If you are experiencing power or performance concerns in your vehicle, your turbocharger may be malfunctioning. Usually, this can happen when there is oil in the intercooler. The intercooler is in charge of lowering the temperature of the hot air coming from the turbocharger. 

This article will go through some possible causes of oil entering your intercooler pipe.  

Causes of Oil in the Intercooler Pipe

There are two types of intercoolers: Front-Mounted Intercoolers and Top-Mounted Intercoolers. Front-mounted intercoolers are positioned in the grill opening near the front bumper, whereas top-mounted intercoolers are directly above the engine. 

These intercoolers are linked to the turbocharger via pipes. Because turbochargers overheat more frequently, they require oil lubrication. If any seal or component is compromised, this oil may leak into the intercooler. Leaks in the intercooler are not the same as typical leaks since the intercooler is located between the engine and the turbocharger. Here’s a quick video that demonstrates how an intercooler works.

Oil seeping into the intercooler can occur for a variety of reasons. 

Worn-out Turbo Seals 

Turbocharger seals serve a vital function in preventing oil leaks in the engine. Seals wear out over time due to insufficient oil pressure or incorrect installation. As a result, engine oil leaks into the intercooler. 

The cooling capacity of the intercooler will diminish when the oil begins to deposit in it. Ensure that the turbo seals get repaired by a mechanic. The turbo seal will cost roughly $100 to repair or $1,000 to $2,000 to replace. 

Wrong Gasket 

Oil can leak into the engine if the gasket is not installed correctly or has worn out over time. The gasket is in charge of creating a proper seal between the oil pan and the engine block.

Over time, the gasket usually fails to owe to overheating and dirt in the engine. As a result, the seal became loose or cracked, resulting in an oil leak. If you spot water in the oil pan, this could also be due to a wrong gasket.

Ensure the gasket is repaired to prevent oil from leaking into the engine’s intercooler. 

Clogged Air filter / Air filter intake 

The air filter is in charge of preventing any external pollutant from entering the engine. A clogged air filter can cause carbon buildup and sludge to accumulate in the crankcase. As the oil flow is impeded, this will result in higher vacuum levels. 

Due to the increased pressure, the oil will spill from the PCV valve. Make sure to clean the air filter by soaking it in soapy water. If the air filter is beyond repair, replace it as quickly as feasible by your mechanic. 

Damaged Oil Return Pipe 

When oil flows through the turbocharger, it is returned to the oil pan via the oil return line, which contains a hose. Oil might spill from the oil return line if this hose becomes clogged, cracks, or twists. 

This oil can reach the engine’s intercooler via the compressor or turbine. To avoid further oil leaks, have the oil return pipe repaired by a mechanic. 

Improper Installation of the Turbocharger 

If the turbocharger is placed incorrectly, oil can leak into the engine. This can happen when you use the incorrect size O ring and gasket. Also, any plastic or foam from the old gasket can cause the turbocharger to be installed incorrectly. 

This can cause oil to seep directly into your car’s intercooler from the compressor and turbine housings. When installing the turbocharger again, be sure to hire an expert. 

Because the intercooler system is placed deep within the engine, identifying any leak is quite a task. Let’s check some symptoms that indicate oil is entering your engine’s cooling system. 

What Happens if Oil Enters the Intercooler System? 

When oil enters your engine’s intercooler, the turbocharger will not perform optimally. As a result, the turbocharger does not cool the intake air, and oxygen levels are low. This can result in inefficient fuel consumption. The intercooler pipe can also allow oil to enter the cylinder. 

Symptoms of Oil in Intercooler 

Here are some symptoms that may indicate the presence of oil in the intercooler system. 

  • Decreased acceleration and power output. 
  • Lower fuel efficiency
  • The engine light is on 
  • Exhaust emitting the black smoke 

How To Clean The Oil in the Intercooler

Cleaning the intercooler might be difficult because it is located deep within the engine. So make sure you employ an expert or have a strong understanding of engine parts because you may need to remove many seals and pipes. 

Tools Required: 

  1. Screwdriver  
  2. Container to fill the excess oil 
  3. Degreaser 
  4. Acetone, kerosene 
  5. Gloves 

The following are a few steps to cleaning the oil from the intercooler. 

  1. The intercooler is connected to the turbocharger and engine via pipes. Loosen the hoses and piping to remove the intercooler from the engine using a flathead screwdriver. 
  2. If oil is present in the intercooler, drain it in the container. 
  3. Spray any degreaser on the inside and outside of the intercooler. 
  4. Rinse the intercooler in water with acetone and kerosene for about 15 minutes to remove any oil accumulation. Repeat the procedure until you see clear liquid in the bucket. 
  5. Allow the intercooler to dry before re-installing it. 

FAQ’s on Oil in the Intercooler Pipe 

No, you should not travel with oil in the intercooler since it cannot cool down hot air flowing from the turbocharger, causing additional pressure on the turbocharger and leading to wear-tear and RPM overlimit in the turbocharger.

If the damage to the intercooler is beyond repair, it is advisable to replace it. Replacing an intercooler can cost between $901 and $955, including the labor cost.

Due to oil leaking from the turbocharger, the intercooler becomes clogged over time. You should clean your intercooler once every 12 months to obtain the best performance out of your engine.


To summarize, if you suspect oil seeping into the system’s intercooler, rectify the problem as soon as possible. This is because the oil in the intercooler prevents it from cooling the hot air from the turbocharger, resulting in diminished power and fuel efficiency in your engine. 

Typically, oil leaks are caused by a faulty gasket, a loose hose in the oil return line, or a poorly fitting turbocharger. Ensure you have your engine inspected to determine the source of the leak. 

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