6 Symptoms of a Boost Leak (& How to Find it Easy)

It is important to fix a boost leak as fast as possible because it can damage the turbocharger. Here are the most common signs to look for.

Symptoms Of A Boost Leak

Is your car feeling much slower than usual, and do you have a check engine light flashing on your dashboard? Then there is a big risk that your car suffers from a boost leak.

A boost leak can result in many different strange symptoms. There are a few of them that are worth looking closer to identify a boost leak. But what is a boost leak, and what are the most common symptoms of one? Let’s take a quick look at the signs:

Boost Leak Symptoms

The most common symptoms of a boost leak are loss of power and a check engine light on the dashboard. You can also notice signs like slow turbo spool, poor fuel economy, and black smoke coming from the exhaust pipe during acceleration.

While these are just some of them and not the complete list, it is perfect for a quick overlook. Luckily, here is a more detailed list of the 6 most common symptoms of a boost leak:

1. Slow Turbo Spool

Turbo Spool

The turbo works by increasing the amount of air and fuel that can be fit into a cylinder; thus, increasing horsepower and performance. However, before the turbo ‘kicks in,’ it’s turbine needs to spin very fast. Until that happens, the turbo does not play a role in boosting the car.

This issue, usually called the turbo lag, is when the turbo spools air and fuel to send into the cylinder. If this process is slower than usual, you are experiencing a boost leak. The concept is simple; due to a leak, it takes more time for a turbo to fill up the boost pipes.

2. Loss of Power

Slow Car Acceleration

While you are accelerating, the turbo builds pressure into the boost pipes to give the car higher performance. If there is a boost leak, it will take longer to fill these pipes with pressure, and the pressure will be lower than usual.

This will cause a drastic loss of power in your car engine. If the leak is big, it can even mean that you lose all turbo pressure.

3. Check Engine Light

Check Engine Light On Dashboard E1609869927250

The check engine light monitors all sensors of a car engine, including the boost pressure sensor.

If there is anything wrong with the turbo boost pressure, which will be wrong if you have a boost leak – it will light up the check engine light.

If you see a check engine light on your dashboard, check the trouble codes with an OBD2 scanner.

4. Black Smoke from the Exhaust

Black Smoke From Exhaust

The MAF sensor measures the air going into the engine. If there is a leak on the pipes between the MAF sensor and the engine, there will be measured air lost.

This will cause a wrong air-fuel mixture and, in most cases, a rich mixture. A too rich mixture will cause black smoke from the exhaust pipe. So if you experience black smoke from the exhaust when accelerating, it is definitely time to check for any boost leaks.

5. Poor Fuel Economy

Fuel Consumption

The same thing applies to the fuel consumption about the boost leak and measurement of the MAF sensor.

This might not be distinguishable very easily, but if you keep an eye on your car’s average fuel consumption, you will catch a boost leak easily.

If the car is consuming more fuel than it should, you have a problem. A boost leak test can prove to be helpful in such situations.

6. Poor Idling

Car Engine Rough Idle

This only holds if you have a car with a mass airflow sensor or MAS/MAF. The MAF senses the amount of air leaving the turbo and entering the engine.

If there is a big boost leak, your car will have problems idling perfectly. It might stall and close down as a result of the leak.

It is not very common with poor idle because of a boost pipe leak, it is more common if the leak is at the intake manifold behind the throttle body, but it can be true if it is a huge leak.

What is a boost leak?

Boost Pipes

A boost leak is a type of air leak in the intake path just before the engine cylinders. It is basically a loose clamp or damaged hose that cannot handle the turbo boost’s pressure.

Ignoring a boost leak will eventually reduce your turbo’s life and in turn the car engine’s life.

The ECU determines the ratio of fuel to air; however, if there is leakage of air along the way, the ratio is incorrectly calculated.

Diesel engines are accommodating in this regard as they are more tolerant of a high fuel to air ratio. However, petrol engines are sensitive. Therefore a boost leak inspection is necessary for your car’s optimal performance.

How to Find a Boost Leak

Smoke Machine Testing

You can either try to find the boost leak the hard way or the easy way.

To find a boost leak easily, you should use an EVAP smoke machine. With this type of device, you will find boost leaks in no-time.

The machine pressurizes the boost pipes with smoke, and if there is smoke coming from somewhere in the engine bay, you most likely have a boost leak there.

If you have a small workshop, it is definitely time to invest in one. You can see my recommendations for EVAP smoke machines here: Best EVAP smoke machines.

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The hard way to find a boost leak is trying to find it visually. Check all the boost pipes and hoses to make sure that none of them came loose.

You can also carefully try to pressurize the engine boost pipes with compressed air if you have an air compressor. Be very careful, though – because engines run very well on pressurized air!! Ensure the wheels are in the air so it won’t start going forward because of the pressurized air and be very careful with the pressure.

Boost Leak FAQs

Can a boost leak damage the turbo?

Yes, a boost leak can cause the turbocharger to overrev. The turbocharger needs some resistance to build up boost pressure to not over-revving the impeller. If there is too little resistance, due to a turbo leak; this can lead to excessive heat and wear on the turbocharger and can eventually cause it to fail.

How much does it cost to fix a turbo boost leak?

There is no fixed cost to fix a turbo boost leak. It depends on what is causing the leak. If it’s just a loose turbo boost pipe, you can sometimes fix it for free. But if it’s caused by a cracked intake manifold, it can cost over $1,000 to fix.

Can a boost leak cause a misfire?

Yes, a boost leak will cause your engine’s air-fuel mixture to get incorrect when accelerating. A too rich or too lean air-fuel mixture can therefore cause misfires, so you should fix the boost pipe leak as soon as possible.

Can I drive with a boost leak?

Driving with a boost leak is not recommended. Firstly, there is a high risk of damaging your turbocharger. A boost leak will also lead to an improper air-fuel mixture that can cause serious damage to your engine.

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