What’s The Difference: Turbochargers vs Superchargers (2023)

Whether or not you identify as a motorsport or automotive enthusiast, you’ve undoubtedly heard the terms “supercharged” and “turbocharged” before in your day-to-day existence. Synonymous with bolstering speed, power, efficiency, and intensity, these two types of forced induction are widely employed by vehicle manufacturers and race teams alike. And, while most people understand that these chargers improve a vehicle’s raw performance prowess, a much smaller percentage of the population fully grasps what these are and how they function, much less their respective strengths and weaknesses.

So, to help pull back the curtain on how these forced induction systems operate, we’ve put together this easy-to-follow guide to turbochargers versus superchargers. Obviously there are numerous factors at play when discussing powertrains — such as displacement and engine configuration among quite a few others — and what makes them tick, however, few, if any systems, upgrades, or modifications are capable of squeezing as much horsepower from an engine as a super or turbocharger.

What’s The Difference: Turbochargers vs Superchargers (1)

Forced Induction Origins

The History Of Turbo & Superchargers

The earliest use of turbo and superchargers dates back to the late 1800s. The first supercharged production car rolled onto the scene in 1921 with Mercedes-Benz’ 6/25/40hp (and 10/40/54hp) — technology borrowed from aircraft engine architecture of the time. It wouldn’t be for another 40+ years that the first turbocharged production model entered the market when General Motors unveiled the Oldsmobile F-85 Jetfire (Turbo Rocket). Forced induction production models would remain sporadic until the mid-to-late 1970s, at which point the technology exploded, leading to it becoming the status quo in the auto industry like it is today.

Unpacking Aspiration

A Basic Guide To Forced Induction

To understand the principles behind turbo and superchargers, it’s vital that one has a general understanding of engine aspiration. Engines without turbo and superchargers (known as “naturally aspirated”) combust fuel and air at atmospheric pressure — aka the same atmospheric pressure we breathe and walk around in every day. Super and turbochargers bestow powertrains with condenses air that is forced into an engine’s cylinders, hence the moniker of “forced induction,” which describes a turbocharged or supercharged mill. Put very simply: the concept of forced induction isn’t that different from stoking a flame; the more air its afforded, the stronger it gets.

(Video) Turbochargers vs Superchargers - Which Is Better?

What’s The Difference: Turbochargers vs Superchargers (2)

A turbocharger is an air compressor driven by an exhaust gas turbine. Instead of spent fumes being ejected from the exhaust, the gasses are recycled back through the system, powering a turbine (typically going through an inner-cooler), and then going into the intake manifold, resulting in boost.

Superchargers, on the other hand, use a belt that runs off the engine — more specifically, the crank) to spin, thereby compressing air and forcing into the cylinders of an engine. When fed to the cylinders, this compressed air affords more oomph.

Methods Of Forcing Air

The Different Types Of Turbo & Superchargers

There are three main types of superchargers: Centrifugal; Roots-type superchargers (which date back to the mid-1800s); and Twin-Screw superchargers. For turbochargers, there are two main kinds: journal bearing; and ball bearing. Superchargers also come in both the top and side-mounted varieties.

(Video) Turbochargers VS Superchargers | Which is Better?

What’s The Difference: Turbochargers vs Superchargers (3)

The Pros Of Turbochargers

Benefits Of Blown

Turbochargers allow for an engine to make markedly more horsepower and torque without increasing displacement. Turbos — or “blowers” as they’re often called — can also bolster fuel economy, plus, they enable smaller engines to produce substantially more oomph (compared to superchargers of a similar size). And because they aren’t connected to the engine’s crank like a supercharger, turbochargers can spin much faster, at RPM’s well into the six-figure range. For the same reason, turbos don’t leech power off an engine the way that superchargers do.

Turbocharged Downsides

The Dark Side Of Snails

While turbos make more power than superchargers, it does come at several costs. Often appearing on high-dollar hypercars, turbos are more complicated systems that are harder (and more expensive) to install, typically requiring the addition of blow-off valves, oil-lines, and a number of other engine modifications. Additionally, turbos almost always require inner-coolers, too, as being connected directly to an exhaust manifold results in turbos getting really hot.

A turbo’s biggest shortcoming is objectively its lag. Because they have to get spooled up to ideal operating RPM, they afford relatively little to no boost in the lower RPM range. Lag is also to blame for the lack of precision related to the control of there boost, and unlike superchargers, turbos are prone to sudden surges of power.

(Video) How Superchargers vs. Turbos Work

What’s The Difference: Turbochargers vs Superchargers (4)

Benefits Of Superchargers

Whining In A Good Way

Just like with turbos, superchargers can add a lot of oomph to a vehicle’s power output. Unlike turbos, however, superchargers aren’t hindered by the lag effect that turbos suffer from. On top of instant boost, superchargers can also provide consistent power across the entire torque curve.

And because superchargers are connected directly to an engine’s crank pulley (and therefor RPM), they spin up right away and don’t suffer from any lag. For the same reason, superchargers can also produce substantially more low-end boost. Superchargers are also made up of fewer parts, making them easier (and markedly cheaper) to install and more reliable as there are fewer components that can possibly fail. They’re also less prone to grinding an engine.

Because a supercharger relies on an engine’s crank, they leech a small amount of power from an engine. This parasitic effect makes them slightly less efficient than turbos, as well as less economical with fuel. Superchargers can also be on the heavier side which can negatively impact a car’s weight placement and distribution. Ultimately, the biggest downside to superchargers is that they make relatively little power when compared to a turbocharger.

(Video) SUPERCHARGERS | How They Work

Which Is Better

Weighing In On The Forced Induction Debate

Whenever discussing the topic of forced induction, it’s inevitable that the age-old question of “which is better” is sure to pop up. And considering the ubiquity of forced induction systems in the car scene and the fact that there are two main types, it’s not all that surprising. The reality, however, is that there is no objectively correct answer to which of the two is superior.

Rather, the correct answer is that each boasts its own unique strengths and weaknesses, making each more (or less) conducive to specific applications. Turbochargers are undeniably more popular — especially on production models — though one could argue the reason for this stems more from emissions and fuel-economy regulations than it does the raw performance merits of each type.

The Best Of Both Worlds

Twin-Charging & Electro-Boosting

An engine fitted with both a supercharger and a turbocharger is referred to as “twin-charged”. These setups have existed on production models for decades — such as with Lancia’s iconic Delta S4 of 1985 — and remain popular today. Another increasingly popular modern configuration is pairing turbochargers with electric motors that enable the turbos to get spooled up to operating RPM, lessening (if not entirely eliminating) the lag turbos are notorious for. Many of the late model hybrid super and hypercars utilize these electric motor-supplemented turbo setups — same with Formal 1’s ERS system.

What’s The Difference: Torque vs. Horsepower


Enjoy learning about what’s going on under the hood and what makes an engine tick? Our explanatory guide to the difference between torque vs. horsepower is another must-read feature for any aspiring gearhead.

(Video) Turbocharging vs. Supercharging - What's The Difference?

FAQs

Which is better a turbo or a supercharger? ›

For those looking to balance performance with fuel economy and efficiency, turbocharging is the better choice. For those more interested in a straightforward solution to raw horsepower, supercharging is more likely the way to go.

What lasts longer a turbocharger or a supercharger? ›

Superchargers are arguably more reliable than turbochargers. They're easy to install and maintain. They're louder than turbochargers—they enhance the RPMs by a considerable amount—and they're also more common as a result.

Are turbochargers and superchargers the same thing? ›

A supercharger is driven from the engine's crankshaft by a belt, shaft or chain whereas turbochargers obtain their power from a turbine which harvests energy from the engine's exhaust gases. In simple terms a turbo is an air pump that enables more air to be pumped into the engine at higher pressure.

What is the advantage of turbochargers over superchargers? ›

A turbocharger will produce more power at lower RPMs than a supercharger. A regulator built inside the charger opens the waste gate, which gets rid of any extra pressure and enhances the performance. The waste gate typically has opened at between 2000 and 2500 RPMs. Improvements are also creating larger waste gates.

What runs hotter a turbo or a supercharger? ›

Turbos run much hotter then superchargers and because of this turbo bearings can get nuked because of the heat. Also if a turbo is turned off to quickly after being under a large load, it is possible for a turbo to burn itself up (possible).

How much HP does a turbocharger add? ›

A turbocharger works with the exhaust system and can potentially give you gains of 70-150 horsepower. A supercharger is connected directly to the engine intake and could provide an extra 50-100 horsepower.

Is it cheaper to turbo or supercharger? ›

Low End Horsepower – Compared to a turbocharger, a supercharger will enable an engine to make more power at lower RPMs. Cost Effective – If you are looking for the most affordable forced induction system, then the supercharger is the cheaper option.

What is the disadvantage of turbocharger? ›

Disadvantages of a Turbo Engine

Well, more power means more energy output per second. This means that you have to put more energy when you use it. So you must burn more fuel. In theory, that means an engine with a turbocharger is no more fuel efficient than one without.

Do turbos shorten engine life? ›

No. today's turbochargers are designed to last the lifespan of the vehicle. The truth is, boosted engines require the same amount of maintenance and care that a naturally aspirated engine does.

Can a car be both supercharger and turbocharged? ›

Can you use a turbocharger and a supercharger? Yes, using a turbocharger in tandem with a supercharger is very much possible. In fact, racing cars have been using twin-charging (turbocharger+supercharger) to increase the power both at the low RPM band and the high RPM band.

How much horsepower does it take to run a supercharger? ›

This means that supercharging cannot provide a fixed amount of hp – it only adds more power in relation to your car's original hp. The average amount added by a supercharger kit is 46% of your car's hp. Your actual increased hp may fall in the range of 30-50%, depending on the performance of your engine.

Can you supercharge a 4 cylinder? ›

Despite usually being reserved for bigger engines, some companies put superchargers in 4-cylinder cars - and the results were totally worth it! With the mechanical drag associated with superchargers, most manufacturers steer well clear of them in the context of smaller displacement engines.

Do turbochargers increase max speed? ›

They definitely increase your top speed and acceleration, but not until a certain level of speed. Turbochargers are more effective at high speeds than superchargers, more efficient, and less stressful on your engine.

Can a supercharger damage your engine? ›

Superchargers use air to increase power, meaning that overboosting the supercharger will blow hot air into the engine and could cause damage.

Do turbos increase top speed? ›

Once the turbine reaches speed, the turbo kicks in and the car's power and speed increase.

Can you turn a supercharger on and off? ›

Third from the right in the above photo of easy-to-find-in-junkyards superchargers, the Previa supercharger can be turned on and off in true Mad Max fashion, and that requires the correct switch. This switch is used for two-speed truck axles.

Do you burn more gas with a turbo? ›

A turbocharged engine turns into a fuel-hog under hard acceleration, because the large volume of air being pumped into the cylinders must be matched by a larger volume of fuel. Explaining the abnormally high consumption of a turbocharged engine under high load takes us into some interesting areas of engineering.

At what speed does turbo kick in? ›

When a turbocharger “kicks in” is based on exhaust pressure, so RPM's (Revolutions Per Minute) are a better indicator of when your turbo is activated. You could be driving 60mph at 1800RPM and the turbo might not be working, but at 20mph your turbo would kick in if you are hard accelerating once you pass 2200rpm.

How much HP can 2 turbos add? ›

How Much Horsepower Does a Twin-Turbo Add? A twin-turbo can add anywhere from 100 to 250 horsepower to your engine. This is a great way to really boost your engine's power and help you achieve some impressive speeds. A twin-turbo can also be great for your fuel economy and help you get the most out of your engine.

How can I add 200 hp to my car? ›

Install a Turbo Kit or Supercharger

A turbo kit will help your engine become more responsive. You will find turbocharger kits that increase your truck up to an additional 200-horsepower. The downside is that they aren't low-cost. Some kits can cost a few thousand dollars.

Does a supercharger affect gas mileage? ›

Because a supercharger uses the engine's own power to spin itself, it siphons power—more and more of it as engine revs climb. Supercharged engines tend to be less fuel efficient for this reason.

Is it worth it to turbo a car? ›

“Generally speaking, turbocharging is a great idea. It's a smaller engine, but you're still getting a decent amount of power,” says Mike Quincy, autos editor at Consumer Reports. “The idea with a smaller engine, especially a four-cylinder, is that you're going to get decent fuel economy without giving up power.

How long does a turbo last? ›

Turbos are designed to last the lifetime of the vehicle (or around 150,000 miles); however, it's possible for them to wear out over time depending on how hard you drive the car and the original build quality of the turbo.

What can damage a turbo? ›

Most failures are caused by the three 'turbo killers' of oil starvation, oil contamination and foreign object damage. More than 90% of turbocharger failures are caused oil related either by oil starvation or oil contamination. Blocked or leaking pipes or lack of priming on fitting usually causes oil starvation.

Do turbo engines fail faster? ›

A turbocharger increases the pressure and temperature inside the combustion chamber, which adds more strain on all internal components including pistons, valves, and the head gasket. The harder the engine works, the faster it wears out.

Do turbo cars need to warm up? ›

Turbocharged cars are ‌faster than average cars, consume more fuel, and run at high pressure. It is important to let your turbo cars warm up before accelerating because the fuel and lubricants need to circulate adequately for improved performance. However, it does not need idling for long.

Do all turbo cars require premium gas? ›

Not all turbocharged cars need premium gas, but it's a more common requirement among turbos than other kinds of engines, thanks to the way these engines work. The name turbo comes from the turbine these engines use to inject more air into the air-fuel mixture in the combustion chamber.

Do turbo cars run better in the cold? ›

Yes, compressing air or any gas becomes hot , hot gases expands and contains less oxygen. During cold weather it's a very noticeable improvement of horsepower.

What is the life expectancy of a turbocharger? ›

Most of the replacements seem to be around 100,000 to 120,000 miles or more due to oil seal leaks and worn bearings.

How many miles does a turbo charger last? ›

Turbos are designed to last the lifetime of the vehicle (or around 150,000 miles); however, it's possible for them to wear out over time depending on how hard you drive the car and the original build quality of the turbo.

Are turbo engines long lasting? ›

Large heavy duty turbo diesel engines will last 500,000 miles or more. Turbo engines are usually built stronger than regular naturally aspirated engines, so as long as they are maintained properly, they'll run for a long time.

What kills a turbo? ›

Extreme exhaust heat is what powers the turbine side of the turbocharger, and over time, 2000° temps will take a toll. Prolonged exposure to that kind of heat will eventually kill anything, guaranteed.

Why a V6 is better than a turbo 4 cylinder? ›

A V6 engine can produce low RPM torque and power better than a turbocharged four-cylinder, because more air enters the pistons, which creates even bigger explosions.

Can a turbo car be a daily driver? ›

Yes, it is totally fine to daily drive a turbo car. In fact, turbocharging – at least from the perspective of many manufacturers – is more about making daily driving easier for the driver by making cars more powerful, more fuel efficient and easier to drive.

Do turbos increase mpg? ›

A turbocharger typically helps a car get better gas mileage because a smaller engine can be used to get the same amount of performance. Expect a turbocharged engine to be about 8% -10% more fuel efficient that the same engine that is not turbo equipped.

Is a 4 cylinder turbo as good as a 6 cylinder? ›

Modern turbocharged four-cylinder engines, when engineered properly, will either beat or match a naturally aspirated V6 in almost every category. Turbo-fours are lighter, more efficient, and can be more powerful than a naturally aspirated V6. The only thing that a V6 will always do better is towing capacity.

How often do turbos fail? ›

Less than 1% of turbos fail because of manufacturing defects. Most failures are caused by the three 'turbo killers' of oil starvation, oil contamination and foreign object damage.

Should I avoid turbo engines? ›

“Generally speaking, turbocharging is a great idea. It's a smaller engine, but you're still getting a decent amount of power,” says Mike Quincy, autos editor at Consumer Reports. “The idea with a smaller engine, especially a four-cylinder, is that you're going to get decent fuel economy without giving up power.

Can you run a supercharger and a turbo at the same time? ›

Can you use a turbocharger and a supercharger? Yes, using a turbocharger in tandem with a supercharger is very much possible. In fact, racing cars have been using twin-charging (turbocharger+supercharger) to increase the power both at the low RPM band and the high RPM band.

Can a supercharger damage an engine? ›

Superchargers use air to increase power, meaning that overboosting the supercharger will blow hot air into the engine and could cause damage.

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