top cx logo
cx logo
Explorearrow down
search icon
arrow down

Turbocharger blamed for fatal crash on French autoroute

Five children from the same family died in accident

Traffic control cameras on the A7 autoroute not far from the village of Albon, Drôme, show the vehicle travelling at high speed with flames coming from under its bonnet as the driver headed for the emergency stop lane.

He then lost control of the vehicle, which flipped over the security rails, and rolled over several times before coming to rest, still burning, in a field.

There were nine people in the seven-seat vehicle, and five of them, aged between three and 14 died at the scene.

The four others, three adults and a seven year old, were taken to hospital suffering from severe burns and other injuries.

The driver told emergency crews that the motor accelerated uncontrollably, and the brakes did not work.

The family, from near Lyon, was heading south on holiday. A judicial enquiry into the accident has been opened.

The accident was due to a problem with the turbocharger on the 2005 Renault Grand Scenic diesel, the public prosecutor in charge of investigating it said. Renault had known problems with the turbos fitted to diesel motors from the end of the 1990s to around 2010.

The 1.5 dCi engine, which came in versions ranging from 55 to 105 hp and the 1.9 dCi ranging from 105 hp to 120 hp were most affected. Some newer Renaults were also affected.

Problems with the older engines are usually due to oil used to lubricate the turbocharger getting into the motor.

Turbochargers work by having exhaust gasses drive a fan or turbine, linked to another turbine which compresses fresh air used to burn fuel.

The compressed air allows a greater quantity of fuel to be burnt, giving more power.

For manufacturers the advantage is that it allows them to use smaller and lighter engines in vehicles which give the same power as larger, non-turbo motors.

Turbochargers also often improve fuel economy because most of the extra air and fuel is only injected into the engine when it is at high revs, giving the fuel economy of a smaller engine at lower revs.

The problems with the Renault turbines have mainly been due to seals failing on the oil supply system, allowing oil to be sprayed into the compressor side.

Renault has always said that most turbo problems are caused by people not following maintenance instructions, especially concerning the frequency of oil changes and the quality of oil used.

Signs of a developing turbo problem on a car include:

  • A loss of power;
  • Unusual noises, especially a whistling sound under acceleration;
  • Smoky exhausts;
  • Oil consumption suddenly increasing.

Most new cars, both diesel and petrol, are now fitted with turbos and basic tips to extend their life include letting the engine get up to temperature by driving gently before accelerating hard.

Similarly, allow the turbo to slow down and cool down before switching off the engine, by allowing the motor to idle for at least 10 seconds before you switch it off.

This allows oil to continue to circulate and take heat away from the turbo unit, and stops substances from the exhaust and air baking into the very hot turbine blades.

The contrôle technique will only signal a problem with a turbo if smoke from oil getting in the engine is registered at high levels in the exhaust, so having a clear control technique does not mean there is no problem.

If you suspect a problem go to a good garage.

Most of the time, if there is an issue with a turbo, the whole unit needs to be replaced at a price of between €1,500 and €2,000. Most are included in two year new car guarantees, or five year extended guarantees.

Occasionally a garage will be prepared to take a turbo unit apart and clean it or replace individual parts in it, which can solve problems, but this is likely to cost at least €700 in labour alone, and there is no guarantee they will be able to find the issue.

Stay informed:
Sign up to our free weekly e-newsletter
Subscribe to access all our online articles and receive our printed monthly newspaper The Connexion at your home. News analysis, features and practical help for English-speakers in France

Resident or second-home owner in France?
Benefit from our daily digest of headlines and how-to's to help you make the most of life in France
By joining the newsletter, you agree to our Terms & Conditions and Privacy Policy
See more popular articles
The Connexion Help Guides
featured helpguide
Income Tax in France 2023 (for 2022 income)*
Featured Help Guide
- Primarily aimed at Britons, covers pensions, rent, ISAs, shares, savings and interest - but also contains significant general information pertinent to readers of other nationalities - Overview of online declarations + step-by-step guide to the French printed forms - Includes updates given automatically after this year's site opened
Get news, views and information from France