My theory is that the back and forth shaking caused by the traction control was enough to crack the stay off of the pipe.

I took the pipe off to get a closer look and I unbolted the bracket. It wasn’t super hard to remove, I used a 7mm socket with an extension for the band clamp on the turbo outlet and the same 7mm for the clamp on the bottom going into the intercooler, and then two 13mm bolts that hold the bracket to the transmission.

I had to do some pretty crude patchwork just to be able to drive the car, because it is my daily driver. In a pinch, JB weld was going to have to do.  A buddy of mine has a metal fabrication shop, so I was able to get it TIG welded. It’s been fine ever since.  Luckily he’s a talented welder, in most cases you would need to replace your charge pipe with a new one.  Not a bad time to get a full Do88 kit if I do say so myself.  If you’ve blown off an intercooler hose-to-pipe connection, it’s an insider secret to use hair spray on the pipe to make it slick and easier to slip on, then stick better, preventing blow-off.

Remember to stay tuned for more easy fixes to problems you make think are bigger than they seem.  

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One thought on “The Turbocharger Boost Leak – Don’t Panic
  1. Adam Goral

    One time I was doing some work on my Saab 9-5 and had the intercooler hose off to gain access. I buttoned everything up and went to get some food. When I decided I was throroughly topped off on cheap fried chicken, I proceeded to pull out into traffic with a bit of haste. Suddenly, I got a brief flashing CEL. The car burbled and stalled. I immediately pushed in the clutch and tried to restart it, which it fired up and immediately died again. I was lucky enough to have enough momentum to coast into an autoparts chain store next door to buy a hose clamp, since I found the hose from the intercooler to the throttle body pipe to be completely disconnected. Now, a few hose clamps will forever be in my roadside breakdown kit.

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