2001 Saab 9-3 Turbocharger Leak

the last time i took my car in, saab service told me i would soon need to replace my turbocharger because it’s leaking oil which is causing the timing belt to come off tensioner [which had been replaced during my previous visit]. My question is… is 92000 miles typical for turbocharger replacement? Also, what other big costs should i expect in the next 10-20,000 miles, as I’m trying to decide whether to sell or not. thank you.

You didn’t list what work you’ve had done recently other than timing belt issues. I’d say you can expect a bunch of issues based on a 9 year old car with close to 100K miles. I’d budget about $2,000 a year for repairs and reconditioning over the next 4-5 years. That seems like a lot, but that is about the same as 5 $400 monthly payments.

If you’d rather pay monthly payments on a newer car this would be a good time to sell before putting money out for a new turbo.

CR indicates that '01 Saabs are ‘much worse than average’ for ‘engine major’ and ‘engine minor’. If you love your Saab, fix it, but it may require a fair amount of work in the future.

I think something is being lost in translation. A leaking turbocharger will not affect the timing belt or tensioner.
You might clarify this a bit.

That’s definately what I was told by saab. does anyone else out there think this is not a legitimate issue?

I think someone at the dealer has their wires crossed. Badly. A leaking turbocharger seal cannot spit oil into the timing belt area.

It is possible to have a leaking cam seal, crank seal, etc. sling oil onto a timng belt/tensioner. If you had the belt/tensioner replaced recently then it’s the responsibility of the person doing the job to inspect and replace those seals if necessary.

It’s possible that you’re being yanked around a bit here; maybe to cover up a prior faux pas.

interesting. Here’s the ENTIRE story:
I got my oil changed at jiffy lube.

When I tried to leave jiffy lube, my car would not turn over… the alternater was not working… I noticed a ton of oil had spilled and a belt was off.

Jiffy lube had no idea what the problem was so i had it towed to a garage.

The garage said the ton of oil cause the belt to come off .they replaced the belt and tightened the tensioner but suggested i take it to saab.

Saab replaced the tensioner.

2 months later the belt came off [or was about to come off…i could hear it thumping] and i took it back to saab.

Saab said they had to replace the tensioner again [under warranty] and that my turbocharger was leaking and would need to be replaced or the belt would keep coming off [btw…they knew about the previoius ton of oil spill but i imagine that had had time to wear off by then … or not??].

This story has become pretty convoluted and it does not sound like the timing belt is what is being discussed here but instead is an accessory drive belt. (alternator, etc.)

The sticky area here is that you’ve now had 3 people poking around on this car; the JL, the independent shop, and the SAAB dealer.
This issue should have gone no further than the ind. shop and the JL should be held responsible for any problems.

The dealer replaced the tensioner but if the belt was oil-soaked it should have been replaced also along with a thorough cleaning of everything under the hood. Pulleys with oil on them can allow a belt to skate off the pulley. (especially a belt that is oil-saturated, which softens the belt up.) Oil won’t wear off.

The part I still don’t get is the bit about a leaking turbocharger affecting a timing belt. A turbo leaking internally will not affect any belts; timing or accessory belts. A turbocharger that is leaking externally from say an oil feed line could possibly spray oil onto an accessory belt but that’s no reason to replace the turbocharger unit; simply replace the gasket.

There’s not enough of those little details known to me to go much further with this and problems caused by JLs are not unknown.
Someone should surely be able to sort this out and if it can be laid at the feet of JL they could be held responsible for any damages.

Thank you for your continued efforts on this.

Jiffy Lube did actually pay for the first belt replacement and tightening of the tensioner done at the ind. garage. I thought about going back to them when the tensioner was replaced by Saab but Saab didn’t say that the oil spill CAUSED the tensioner problem.

The oil/belt claim: Saab calls the belt the ‘serpentine’ belt [which they did replace]. The ind. garage refered to it as the timing belt. But it sounds like it doesn’t matter which belt it is… the turbocharge leak would not affect it. I’m wondering if Saab screwed up the first time they replaced the tensioner but also noticed the turbocharger leak so they just blamed it on that [or maybe the person conveying the info got it wrong].

I guess this comes down to 2 questions:

  1. Could the Jiffy Lube oil spill have caused not only the belt to come off but also the permanent damage to the tensioner … leading to replacement… AND lasting damage [to something else] that would cause a new tensioner to not ‘keep its grip’ on the belt?

  2. if i do indeed have a turbocharger leak … you said they could just replace the belt. Under what circumstances would the Turbo need to actually be replaced?

thank you again.

It goes without saying that you need to avoid those quickie lube places. Real crux of the issue is the Saab engines in your model do not have a timing belt. They use a chain which will last very long with proper oil changes.If the turbo leaked you would see the smoke coming out from under the hood or, more likely, out of the exhaust. Tell them to change your serpentine belt they spilled on at their cost.

I think you are linking 2 unrelated issues and that is confusing things. First the turbo. A turbo is two fans that are both on the same shaft and spin at high speed. One fan is driven by the exhaust gases passing by. That moves the shaft that the other fan is attached to. This fan pulls outside air in pushes the air into the cylinders to provide more air and therefore more powerful combustion. There are seals on this shaft that allow it to spin but keep the exhaust gas side and the outside air side separate. The spinning is so rapid and the exhaust gases are so hot that a lot of oil is used to lubricate the parts and help keep the turbo unit cool.

Not changing the oil frequently enough, or using low grade motor oils hurt a turbo charger. At 92K miles if you whole turbo is shot then somewhere the motor wasn’t maintained well. There are also lots of pipes, o ring seals, and gaskets that keep all this stuff together and any of these seals could be bad, but perhaps not the basic turbo itself.

A bad turbo will leak oil into the combustion chamber and you’ll burn excessive oil and get lots of blue smoke out of the tail pipe. A turbo that stops spinning and locks up or flies apart with be loud and will reduce airflow to the motor. This means lots of noise and/or no power. The motor will likely run but not do much when you step on the gas.

Right now don’t worry about the turbo, it seems the car has close to normal power. The oil that messed up the serpentine belt didn’t come from the turbo. It came from some screw up via the Jiffy lube place. The mess should not ruin the tensioner but perhaps it did. There are still unresolved problems with the serpentine belt, the tension, and all the stuff driven by the belt.

Focus on getting the serpentine belt issues resolved for now. Once all is back to normal then have some other mechanics familiar with Saabs evaluate your turbo. In the meantime change your oil every 3,000 if you use normal oil, or every 7,000 if you use a high quality FULL synthetic (such as Mobil 1 or equivalent). This is the best way to keep your turbo going full strength for now.

An oil spill would not damage a belt tensioner but could cause the belt to jump off.
A tensioner that is bad enough to cause a belt to come off usually has a history of noise though. (whining, growling, etc.)

There are a number of ways a turbocharger could fail.

  1. Coked (basically burnt or sludged oil) in the turbocharger bushings. This leads to the impeller not turning freely, or even seizing up, and will show up as a poorly running engine.
  2. Leaking oil pressure feed line or return line. The turbo may work fine like this. The big issue is the potential mess or oil level problems.
  3. Leaking internal seals in the turbocharger. This can lead to a little smoking, oil consumption, etc. but the car may run fine like this for a long time.

Numbers 1 and 3 would mean a turbocharger replacement. Number 2 is a reasonably simple fix.

I’m still a bit baffled over what has gone on here; especially at the JL. Unless someone got carried away and slopped oil all over or possibly overfilled the engine with oil. With the latter, it’s possible engine crankcase pressure could have thrown oil out and saturated everything.
An oil slicked belt on a slightly worn tensioner could have come off whereas a dry belt may not have is about all I can theorize at this point and no idea why JL handed your car back over to you like this.
One would think they would have tried to cover their tracks or something.

Thanks for this great explanation! I’m very good with oil changes [every 5-7k] and I do use synthetic so I think your advice is right on the money… I already have another mechanic lined up.

Although I do get some excessive smoke from the tailpipe sometimes when i first start it, the car is running at full strength. I had asked saab a while back about the exhaust and they said it was normal for an older car. HOpefully, they were correct about that and that’s all it is. And according to your explanation, I’d have to agree.

Thanks again for your help.