The Difference Between Turbos & Superchargers Explained

Got boost but unsure how it works or what you're running? 2 minutes are all you need to get up to speed...
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Turbochargers and superchargers: they both fall under the ‘forced induction’ umbrella, but how do they work? Here is everything you need to know in just two minutes.

Simple explanation: Turbos and superchargers generate boost by compressing the air which flows into an engine. This in turn means that more fuel can be pumped into a cylinder (because you have more oxygen from the compressed air), which means you get more power from every explosion in a cylinder.

1. Turbocharger

New Fiesta ST runs a turbocharged 1.6 with 179bhp

New Fiesta ST runs a turbocharged 1.6 with 179bhp

Turbos generate boost using the engine’s exhaust gases which spin a turbine, which then spins an air pump.

Turbochargers can spin up to 150,000rpm, which makes exhaust gases quite hot...

Turbochargers can spin at up to 150,000rpm, which makes exhaust gases quite hot…

Turbochargers are lightweight and do not impact on a car’s fuel economy at low revs or at idle. This is because the exhaust gases need time to generate enough pressure to spin the turbine. The time that is taken to do so is known as turbo lag. The bigger the turbo, the longer the turbo lag.

Video – turbocharged VW Polo

2. Supercharger

New Range Rover Sport uses a 5.0-litre V8 supercharged petrol engine with 503bhp

New Range Rover Sport uses a 5.0-litre V8 supercharged petrol engine with 503bhp

Unlike a turbocharger, a supercharger draws its power to increase air compression via a belt that is connected to an engine’s crankshaft. Because of its direct link to the engine, a supercharger provides immediate additional boost, while a turbocharger does not (turbo lag).

A supercharger’s belt (that is connected to the crank) spins a pulley which is connected to a drive gear which then turns a compressor gear. The compressor gear compresses the air that is fed into a cylinder.

Image source:

Image source:

The addition of a supercharger increases an engine’s bhp power by 46 per cent on average. Torque is also boosted by an average of 30-40 per cent.

Video – supercharged BMW E30

Turbo vs Supercharger: pros and cons

Each method of forced induction has its pros and cons. While a supercharger provides immediate boost, fuel economy does suffer compared with a turbocharger that is inactive at low revs (turbo lag) or at idle.

Compared with turbochargers, superchargers are easier to install and (generally) do not require an intercooler. This is because supercharges do not heat the compressed air as much as a turbo.

Turbochargers can sometimes provide too much boost, which damages an engine. A waste gates removes excess boost which protects an engine.

Previous guides

Image source:

Image source:

The difference between BHP and WHP explained.

The difference between torque and horsepower explained.

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  • Vane Naumovski

    But Turbochargers have more power..

    • William Brown

      Not always, If you look at Vortec, some of their supercharger systems are good for 1500hp…

  • Carson

    is it possible to install a turbo and a supercharger in a car at the same time?

    • Ben John-Hynes

      Yes. Engines that run both are known as “Twin charged”

      • Andrew

        There was a Saturn Redline that had both a Turbo & Supercharger.

      • Luke

        Need to be careful here, if they’re not installed correctly the supercharger will end up blowing all it’s compressed air to backdrive the turbos, and none of that air will end up in the intake manifold.

        • Carson

          thanks bro.

    • Guest

      Look at a Nissan Super March, that is turbo charged, and super charged.

    • hickipedia

      Look at the Nissan March Super Turbo, that’s is turbo and super charged, cool car.

    • Jigs J Sharma

      VW TSI engines

      • E. Bruneau

        the TSI engine is not twin charged at all. It’s a turbo direct injection engine….

        • Jigs J Sharma

          LOL, If you dnt know dont talk. I know my vw’s mate, new tsi engines 1.4 tsi tfsi are both.

          • William Brown

            You said the TSI, and the TSI engine is a Turbocharged direct injected, on the 1.4 they did add a supercharger. It’s like saying all lemons are citrus but not all citrus are lemons; You follow? Not all the TSI engines are twin-charged but the 1.4 does happen to be.

          • Jigs J Sharma

            in other words i was right. just not about the earlier named tsi engine my bad i shall now add all the years makes and models just for clarification next time… too many topgear heads on here.

          • james

            imports and german cars suck anyway.

    • Alex

      Check out the twin charged king, Zenvo St1

    • Bobrosco

      volkswagen do’s this on their tsi engine. They get 180 hp from a 1.4 engine And it has 250nm @ 2000rpm. And that is a lot for a production car 1.4 liter engine.

  • Ryan Young

    and of course they forgot to mention that a supercharger takes power to make power and a turbo recycles waste to make power…. and in 99% of the cases a turbo will give more power easily….

    • Blufires

      Try putting a 1″ exhaust on a car and see how much power is stolen. The exhaust backpressure caused by a turbo is what powers it. If you compare a supercharger against a turbocharger, both without intercoolers, both feeding the same boost, you’ll see the same power output. This is because the power stolen to turn the turbocharger is just as much is as stolen by the supercharger, but comes from the exhaust backpressure rather than the drive pulley. It’s the most common misconception about superchargers.

      • Bobrosco

        blufires thats not true. Some back pressure in the exhaust dosn’t mean a power loss. But the boost pressure should be higher then the back pressure, and if you choose the right turbo it will be. And then the back pressure wil prevent the engine from letting a lot of its fresh air out in the last moment the valves are open. So a turbocharged engine will probably make some more power. But because a supercharger is there allways when you floor it a supercharger will produce more torque probably.

  • me

    This is a woefully inadequate description…

    • me

      lets be honest its not… its an easy and simplified description for those out there that dont have a clue, anyone can read it and get the general idea of how they work

      • autoalex

        Nail on the head!

    • William Brown

      I mean if you want to get into specifics like compressor mapping and surge and all that, well yeah… but for the general public they wouldn’t need to know much more than this.

  • Matthew Price

    Superchargers are also susceptible to over boosting at high revs and don’t provide as much boost at low revs, but between those extremes they provide more boost than a turbo

    • Nathan

      Factory twin-scroll turbo’s these days generally hit full boost and torque before 2,000rpm so I’m going to disagree with you there.

    • Blufires

      That’s true for centrifugal turbos. Roots and twin scroll superchargers provide the same boost at all RPM ranges, but weigh more, take up more space, are harder to attach an intercooler to, and are less efficient at wide open throttle and high revs. That’s why a lot of drag cars us centrifugal, but very few stock engines for road cars use them.

  • Matt

    Is it possible to have one small turbo (for a shorter lag) connected to help a bigger turbo also spool? Therefore giving a larger power range for the turbo and less time with turbo lag? Or is this what twin turbos do?

    • Massive Richard

      Yep– That’s “BiTurbo”. Google it.

      • josh

        Different than biturbo. You are thinking of a sequential twin turbo settup. The mazda rx-7 spirit R has that type of settup

        • BoostAlmighty82

          As does the MKIV Toyota Supra TT. But “Sequential” is correct. Yup!

        • Luke

          If that’s sequential twin-turbo then what’s biturbo? I always thought that’s what biturbo was :/

    • Blufires

      You can either have several small turbos feeding together side by side, or a small turbo for low lag and a big turbo for high boost working together one after the other. The first setup, called parallel, is what the Bugatti Veyron does with its 4 turbos. The second setup, called series or sequential, is what some RX-7, Supra and Skyline GTR models use.

      The engine that’s due to replace the Ford Falcon’s 4.0L 6cyl in upcomming models is a 4cyl 2.5L which uses a really tiny turbo (2″ across) spinning about 4 times as fast as a standard turbo. This means low lag since the turbo is small, but decent boost since the thing is spinning so fast. The downside is that they need to be really well made to not wear out fast.

  • jeremy.clarkson

    Turbo is more fun cause of the turbo lag when you start a 40 year old man looks out and sees your lets say supra and tell his wife look i keeping up with that supra and she looks out and say
    what witch supra? /jeremy clarkson

  • PainIs4ThaWeak

    Wow. Talk about only covering the “Basics” … Thought we’d be talking A/Rs and fluid dynamics… : Unamused.

  • ash

    Fake, it’s all to do with witchcraft

  • Blufires

    There’s a few things which just aren’t true in this.

    Turbos and superchargers both heat the intake air, and it’s NOT because of the proximity to the exhaust gasses. It’s because of the change in entropy due to compressing a gas. It’s the same reason why spray cans feel cold when they’re used, because a gas is being decompressed.

    So it’s inaccurate to say that superchargers do not require an intercooler. They have just as much need for one as a turbocharger.

    Also, the reason superchargers are less fuel efficient is not due to their design, it’s because most supercharged setups don’t use an intercooler, which is just because it’s hard to fit it all under the bonnet. Turbos leech power from an engine just as much as superchargers do, they just steal it via exhaust backpressure rather than off the drive belt.


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