September 4

2011 Ford Flex Turbos



Mark: Hi, it's Mark Bossert. I'm here with Bernie Pawlik, Pawlik Automotive in Vancouver. Vancouver's best auto service experience. 25 time winners of best auto repair in Vancouver as voted by their customers. And we're talking cars. How are you doing Bernie? 

Bernie: Doing very well. 

Mark: So today's victim is a 2011 Ford Flex. Some kind of turbo problem with this vehicle. What was happening? 

Bernie: Yeah, so this vehicle came to our shop with a severe blue smoke issue, like it was just puffing clouds. It was like the old James Bond car with the smoke screen. This car had this. Of course you couldn't turn the smoke screen off. It was just on all the time. It was that bad. So there was like a severe amount of oil getting into the exhaust system somehow. Some problem had developed. 

Mark: So many options I guess, of causing this. What testing and diagnosis did you do? 

Bernie: Well, I hate to say it, I actually wasn't the technician who worked on the car, which happens a lot. Our technician Ed diagnosed that the turbos had basically failed and were causing the oil to get into the exhaust system. So we can disconnect pipes. We can look at things, and usually an oil billowing issue this severe is not the actual engine. It's not gonna be a piston ring problem or a valve guide problem. It can be, and I've seen them, but something of this severity is definitely something a little more exceptional. 

So, Ed had concluded that the turbos needed to be replaced. There's two of them on this vehicle. It's a V6 engine Ford Eco Boost engine. So that was basically what we came up with. 

Mark: What's involved in replacing these turbochargers? 

Bernie: Well, there's a lot of work. It's a transverse mounted V6 engine. And the turbos, of course, are buried way up. They bolt directly to catalytic converters. So there's a lot that needs to be removed. I'll just get right into pictures because we can see a lot of stuff. 

So there's our Flex. Kind of a unique vehicle. You know, I don't know how many of these Ford sold. We haven't really worked on a ton of them over the years. But, you know, kind of practical, for sure. 

2011 Ford Flex Turbos

So there is how the exhaust looked. I probably should have taken a video because it was even worse and and it was much worse than this when, you know, if you ran it for a little period of time.

2011 Ford Flex Turbos

But I mean, just that amount of smoke coming out of these two tailpipes is, you should never see any smoke, period. So that's just a little example. But when we started up, it filled our parking lot with smoke. 

Mark: The neighbours were happy. 

Bernie: Yeah. Well, it's kind of one of those things. We, you know, kind of drive the car in and out of the shop with our tail between our legs, so to speak. But, you know, what's involved in replacing it, which he asked. 

This is a picture of the floor underneath the vehicle showing what was removed from the vehicle. So here you have the subframe with the power steering rack on it. This is electric power steering. It's a very large unit with the electrics for the power steering. We have exhaust pipes. We have the front catalytic converters. We have the turbo sitting on the floor here. I believe that's a splash shield.

2011 Ford Flex Turbos

I've got another closer view and a couple other exhaust pipes further up. So this is kind of our procedure as we work on a car that's going to be in the bay for a while. It's everything just gets laid out on the floor underneath the vehicle. 

2011 Ford Flex Turbos

And this is a closer view of some of the exhaust pieces. Now actually only one of the turbos had actually blown. This vehicle had a fair amount of kilometres on it. So, you know, it only made sense to replace both and not just 1, because they kind of work and, you know, in tandem. And if you had 1 that boosted more than the other, for some reason, it would wouldn't make a lot of sense.

I guess if you want to do an economy repair, you could have done 1, but it just makes more sense to do 2 of them when you have to take a lot of similar items apart. But you can sort of see some oil here in this one turbo duct hose. There was some oiliness around this catalytic converter here as well. And inside the exhaust pipes, they were just especially from the front. It was the front turbos blown. It's just oil like crazy.

This is another view. It's kind of hard to see, but you can see a sort of black film of oil around this pipe here. That was from the front exhaust pipe.

2011 Ford Flex Turbos

When we took the turbo out, the front one, this is what we found inside the front catalytic converter, dangling loose. That's the exhaust side of the turbine blade. So the shaft had snapped in half. So it kind of makes sense that as the engine was running, it was pumping oil straight into the exhaust system. It doesn't take much to see that's a failed item. 

2011 Ford Flex Turbos

Mark: And the turbos, they have oil going into them to try and keep them cool because they spin so fast and get so hot? 

Bernie: They do, and not just to keep them cool, but to keep them lubricated. This is a picture of the blade. The exhaust side of a good new turbo. So you can see that the blade is, of course, clean, but you know, the shape of the blade is much different. The other one's all chewed up. This item, by the way, here, where I'm moving most points, it's called the waste gate. So the turbos are only to boost a certain amount.

2011 Ford Flex Turbos

If they over boost, you could blow your engine up with too much boost. So there's a set amount of boost there. Now, if you want to get a little more power to your engine, you can always set it to keep that waste gate close a little longer, but that's beyond kind of what we're talking about here. And that's more technical tuning. 

Here's another view. So this is the rear turbo installed, the new one installed. Again, you can see the blade inside there. It sits way up. The steering rack would be underneath here. The arrows just point to the turbo. This is the oil return line. There's an oil pipe that goes into the turbo. So probably this one here. So that pumps oil through the turbo. Some turbos use a coolant as well. This one just uses oil to cool the turbo.

2011 Ford Flex Turbos

There's the view of the front turbo. Again, you can see the oil drain pipe pretty clearly. So all this stuff is buried way up. It's all accessed from underneath. 

2011 Ford Flex Turbos

Mark: So did you find a cause for that kind of catastrophic turbo failure? 

Bernie: Well, we kind of figured I mean, turbos will fail anyways. So this picture here, this is a screen. There's a banjo bolt where the turbo oil inlet goes, and it has a strainer on it. And the strainer's plugged, like you can see it's just full of cruddy particles. So we figured that might have been a cause for the failure of this turbo. You know, over time oil gets sludgy. And it blocks the oil flow. So that may well have been why the turbo failed in the first place.

2011 Ford Flex Turbos

Mark: Is that a normal maintenance item? 

Bernie: No, it's not. It's buried, but you know, you and I have been doing these podcasts and if you listen to probably 50% of them, there's a theme, change your oil. Change your oil. Do it more often than the manufacturer schedule, because what happens is you get sludge build up. And a lot of vehicles, they'll tell you, oh, yeah, you can go, I'll just throw BMW under the bus, 24,000 kilometres between oil changes. Well, you know, a lot of engines have these little tiny strainers and screens for all the miraculous things that oil does in the engine besides lubrication. And if it plugs up you have problems like this. So it's entirely possible that, you know, that's what caused this turbo to go. Certainly wouldn't help. 

Mark: So this looks like a very extensive repair. How expensive was it? 

Bernie: Well, it was a fair amount of money, but what I will say that impressed me was these turbos were cheap. We bought brand new turbos, not from Ford, but aftermarket turbos. Name brand. They're not some kind of little white box cheapie things. These are like a name brand manufacturer and the turbos were like cheap. I was actually shocked at how little money they were. 

So you know, the price of turbos has gone down for sure. Like it used to be a turbo would be you know, three, four thousand bucks or more, and some of them still are. But you know, this job was way under three thousand bucks for two turbos, not including the labor, but the parts were like, way, way less than that. 

So, it's amazing how that's come down. I was saying to myself, of course. There's a lot of these cars out there, you know, there's, there's probably, I don't know, a million of these EcoBoost engines out there. So they're obviously selling a lot of turbos and that keeps the price down. So it's kind of nice to see that because turbos are a very expensive item and, you know, it's not cheap to replace them, but they generally last a long time. 

Mark: So how did the Flex run after everything was buttoned back up again? 

Bernie: Yeah, really well. And of course it had a lot more power. I mean, we didn't really drive the car before because of all the smoke but you can imagine with the turbo dead, that it would not have the boost on one side of the engine. So would have had very poor engine performance. Ran great lots of power. 

One thing that happens with these kind of things is we do try to clean the oil out from the exhaust as best we can, but it takes a long time to get that oil out of the exhaust to burn it out. So we took it off for a good long drive. And by the time we got back, there was no more smoke coming out of the back. But sometimes it could be, the first few miles of driving can be pretty embarrassing. 

And it's the kind of thing to have you ever have a repair like this done where you've had extensive like leak, either coolant or oil into the exhaust system. Sometimes you might be taking, you know, a week or two after a highway drive somewhere and all of a sudden there's some smoke coming out because things are way hotter in other areas that weren't hot, you know, from normal city driving. So sometimes you might get some smoke. Oh, wow, something's wrong with it. Well, it's actually not, it's just still burning out the stuff that got into it. So other than that, it ran great. Flexed its muscles for sure. 

Mark: So how are flexes for reliability? 

Bernie: Yeah, they're pretty good. You know, I mean, a decent vehicle for sure. It's more complicated, you know, I often think, you know, we've traded in, like, let's put a V8 in, I'll just say, like, in a pickup truck, they put a lot of EcoBoost in, so you can get, like, way better fuel mileage and you've still got power.

But the trade off is that when things go wrong, you've got more complication, like 2 turbos to go wrong, whereas if you had a V8 engine, it would have the same amount of power, but worse fuel economy. So it's kind of a trade off, but they're good. I mean, there's a lot of them out there. They use them in a variety of vehicles and different sizes of, you know, configurations of engines. They seem to have got it pretty good. 

Mark: If you're looking for service for your Ford in Vancouver, the guys to see are Pawlik Automotive. You can book online at Or you can call and book at (604) 327-7112. You have to book ahead. They're always busy. Pawlik Automotive in Vancouver. Thanks so much for watching and listening. We appreciate it. And thank you, Bernie. 

Bernie: Thank you, Mark. And thank you for watching.

About the author 

Bernie Pawlik

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