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Turbocharger vs Supercharger: Which Performs Better?

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Caught up in the turbocharger vs supercharger debate?
We get it. Deciding which of the two is best for your car can be overwhelming. 

Turbochargers and superchargers are forced induction systems designed to boost air pressure within the engine, which helps generate more power and enhance efficiency.

While they serve similar purposes, they differ based on their power output, response speed, and other characteristics.

We’ll explore how superchargers and turbochargers work and the key differences that set them apart. We’ll also help you decide which one is better for your vehicle.  

Let’s begin!

This Article Contains:

Turbocharger vs Supercharger: What Are They and How Do They Work 

Turbochargers and superchargers are compressors that force more oxygen into your car’s internal combustion engine to enhance its power. This is called “forced induction”. However, the main difference between them is how each one is powered. 

Turbochargers are mounted on your engine and have two main parts: a turbine wheel and an air compressor wheel. 

When the engine runs, exhaust gasses exit the combustion chamber and turn the turbine wheel. This is linked to the air compressor wheel, which spins to bring in fresh compressed air. The compressed air moves into the engine’s intake manifold through a pipe and is cooled down by an intercooler before entering the engine.

A supercharger, on the other hand, uses the crankshaft’s rotation to compress air. It’s mechanically connected to the engine’s crankshaft by a gear and a pulley, which drives the supercharger’s rotors, screws, or impeller to compress air. This compressed air is then pushed into the combustion chamber.

Next, let’s go over some other differences between turbo and superchargers. 

Turbocharger vs Supercharger: How Are They Different?

While both turbochargers and superchargers enhance engine performance by increasing oxygen intake, they impact vehicle functionality in different ways: 

1. Engine Response Speed 

A supercharged engine has a faster response time than turbocharged engines because it’s controlled by the engine’s crankshaft rotation.

The supercharger spins faster as the engine speed increases, pushing more air into the combustion chamber. This provides an engine with higher horsepower, increased performance, and more boost across the entire operating range of the engine. 

On the other hand, since turbocharged engines run on exhaust gas, it takes a few seconds for the exhaust pressure to spool up, and they may experience a turbo lag (delay in power delivery after pressing the accelerator) after the throttle is opened. Turbochargers provide more power at a lower or higher RPM range.

2. Horsepower Gains

Both turbochargers and superchargers can boost engine performance by up to 30% to 40%.

Adding a turbocharger to a car’s engine will give it a 70  to 150-horsepower boost. Some cars are also equipped with twin turbos, where one adds power boost at low RPM and the other reduces performance lag.

A supercharger, on the other hand, uses some of the engine’s horsepower to work, consuming around 20% of the engine’s energy. In return for this power consumption, it boosts the vehicle’s performance by offering 50 to 100 horsepower gain, which is a fair trade-off.

3. Effect on Fuel Economy

A turbocharger typically helps a car get better gas mileage because a smaller engine can be used to get the same amount of performance. In fact, a turbocharged engine is about 10% more fuel efficient than a naturally aspirated engine (any engine not equipped with a turbo or a supercharger).

While superchargers also allow a smaller engine to be used in a car to achieve the same performance as a larger engine, they’re not designed to save gas. 

Turbochargers are more economical if you’re trying to save gas, while a supercharger provides quicker power and better-balanced performance. 

4. Driving Experience 

Turbocharged engines are ideal for high-speed and high-altitude driving. Although drivers might initially experience a turbo lag, once active, turbochargers provide a significant power surge. 

In contrast, superchargers are excellent for drivers who prefer quick acceleration and immediate power delivery at low engine speed. They provide an immediate power boost without turbo lag. 

So, while a supercharged engine offers quick power delivery and instant speed, turbochargers are better suited for drivers who want to cruise efficiently and get high-speed power on demand.

5. Use in Production Vehicles 

Turbochargers are more widely used in production vehicles than superchargers because they improve fuel efficiency and reduce emissions, making it easier for automakers to comply with environmental regulations. 

Supercharged engines are often found in high-performance and racing cars due to their immediate power-boosting capabilities.

Did you know?
The first supercharged car was introduced in 1921 when Mercedes launched its Kompressor engines, which were equipped with superchargers. The first production car to use a turbocharger was the 1962 Chevrolet Corvair, followed by Porsche in 1974. 

6. Environment Friendliness

A turbocharged engine is eco-friendly, as it allows smaller engines to produce the same amount of power while consuming less fuel than a naturally aspirated engine. This results in lesser carbon dioxide emissions and helps reduce the vehicle’s carbon footprint. They also improve the engine’s efficiency, boost horsepower, and enhance fuel economy. 

Since superchargers draw engine power, they’re less fuel efficient and may produce higher exhaust gas emissions. 

7. Lifespan

Turbochargers can last up to 150,000 miles, and with regular maintenance, their lifespan can extend to 200,000 miles or even 30 years. However, it’s best to replace them every 100,000 miles. 

On the other hand, supercharged engines can last a vehicle’s entire lifetime, but factors like driving habits and fuel quality might reduce their durability.

8. Installation costs 

An aftermarket turbo kit can cost between $1,000 to $5,000, and labor can cost around $500 to $1000.  

However, installing it is a complex job that may involve upgrading the size or capacity of your car’s cooling or fuel system and installing additional components like intercoolers or wastegates. So, it should only be done by professional automotive mechanics.  

On the other hand, superchargers are easier to integrate into your current engine system, but the kits can be expensive. Depending on the type of kit you purchase, installing an aftermarket supercharger will cost you anywhere from $2000 to $15,000

Aftermarket supercharger kits come in three price ranges:

The bottom line is that it isn’t a simple build, and unless you’re doing it as a hobby, you’ll be wasting a lot of money.

9. Impact on Car Value

Adding a turbo or supercharger to your car has little effect on your car’s value.  

If your car or truck included a turbo or supercharger as original equipment, it won’t affect its value. However, if you paid extra money to install them, you can generally retain this added value when you sell your vehicle.

Now that we’ve explored their differences, let’s see which of the two options is a better fit for your car.

Turbocharger vs Supercharger: Which Is Better? 

Choosing between turbochargers and superchargers depends on your driving style, vehicle use, and specific needs. 

Turbochargers are more prevalent in production vehicles and diesel engine cars, as they offer increased power and extra torque at higher engine speeds. 

Turbocharged engines are ideal for those who prioritize fuel efficiency and often drive on highways. They also outperform naturally aspirated or supercharged engines at high altitudes, making them suitable for driving in areas with thinner air.

Superchargers, on the other hand, are better suited for high-performance vehicles or racing cars to increase horsepower and enhance performance across the engine’s full operating range. They provide immediate throttle response and strong low-end torque, also making them ideal for towing and off-roading. Additionally, they are easier to install and integrate with your existing engine.

Curious to know more?
Check out the  FAQs section.

3 FAQs on Turbocharger vs Supercharger

Here are answers to some commonly asked questions about turbo and superchargers:

1. Are There Different Types of Turbo and Superchargers Available in the Market?

Yes, you can choose from different types of superchargers and turbochargers to install on your car’s engine. Some common ones include: 

1. Types of turbochargers:

2. Types of superchargers:

2. Is a Supercharger or Turbocharger Bad for Your Engine?

While superchargers and turbochargers are designed to boost pressure and provide extra power to a car’s engine, they may negatively affect your engine’s durability in the long run. 

Turbochargers can enhance your car’s power output and fuel economy while reducing toxic emissions. However, since turbos have more moving parts, they produce a lot of heat, which causes engine overheating. This could mean extra maintenance and a regular need for engine oil lubrication.

Similarly, while superchargers offer better engine performance, they’re less fuel-efficient and can shorten your engine’s lifespan. 

3. Can You Add a Turbocharger or Supercharger to Any Car Engine? 

You can add an aftermarket forced induction system, like a turbo or supercharger, to any internal combustion engine. You can also replace your normally aspirated engines with a turbo or supercharged model. 

But before doing that, ensure that your car’s ECU can manage a power boost and that your engine parts (pistons, valves, etc) are strong enough to handle the extra force.

It’s also important to note that the expense of installing a forced induction system in a car as an aftermarket isn’t always cost-effective. Any fuel savings or extra power you’ll get from adding a turbo or supercharger will be minimal compared to their installation cost. 

Maintain Engine Performance with AutoNation Mobile Service 

Turbochargers and superchargers can help boost engine performance by increasing oxygen intake to generate higher horsepower. However, these upgrades are expensive and require regular maintenance and engine oil lubrication services, so it’s best to consider your needs before installing them. 

And if you need help maintaining your turbo or supercharged engines for peak performance, you can rely on AutoNation Mobile Service mechanics. 

We’re a mobile auto repair and maintenance solution, offering upfront pricing, convenient online booking, and a 12-month |12,000-mile warranty on all repairs. 

Contact us, and we’ll address all your automotive needs right from your driveway.