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Supercharger vs. Turbocharger: What’s the Difference? 

The three things a gas-powered engine needs to run are air, fuel, and ignition or spark. Naturally aspirated engines passively draw air into the engine to mix with fuel, producing the horsepower necessary to perform. Forced air induction actively compresses air and pushes it into the engine, helping it produce more power than a similarly sized naturally aspirated engine, and more efficiently too.

The two forced air induction families are turbochargers and superchargers. The two have very different designs yet perform similar functions. Let’s look at what they are and how they work, and if there’s a choice between supercharger vs turbocharger on your car.

What are turbochargers? 

Turbochargers look like a large metal snail mounted inline with your car’s exhaust. It has two sides: a compressor section and a turbine section. As the engine runs, exhaust gas is funneled through the turbine section to spin the turbine wheel at extremely high RPMs. The compressor section is attached beside it and, as the turbine spins, the compressor wheel also spins, compressing air and discharging it into the air intake.  

Turbochargers have a wide range of sizes available, and various boost levels as a result. They essentially force more oxygen-rich air into the engine so it can mix with fuel and be burnt, allowing more power from a smaller displacement. 

What are turbochargers best used for? Primarily, manufacturers use turbos to achieve similar power levels in a smaller package. It allows them to downsize from a V8 to a V6, for example, with no noticeable power difference.  

But turbochargers aren’t all upside. Three things that can be considered a disadvantage are:  

  • Turbo lag. Since the turbo needs to spool up, there’s a ‘hole’ in performance until a certain RPM is achieved. Essentially, it’s a delay between when you call for the power and when you feel it kick in. 
  • Heat. Turbos can run extremely hot, and that heat gets transferred to the air inside. Heat robs an engine of power, so manufacturers add air vents to cool the engine bay and an intercooler to cool the air before it enters the air intake. It complicates the design. 
  • Cost. While they’re durable, turbochargers can be pricey to replace if they fail.  

What are superchargers? 

What is a supercharger? A supercharger also compresses air that’s forced into the engine, but in a different method than a turbo. It’s usually a mechanically-driven compressor that’s bolted to the engine, although there are recent instances of electric superchargers too.  

How does a supercharger work? When the engine is running, a belt spins the supercharger’s pulley, turning the internal gears that are connected to an impeller in the compressor. The compressed air is then funneled into the intake to burn. 

Superchargers are typically used when there needs to be power available from low RPMs all the way up through the range. Since it’s belt-driven, boost pressure is always created when the engine is running. That means there’s more even acceleration and power delivery throughout the entire RPM range.  

What is a supercharger’s downside? There are a few:  

  • Superchargers rob the engine of power. As it’s driven by a belt, the supercharger can require as much as one-third of the engine’s power to spin. 
  • They’re bulky. Depending on the style – Roots style, twin-screw, or centrifugal – they can take up a lot of space in the engine bay. 
  • They can affect reliability. Supercharged engines tend to fail sooner than naturally aspirated engines. 

What’s the difference between a turbocharger and supercharger? 

While turbos and superchargers effectively do the same thing, there are distinct differences.  

  • Turbos are driven by exhaust gases, superchargers are belt driven. That’s important since turbochargers don’t steal energy from the engine to operate, which is why they produce what’s often called “free power”. 
  • Turbochargers are more complicated. Superchargers don’t heat up as much as a turbo does, so they can sometimes send air directly into the engine. Turbos almost always require an intercooler to reduce the intake temperature, creating more energy-dense air for combustion. Turbos also need additional parts like a blow-off valve. 
  • Superchargers always have power ready. When you step on the gas, a supercharged engine will immediately have power available while a turbocharged engine will take a second to make power while the RPMs increase. 

What is right for your vehicle? 

It’s possible in some situations to bolt a turbocharger or supercharger on a naturally aspirated engine, but most people looking for this performance part are searching for a replacement, not a power adder. When that’s the case, it’s important to use the same type and size that came with your car from the factory. Modifying or replacing a forced air induction with a different kind will require professional tuning, if it’s possible at all, and might require even more modifications like larger fuel injectors and a higher volume fuel pump.  

If you’re looking for a power adder, though, it’s best to find a kit rather than piecing it all together.  

Shop turbochargers and superchargers at AutoZone. Whether you need replacement parts or want an extra boost in performance, our knowledgeable associates can help with Trustworthy Advice. If the job is too big for you, seek out one of our Preferred Shops to help you do the job.

FAQ/People Also Ask 

Is it better to supercharge or turbo? 

There are good cases for both supercharging and turbocharging an engine. Turbochargers produce “free power” while superchargers have a more consistent power range, so you need to decide what’s best for you. 

Is supercharged faster than turbo? 

Both superchargers and turbos can produce excellent power and improve acceleration, but in different ways. 

What runs hotter a turbo or a supercharger? 

Turbochargers tend to run hotter since they use engine exhaust to spin. However, it’s best to use an intercooler for both designs to keep intake air as cool as possible. 

What are the 3 types of superchargers? 

The three types of superchargers are Roots style, centrifugal, and twin screw.  

What are the disadvantages of supercharging? 

The main disadvantage of a supercharger is that it steals energy from the engine in order to spin, making it less efficient. 

Can a car have both turbo and supercharger? 

A car can have an electric supercharger and a turbo installed. The supercharger produces low-RPM boost, then disengages when the turbo kicks in. 

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