Superchargers or Turbochargers?

It can be easy to confuse superchargers and turbochargers are the same things. However, there are a few differences that set these two apart.

Currently, turbocharged engines are entering the marketplace at a reasonable speed. This is largely due to the fact that many new hybrid vehicles are using a mix of small turbocharged petrol engines, while data for the Australian market has not yet been confirmed. In America, approximately 28% of new cars entering the market have been equipped with turbochargers (2017 figures).

This uptake in engines has likely been caused due to policy changes in regards to emission controls, as worldwide economics are seeking to get more performance for less fuel. An easy way to achieve these goals is to use smaller engines fitted with turbochargers.

How Engines Use Air To Increase Performance

Most people are aware that you need petrol to run a car, and that air is a function of providing combustion, alongside an ignition source. But many may not be aware that the type of air and how it gets into the engine is related to how much power an engine can produce.

Engines work by drawing in air, and that is mixed with the fuel and then compressed by the piston, then the spark plugs supply the ignition source and the gases explode and drive the piston back into the cylinder.

This known as a 4 stroke engine process:

  1. Intake, piston moving down, drawing fuel and air
  2. Compression, piston moves up to top dead centre (TDR)
  3. Ignition, power stroke, piston moves down
  4. Gases expelled through the exhaust, piston moves up

For many years when an engine designer sought to get more power out of an engine, they increased the number of cylinders, and pistons, or they increased the size of the cylinders so they could draw in more fuel for a bigger power stroke.

Turbochargers and superchargers work by forcing more air into the chamber, which in turn increases the compression. This results in an increased density of the material inside the chamber and results in higher Kilowatts being produced.

The Difference Between Turbochargers and Superchargers

Although both of these help the engine condense air, the differences are in how they achieve this. A turbocharger works by using two spinning turbines, one is controlled by the exhaust gases and this in turn spins the other that sends fresh air into the engine.

A supercharger operates in basically the same way, but it is driven by the crankshaft by a belt, rather than exhaust gases as they are expelled. Superchargers are not as popular as turbochargers, so you are less likely to see them fitted to cars.

Which Is The Best?

As turbochargers rely on the exhaust to drive the intake turbine, there can often be a delay in the process, from when you hit the accelerator to the turbo being activated. Turbochargers are perfect for working at higher speeds when the car is warm and the exhaust is working at peak efficiency.

Superchargers don’t have this problem, because they are driven by the engine itself, and they can be kept in tune with the running speed of the engine as they are directly driven by it. However, this means that the supercharger takes some power away from the vehicle and that less power is available to the drivetrain.

Essentially the main difference between the two, is that one works better at high RPM’s and the other at low RPM’s so it is entirely dependent on how you drive the vehicle.

What's Next for Turbochargers and Superchargers?

Car manufacturers are keen to develop new technology to help drivers get more out of the fuel they put into a car, especially with the increasing costs and environmental concerns.

There are some vehicles that are using electric assistance to help turbochargers and superchargers increase their performance. A few manufactures have deployed a different technique and installed both types on an engine and alternating between the two when the needs arise.