Runaway TDIs?

I drive a 2003 VW Jetta TDI with 89,000 miles. My mechanic tells me that oil is leaking into the turbo, which poses the risk of the engine consuming its own oil as fuel, accelerating out of control and destroying itself and possibly me. Does this really happen, or is the mechanic just looking to sell me a $1,800 turbo replacement? – Thanks, Doug

I don’t know if this is specifically possible/likely with how the fuel system is set up on TDI’s, but what the mechanic describes does happen, most commonly with older semis. Although I’m not sure I’d see it as such a safety issue, since there’s nothing stopping you from putting it in neutral. Then you get to sit by while your engine burns all it’s oil and dies a noisy death. It’s a real crowd-pleaser.

If it is leaking, you’re going to have to replace it sooner or later so you’d might as well do it now.

I’d post this on a tdi forum - sounds a little fishy, and they may have good ideas on a less-than-$1800 fix.

Yes, it can happen. There’s a Youtube video of a guy in Germany watching helplessly as the TDI engine in his BMW X5 runs away, screaming like a banshee and smoking like a fireplace out the exhaust. Some other guy came along and stopped it, but the engine was trashed for sure.

It’s probably not all that likely, but you probably don’t want to chance it.

It’s entirely possible that your turbo is going bad and $1800 is a fair price to replace it.
However, It’s extremely unlikely that the scenario described by your mechanic will take place. He’s assuming that you’ll have a catastrophic failure of the oil seal on the intake side of the turbo. Assuming there is enough oil flow into the intake to sustain combustion (I really doubt), the engine will not be putting out much power at which point and you could easily bring the car to a stop with the brakes.

I agree with the other poster, ask on a TDI forum like

It was possible in the old days, but it did not happen often.  It is still a remote possibility today, but it requires a double fault as they have added protection.  However if you have oil leaking into thee turbo, you do need to get it addressed.  

 As noted I suggest that you visit and read up on the problem and further check to see if there is a local mechanic.  Ideally you can assist the mechanic at a local GTG where members get together to work on cars.  There are lots of experienced people around to help and if it is beyond the capabilities of that GTG someone will know a local mechanic who can help you out.

Diesels do runaway. We had one do this in our shop, it was an older Detroit Diesel 6-71 with no air cleaner on the blower inlet. The engine took off, everybody scattered except for one person who grabbed a shop manual which was about 3 inches thick. He put the manual on top of the blower inlet and ran for cover. The engine quickly died and this person who was the class PITA was the hero for the day. By the way, the shop manual had a perfect circle of missing pages middles half way through the book.

If it turns out that you do need a turbo, has one for $749 exchange for your 03 TDI Jetta. That’s just one place so it’s worth shopping around. That would mean that your mechanic would get about $1000 to install it. Sounds like expensive labor to me for a not too difficult task.

Here’s a discussion on that topic, with parts sources mentioned. If I was in a car with a manual that was doing a ‘runaway’, I’d put it in gear and force a stall. I’d rather burn out a clutch than frag an engine. But I think it’s unlikely, regardless. Certainly worth fixing.