How Do Superchargers and Turbos Work?

You may have heard of turbos and superchargers, but how much do you actually know about them? Years ago, you may have only found this type of power enhancement technology in supercars, but these days you’ll find a turbo on half the cars on the road! To give you a better idea of what superchargers and turbochargers do, and the difference between the two, we’ve explored the topic in more detail below:

What are Superchargers and Turbochargers?

Both turbochargers and superchargers are a type of forced induction system, which means they push compressed air into the engine of your car in order to boost its power. This is because more oxygen is reaching the engine, allowing it to burn more fuel.

As both the names suggest, these forced induction systems provide your vehicle with a quick burst of power, which can be great for things like overtaking. They’re not a long term solution though – if you want more horsepower in general, you may need a car with a bigger engine!

What is the Difference Between a Turbo and a Supercharger?

In terms of what a supercharger and turbocharger can do for your engine, they essentially do the same thing, though differ in the way they function. Both will increase the air intake of the engine, but a supercharger is powered by the engine itself, while a turbocharger has a turbine that’s spun by exhaust gases.

Both superchargers and turbos can really enhance the performance of your vehicle. However, they also have downsides – the former is less efficient than a turbo, and turbochargers have what is referred to as ‘turbo-lag’, which is the time between opening the throttle and getting torque from the engine.

Turbo and a Supercharger

How Do These Chargers Work?

As mentioned above, a supercharger gets its power directly from the engine. They have gears that are driven by a belt pulley, which causes the compression fan to rotate, driving more air into the engine. Superchargers are not as common as turbos, as although they are lag-free and produce more torque, they are not that economical.

With a turbocharger, this is attached to the side of the engine, and is basically a funneled tube which draws exhaust gases towards a turbine and a compressor. These gases will spin inside at incredibly high speeds, which means more air entering the engine, which in turn leads to more power. Due to the high pressure turbochargers work at, they reach high temperatures, which results in the need for coolers – an oil cooler and an intercooler.

Advantages of Turbos and Superchargers

The main advantage of a supercharger is the lack of turbo-lag – they can give you a boost of power almost instantly. But you won’t find superchargers in a lot of cars for a reason – turbos come with more benefits, and aren’t as draining on your finances!

Perhaps the primary advantage of a turbocharger is the fact that they make your engine more efficient, while also boosting its power. Diesel engines in particular run well with a turbo, as they have simpler intake systems than petrol engines, when it comes to mixing fuel and air. And diesel vehicles tend to have more stable engine blocks, which can resist the pressures turbochargers generate.

Another useful thing about turbos is that they help close the gap between cars with smaller and larger engines. You can get vehicles with a 1.0 litre engine, alongside a turbocharger, that has the same amount of power as a car with a larger, naturally aspirated engine. A great example of this is the Ford Fiesta Ecoboost, which has a 1.0 litre engine, but is more powerful and efficient than the older 1.6 litre model.

Turbos Superchargers

Disadvantages of Turbos and Superchargers

We’ve already discussed the main disadvantage of a supercharger – they’re expensive to run and install! But what about turbos? There is the obvious turbo-lag, which is the delay between you putting your foot down on the pedal and the car responding. But even this is getting better, with the introduction of new technology. Some vehicles even have more than one turbo, alongside electric motors, which power the turbine before the exhaust gases even reach the engine.

Despite these improvements, the thing to remember is that adding a supercharger or turbocharger to your car is just another thing that can go wrong. You’ll then need to pay for repairs or replacements. It’s up to you whether this is enough of a drawback or not.

Turbocharger vs Supercharger

Which is better, a supercharger or a turbo? There’s no easy answer to this question, as it will depend on what you’re looking for. Both are useful for increasing the power and top speed of a vehicle, but if you want a more economical option, you should opt for a turbo. They are cheaper to install and more efficient overall.

You may alternatively be looking for the quickest reaction time, and the fastest speeds. If this is the case, a supercharger would be the preferred choice – they have no turbo-lag and allow you to accelerate incredibly quickly.

The main thing to keep in mind when deciding between these two forced induction systems is to think about the long term expenses. Turbochargers cost less to maintain, so if your finances sometimes fluctuate, turbos may be the best option.

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