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How Does a Turbo WorkIf you’ve been debating buying a turbocharger for your car, it’s a good idea to make sure you understand the specifics of how a turbo works.

Are these devices bad for your engine? How much do they tend to cost? Do they work equally well with all types of vehicles?

These are just a few of the questions you should ask if you want to be able to make an educated decision about putting a turbocharger in your vehicle.

What Is a Turbocharger?

A turbocharger, often just called a “turbo” for short, is a device that’s added to a car’s engine to improve performance and efficiency. Because a smaller engine can produce more energy with a turbocharger to make the most of compressed air energy, mechanical power and fuel economy both increase.

How Does a Turbocharger Work?

A turbocharger is composed of two halves connected by a central shaft: the turbine and the compressor. The turbine section is spun by hot exhaust gasses to power the device as gasses are guided to the turbine housing, while the compressor side sucks in air and compresses it as it goes to the engine.

In other words, a turbo is powered by the exhaust gasses the vehicle produces as it runs and forces air into the engine to improve performance. A turbo can add between 75 and 150 horsepower to a car’s power. A supercharger, which is connected directly to the engine intake, can add 50–100 horsepower.

How Much Does a Turbocharger Cost?

Several factors can impact what you’ll end up paying for a turbo, including:

  • The type of car you have
  • The resources available to you
  • The type of turbo you add
  • Who installs the turbo

These are just a few factors. The average cost of the turbocharger itself starts at about $400 and goes up from there. The cost of installing one can run from $500 up to a few thousand.

Is a Turbo Bad for the Engine?

Generally, most experts agree that turbos themselves don’t damage a car’s engine. However, they do cause engines to require more expensive oil and more frequent maintenance. Most turbo engine failures are due to foreign object damage, oil contamination, or oil starvation.

However, some people argue that because turbos add more parts to engines, they make them less reliable. When turbos are well-maintained, they can last from 150,000 miles up to the vehicle's lifetime.

What Types of Vehicles Work Best with Turbos?

Theoretically, a turbo can be added to almost any car with a naturally aspirated (NASP) engine as long as the turbo components fit. Some of the easiest cars to modify with a turbo include:

  • Ford Mustang GT
  • Jeep Compass
  • Honda Civic (7th Generation)
  • Subaru BRZ
  • Toyota GR86
  • Nissan 350Z
  • Subaru Crosstrek
  • GMC Canyon
  • Chevy Colorado
  • Mazda Miata

These cars all have excellent power-weight distribution, which means they have the potential to unlock the most power from a turbo upgrade.

Overall, turbos are a great way to pick up a lot of extra horsepower without burning excessive gas. They’re cheaper than installing a bigger engine, and most people agree that they're well worth the upgrade cost.

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