Cleaning the Turbo on a 6.0L Powerstroke

Last Modified : Mar 30, 2021

The only thing more notorious on a 6.0L Powerstroke than head gasket and oil cooler failures surely has to be a sticking unison ring on the turbocharger. A 6.0L Powerstroke features a unique variable geometry turbocharger. The PCM uses an electronic solenoid to allow oil pressure to force a valve to move. The valve is connected to a unison ring, which is connected to all the vanes. The vanes can be opened or closed to allow the engine to build and maintain proper boost levels.

The main failure of this turbo is the unison ring. The way that it sits on the center housing makes it a culprit to stick often. Early turbocharger models are more susceptible to getting stuck as Ford did slightly change the design of the center section. The redesigned center section has a beveled edge where the unison ring sits to it, while the older ones are flat. The ring generally sticks around the inner ring as tolerances are tight.

With buildup of carbon and rust, the tight tolerances cause the ring to seize. Depending on where it seizes, you could have several different symptoms. If the ring is stuck closed, you will notice quick low end boost building up but lack of power at cruise and high RPM. If the ring is stuck open, you will have a hard time even reaching high RPM. It could be stuck in the middle or just not be able to make complete full sweeps causing less dramatic lack of response and power. The key way slot in the ring where the valve arm rides can also wear becoming too large. The unison ring could also be cracked, but this often happens when someone tries to pry the ring off the center housing.

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Originally Ford required the replacement of the turbocharger to correct the issue. That thought has since happily died. Now Ford recommends cleaning the turbocharger to restore performance. In several cases, the unison ring requires replacement. Ford does not list the part number for the unison ring inside of their official parts catalog, but supplied it in a TSB. The workshop manual has since been updated to include a procedure for restoring a turbocharger.

Another common failure point is the VGT solenoid. If the solenoid fails, you will have similar symptoms as a stuck unison ring. If the failure is electrical there should be DTC codes pointing you in the direction of this solenoid. A mechanical failure will not show any codes pointing directly at this solenoid. The VGT solenoid is easily replaced with the turbo still installed. Other than a blatant electrical failure in the VGT with associated codes, the likely solution to your concerns is still the unison ring.

The first steps in cleaning your Powerstroke turbo is to remove the turbo from the vehicle. This can be a daunting task for most DIYers but I will try to guide you through the process.

6.0L Powerstroke Turbocharger Removal

  1. Drain the coolant by the radiator petcock. Make sure you properly dispose of all drained coolant. I would not recommend reusing the old coolant but many places do.
  2. Remove degas bottle by removing 2 bolts and two hoses on top and the bottom hose. The bottom clamp can give you some struggle, but it is much easier to remove the filter housing with the degas bottle removed at this stage
  3. Unplug air filter restriction sensor and the mass air flow sensor.
  4. Remove intake tube mounting nuts at front of FICM. Loosen the two worm gear hose clamps located on the intake tubes - one is on the inlet of the turbo, the second one is just after the PCV vent.
  5. Remove the front part of the intake hose assembly by lifting it free from the air filter. Remove the air filter, and front air intake. Remove intake hose assembly attached to the turbo. Becareful of PCV vent hose - it turns and locks into place.
  6. Remove both charged air cooler tubes. Pay attention to the location of the clamps and reinstall in same position. Take a careful look at the elbow that comes out of the turbocharger. These tend to crack/split with age.
  7. Disconnect turbo VGT solenoid. These connectors break VERY easily. Carefully release the connector with a pick: There is a metal bail clip holding the wire to the turbo. Unbolt and remove the turbo oil feed on top.
  8. Loosen and remove the down-pipe exhaust clamp. Loosen up-pipe exhaust clamp. The clamps will most likely be stuck to the pipe. Take a stubby flat head screw driver and wedge it into the clamp at the corners. The clamp is made of three metal strips tied together by a band so there is a total of 6 corners you can get access to. Remove the clamps or reposition them to the turbo.
  9. Remove 3 turbo hold down bolts. 2 are horizontal and accessible with a wrench from the front on each side of the turbo. 1 is vertical and located just behind the down-pipe. A flex head ratchet, a 10mm deep socket, a 3inch combined with a 1inch extension gives perfect height to get back there OR a short 10mm and a 6inch extension will work. ** 2003 engines have the rear bolt going horizontal and rarely comes out without a fight. Sometimes will need to be torched out but likely will require you to use a swivel socket**
  10. Using a prybar, gently pry up between the turbo and pedestal to release it from the oil drain tube and up-pipe manifold assembly. Remove the turbo.

Now we need to discuss how to clean the turbocharger.

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