Turbocharger or Supercharger: Which One Should I Buy?


Sep 09th, 2020

Turbocharger or Supercharger: Which One Should I Buy?

When cars roll off the factory floor, they come with pre-determined specifications. For example, cars of the same model and trim levels will produce the same power and torque outputs. For most car buyers, these outputs are good enough. Still, some would want to tweak and modify their vehicles to get more power out of them. Turbochargers and superchargers are car parts that help them do just that.

Remember: a combustion engine requires two things to produce power: fuel and air. So, a quick way to increase your power's output is to get the engine to suck in more air. That's where turbo and superchargers come into play. Both get more air into the engine, though they accomplish that differently.

In this article, we're going to take a look at how turbo and superchargers function. Once we've understood that, we'll help you figure out which one is best for your car!

How does a turbocharger work?

A turbocharger compresses air and channels it into your engine, just like a supercharger does. The difference here is that the turbocharger is powered by an exhaust gas turbine. That's right! The waste gases that come out of your exhaust are reused to generate more power.

As the gases flow out of the engine and through the manifold, it goes into the turbocharger's turbine inlet. There, it spins the turbine which sucks air into the turbocharger to be compressed. Next, the compressed air goes out the discharge and into the engine's intake manifold.

That compressed air contains much more oxygen compared to ambient air. So when it gets into your engine, a proportionate amount of fuel is mixed in creating a much more efficient combustion process.

That whole process creates a significant increase in horsepower and increases fuel efficiency. 

Instead of taking power from the engine and using more fuel, the turbocharger gets its power from exhaust gases that are on their way out!

Turbochargers make a lot of difference to small cars and are the preferred option because they make the small stock engines produce much more power than other cars of the same size. 

How does a supercharger work?

A supercharger performs the same job as a turbo. It compresses air and sends it to the engine for it to produce more power. The difference is that it is powered by the crankshaft. Instead of using exhaust gases like the turbo, a supercharger gets its power from the engine through a belt.

With a supercharger, adding more power to your car is a pretty straightforward process. Plus, they tend to cost less than turbochargers.

While turbos are better for relatively smaller cars, you'll often find superchargers on vehicles with much larger engines. For instance, you'll find that V8 engines almost always have superchargers attached to them.

Turbocharger vs Supercharger: Which one should I get?

In the turbocharger vs supercharger debate, most people would assume that both accomplish the same thing even though they're powered differently. For the most part, they do, but there are some key differences you should be aware of when choosing one for your vehicle.

Here are the key differences you should be aware of, as well as which one (turbo or super) has the upper hand in each point:

  • Performance at low RPMs: Superchargers stand above turbos in this case. They can still produce a fair amount of power even when your engine is in the lower RPMs, unlike turbos.
  • The need for oil: Superchargers win, again. The thing about turbochargers is that they tend to get pretty hot. So, they need to be hooked up to the engine's oil supply to control that heat. This is a bit of a headache when installing turbos since there's additional piping that needs to be sorted out to share the engine's oil. Oh, and by the way, superchargers typically don't need any oil.
  • Power surges: Yeah, superchargers win again. Another issue with turbochargers, especially bigger ones, is that they often cause a power surge. That means that when the turbo kicks in, it kicks in hard! When the power suddenly increases, your tyres might lose a bit of traction and struggle to keep your car stable.
  • Lagging: Should I even say it? Yes, this is another point for superchargers, because they don't produce any lag. Turbochargers need a little bit of time for their turbines to wind up, which causes a little bit of a lag before it kicks in and does its job.
  • Engine efficiency: Finally, one point on this list for turbochargers! Turbos are great because they're powered by exhaust gases. That means that it doesn't have to steal any power from the engine. So, overall, the engine is allowed to run more efficiently than if you used a supercharger.
  • Overall engine reliability: This one's a tie because both turbos and superchargers affect the engine's overall reliability. Let's remember how these two car parts work: they force – the operative word being 'force' – additional compressed air into the engine. Then, a proportionate amount of extra fuel will be forced into the engine to create a more powerful combustion process. As a result, the inside of your engine runs much hotter and at higher pressures than average! On a stock engine, that added pressure and heat will surely shorten its lifespan, which is something you must be aware of.

Bottom Line

So, with many of the advantages going in favour of superchargers, the vote is obvious. But with the added pressures put on the engine, should you even bother getting either one? I'd say yes. Why so? If you're reading this article, the odds are that you're already itching to get your car to produce more power. Using a turbo or supercharger is a great way to do that. 

Even if you're worried about the added pressure and heat caused by turbos and superchargers, you can always invest in better engine internals.

Whichever one you end up choosing, be sure to shop around for the right parts to go along with it. Check out Carpart.com.au's Parts Finder to search for sellers of the auto part that you need. Just visit the website and submit a request. The system will then inform suppliers from all over Australia while you sit back and wait for the offers to come in.

By Ray Hasbollah