Car enthusiasts often speak of turbochargers and superchargers in the same breath. Both fit the criteria of forced induction systems, which compress the air within the fuel/air mixture prior to ignition. This can offer up to a 50% boost to the engine.
Turbochargers and superchargers operate very differently, though. In this post, we'll highlight the difference between turbochargers and superchargers.
The key difference between turbochargers and superchargers lies in the way the air compression components are powered. A turbocharger gets its power from a turbine, harvesting energy from the engine's exhaust system.
A turbocharger has a turbine end, as well as a compressor end. The compressor end is often called the "cold end," and works to draw ambient air into the compressor housing. The turbine end (or "hot end") can reach over 900 degrees Celsius. The turbine wheel is powered by the gases normally ventilated through the exhaust system, providing power to the supercharger system.
This process results in a significant boost in horsepower. It can be ideal for powering smaller engines, and can even improve overall engine efficiency and fuel economy. The downside is that turbochargers tend to offer less power at lower engine RPMs, and the turbine system takes a brief period to ramp up. This is commonly known as "turbo lag," though this is offset by the fact that turbochargers can offer great power at high speeds.
While a turbocharger gets its power from a turbine in the exhaust system, a supercharger obtains power from the engine's crankshaft via a belt or chain.
A supercharger compresses the air above atmospheric pressure, which drives more air into the engine. This boost allows more fuel to be added to the charge, increasing the overall power of the engine.
There are two main types of superchargers on the market today:
- Positive displacement superchargers produce a steady amount of pressure
- Dynamic compressors produce more pressure as the RPMs increase
Unlike turbochargers, superchargers don't have any lag time, producing power directly from the engine itself.
Which is Better?
Superchargers and turbochargers have their strengths and weaknesses, and their value depends on your vehicle and what you hope to gain.
Turbochargers are better at getting more power from smaller engines, and because they rely on the exhaust system, they tend to operate much more efficiently than superchargers. The downside is that they take longer to spool up before delivering power, and they tend to be less effective at lower engine RPMs.
Superchargers offer consistent power from the moment the engine starts. Though they are less efficient than a turbocharger, a supercharger can offer consistent power even when operating at a lower engine RPM.
Therefore, neither is really "better." Your experience with each will depend on how you choose to balance the advantages and weaknesses of each system.
Superchargers and turbochargers add power to your engine through different mechanisms. Superchargers are powered by the engine, while turbochargers are powered by the exhaust system. While turbochargers tend to be more efficient, superchargers deliver consistent power anytime the engine is running.