How Turbo Chargers Add Power

It’s one of the more common questions that drivers ask their mechanics, and even sales representatives of auto part shops—how do turbo chargers work? Perhaps all you know is that a turbo charger can make your car engine perform better. But have you ever wondered how a small device can boost your car’s output? This article will explain how turbo chargers add power to your car’s engine.

Turbochargers are often associated with high performance sports cars.  But you may not know it; this type of forced induction system is also mated with large diesel engines. Turbochargers can significantly increase an engine’s horsepower without increasing its weight.

Turbochargers aren’t exactly a brand new technology. It has been around for more than a century. A Swiss automotive engineer, Alfred J. Büchi, is widely credited for coming up with this invention. He patented the turbocharger in 1905 in Germany after years of working on the concept or design. He continued to improve the technology until his death in 1959.


How Does It Work?

A turbocharger works in practically the same manner as a jet engine does.  In a jet engine, cold air is drawn at the front, then squeezed into a chamber where it burns with fuel. Hot air is then blasted out of the back. The hot air roars past a turbine or a small metal windmill as it leaves the chamber.  The turbine then pushes the air into the engine, enabling it to burn more fuel.

The turbocharger on a car engine works on the same principle. It makes use of the exhaust gas to drive a turbine, which in turn spins an air compressor. The air compressor then pushes extra air into the cylinders of the engine, enabling them to burn more fuel in the process.

In a turbocharged engine, cool air goes through the air intake and goes straight into the compressor. The air is drawn in with the help of the compressor fan. The compressor squeezes and heats up the air, then blows it out again. This time, the air is hot and compressed, and goes through the heat exchange to cool it down.

The cooled and compressed air goes through the air intake of the engine cylinders. With extra oxygen coming in, the cylinders are able to burn more fuel at a faster rate.  Because the cylinder is able to burn more fuel, the engines in turn produce more energy which is then sent to the wheels through the piston, shaft, and gears.

There’s no wasted energy in a turbocharged engine. The excess gas from the cylinder goes out via the exhaust outlet. This then blows past the turbine fan, making it rotate at high speeds. Since the spinning turbine is placed on the same shaft as the compressor, the latter spins like the turbine.

Turbochargers were primarily used in the past to give high performance cars an extra lift in power. With many governments mandating higher fuel economy from car makers, companies then turned to small, turbocharged engines instead of larger engines that are notorious for being gas guzzlers.

With a turbocharger, a small engine can produce sufficient power just like a big engine.  This is exemplified when a car with a turbocharged engine goes uphill. Yet a vehicle with a turbocharged engine can use less fuel whenever possible, like when the car is cruising down the highway.


There are many advantages of mating turbochargers in a car engine. One is that it can help the car in going uphill. Air is less dense at high altitudes, so normal engines would have reduced power as each stroke of the piston will result to the engine getting a smaller mass of air. With a turbocharged engine, the reduction in power will be less dramatic as thinner air is a lot easier for the turbocharger to pump.

Another obvious benefit is that a turbocharger can increase the engine’s performance without consuming much fuel. For instance, a turbocharged, 2-liter engine practically has the same output as a three-liter engine without a turbocharger. Also, the two-liter engine with turbocharger doesn’t burn much more fuel than its bigger counterpart.

Turbocharged engines are also more environment-friendly. By supply more air mass into the cylinders of the engines, turbochargers can promote easier and plain combustion. This translates to lower emissions. In fact, turbocharged diesel engines have up to 50 percent lower Co2 and NOx emissions compared with naturally aspirated engines.

For motorists, driving a car with a turbocharged engine is more enjoyable. There’s a marked increase in the power output of the vehicle. Motorists will notice the improved performance of a car with a turbocharged engine.


But there are also several disadvantages of turbochargers. Perhaps the most glaring for motorists is the turbo lag. Turbochargers won’t instantly boost the power of an engine. It would take time for the turbocharger to provide increased intake pressure, as it relies on the buildup of exhaust gas pressure in order to drive the turbine.

There’s also the risk for turbochargers to cause some instability in the car. This is due to turbocharger applications causing an almost instantaneous power surge, particularly with large turbos.

Turbocharged engines are also in need of regular maintenance especially engine oil lubrication. Turbochargers can get hot that they tap into the oil supply of the engine. This not only becomes demanding on the engine oil, but also requires additional plumbing.

Final Thoughts

Despite those disadvantages, it is easy to understand why a lot of drivers opt to have turbocharged engines. The significant increase in horsepower is just too impressive even for the demanding motorist.  Cars with smaller engines are able to produce power that can be compared to those of vehicles with larger engines. Turbocharged engines are also better in terms of fuel economy.

Now that you understand how turbochargers add power to a vehicle with a small engine, perhaps you would want to visit your neighborhood auto parts store or auto shop to inquire about the possibility of having a turbocharger coupled with your engine.


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