Pathogenic variants that disrupt human mitochondrial protein synthesis are associated with a clinically heterogeneous group of diseases. Despite an impairment in oxidative phosphorylation being a common phenotype, the underlying molecular pathogenesis is more complex than simply a bioenergetic deficiency. Currently, we have limited mechanistic understanding on the scope by which a primary defect in mitochondrial protein synthesis contributes to organelle dysfunction. Since the proteins encoded in the mitochondrial genome are hydrophobic and need co-translational insertion into a lipid bilayer, responsive quality control mechanisms are required to resolve aberrations that arise with the synthesis of truncated and misfolded proteins. Here, we show that defects in the OXA1L-mediated insertion of MT-ATP6 nascent chains into the mitochondrial inner membrane are rapidly resolved by the AFG3L2 protease complex. Using pathogenic MT-ATP6 variants, we then reveal discrete steps in this quality control mechanism and the differential functional consequences to mitochondrial gene expression. The inherent ability of a given cell type to recognize and resolve impairments in mitochondrial protein synthesis may in part contribute at the molecular level to the wide clinical spectrum of these disorders.