Which Is Better: Supercharger or Turbocharger?

By July 16, 2020June 7th, 2021Common Questions, Performance Modification

“Turbocharger, supercharger, turbocharger, supercharger – aren’t they doing the same thing?! What’s the difference?” If this is you – Don’t worry, I got you covered. In this article we will discuss both in detail and find out which is better! 

For a quick answer, turbocharger is better if you are driving on the street. Turbocharger uses the waste exhaust gases to power its air compressor – making turbocharger more efficient and quieter. Supercharger is better if you are driving on the race track or if you are driving on twisty roads. Unlike a turbocharger, a supercharger does not have any performance lag. A supercharger provides an immediate performance boost on any RPM. 

Let’s get dirty and discuss both in detail. I promise to keep it simple for you!

And yes. Turbo = Turbocharger. (They are the same)

Summary

  • Naturally aspirated engine is an engine that sucks in air naturally by using the difference in air pressure between the atmosphere and engine internals. 
  • Turbocharger and supercharger adds more air for combustion by sucking surrounding air and compressing it into the combustion chamber. 
  • Turbocharger is powered by a turbine – that’s powered by exhaust gases
  • Supercharger is powered directly by the engine’s crankshaft 
  • Turbocharger is better for street driving because it’s more efficient, quiet and readily available.
  • Supercharger is better for track driving because it provides more performance and does not have any lag.

What is a Naturally Aspirated Engine?

Before we can dive into what a turbocharger and supercharger are – it’s important to first understand naturally aspirated engines. We all know that a car needs to mix fuel and air to produce combustion – which delivers power to the wheels. The more air the car has, the more fuel could be combusted. Thus, generating much more power. 

A naturally aspirated engine sucks air naturally using atmosphering pressure. The air is sucked naturally into the engine because the atmospheric pressure is higher than the air pressure in the engine. The only way to increase air intake in a naturally aspirated engine is to change the air filter to a one that’s less restrictive – usually referred to as a performance air filter. I cover performance air filters in this article.

A naturally aspirated engine is more reliable because it does not have a lot of moving parts. Basic physics boys, the more moving parts, the more chance of it breaking! At latest that’s what I believe 😉  

On the other hand, the performance generated by a naturally aspirated engine is limited. For a naturally aspirated engine to be powerful, it has to be large and heavy – which means much more expensive to purchase and maintain. 

What is Forced Induction?

Forced Induction system is the opposite of a naturally aspirated engine. They force more incoming air by compressing air in the surrounding and directing it to the combustion chamber. Examples of a forced induction system are turbochargers and superchargers. 

Forced induction results in a high performance gain . 30-50% horsepower gain is common. This is how a lot of car manufacturers like Ford and Volkswagen can ship their cars with smaller engines but still have a high horsepower. Forced Induction, my friends! 🙂

What is a Turbocharger?

As I mentioned, turbocharger is a forced induction system. Meaning, it aims to suck additional air, compress it and direct it to the combustion chamber for more POWAAR. 

Do you know that every time a combustion happens in a car, exhaust gases are generated as the waste product? These exhaust gases flow through the exhaust system and exit the car. What if I told you these exhaust gases could be reused to generate power? Mind blown right? Introducing you to turbocharger.

Turbocharger is an air compressor that’s powered by hot exhaust gases. As these exhaust gases leave the combustion chamber, they will pass through a turbocharger. Thus, spinning the turbines equipped in the turbocharger. These spinning turbines will power the air compressor in the turbocharger which will suck surrounding air, compress it and direct it back to the combustion chamber. This overall process increases the available air in the combustion chamber – allowing for bigger combustion and more power.

Things to note though – compressed air tends to get hotter. And we know that hotter air is less dense and has less oxygen in it. To counter this, the compressed air coming from a turbocharger must first go through an inter-cooler to cool down, before they enter the combustion chamber. 

Image of turbocharger

What is a SuperCharger?

Same as turbocharger – supercharger improves performance by also sending additional compressed air into the combustion chamber. They differ on how the air compressor gets powered.

Like I mentioned above, the air compressor in a turbocharger is powered by hot exhaust gases coming out of the combustion chamber. Supercharger on the other hand, is powered directly by your car engine. A supercharger is connected directly to your car engine by an accessory belt. The car engine spins the accessory belt, which in turn powers the air compressor. Everything else after that is the same as turbocharger.

Compressed air coming from a supercharger must also go through an inter-cooler to cool down. This makes inter-coolers pretty important in forced induction systems. Let’s discuss inter-cooler a little – shall we?

Image of supercharger

How does an inter-cooler work?

As I mentioned, Inter-cooler’s job is to cool down hot air quickly – so they become cooler, more dense and can hold more oxygen for combustion. 

Inter-cooler is made up of a collection of pipes. Cool water continuously runs through these pipes. As hot air enters an inter-cooler, the hot air encounters these cold pipes and quickly loses their heat. Pretty simple right? Yet, they are very important to ensure your turbocharger / supercharger work as expected!

Image of intercooler

How Many Horsepower can be added?

Superchargers and turbochargers are cost effective ways to improve your engine performance. This is because they work very well. Horsepower gains of 30-50% is typical. The actual horsepower number depends on the engine that you are running. The bigger the engine, the more boost it can receive from the forced induction. This is why the performance gain is not a concrete number but a percentage. 

’30-50% is typical’. Do you see how effective this is? That’s why a lot of car manufacturers equip smaller engines on their cars and add in a turbocharger! Then they can advertise that higher horsepower 😉

Price

Turbochargers are usually cheaper. On average, they can spin at 15,000 RPM. The price for turbochargers start at $400 and it increases depending on the model. Superchargers on average can spin at 50,000 RPM – generating more performance and thus becomes pricier. 

These numbers are just average. You should still check out with your mechanic on how much to install one. The installation of these chargers could get complicated – especially for cars that do not come with turbochargers from the factory. There are many more factors and upgrades you need to perform before these performance boosters could work. But they are worth it! 😉

Supercharger Vs Turbocharger

So now you have learned a fair bit about both of them. How exactly do they compare to each other? 

 

Performance Lag

When you press the paddle on a turbo charged engine, you will feel some lag before the performance boost. This is because it takes some time for the exhaust gases to accumulate and turn the turbine in the turbocharger. At low RPM, only a small amount of exhaust gases are produced. It’s not enough to power the air compressor in the turbocharger. Thus, causing you to not feel the performance boost at all when driving a turbocharged engine at low RPM

Watch this at the 45 seconds to see the significance of the turbo lag.

Supercharger on the other hand, does not have any performance lag at all! 😉 You can feel the performance boost at a much wider RPM range. This is because the supercharger is powered mechanically by your engine. It will always have a consistent supply of energy to operate. 

Winner: Supercharger 

 

Efficiency

Turbocharger gets powered by the exhaust gases that would be expelled anyway. This means no additional power is needed by the engine – making the turbocharger extremely efficient, when it comes to power source.

Supercharger gets its power directly from the engine’s crankshaft. This means, before the supercharger can produce more power, it’s already using the engine’s power on itself. This makes the supercharger less efficient than the turbocharger. 

Which muffler is your car right now?

Winner: Turbocharger 

 

Performance Potential

On average, a turbocharger can spin at 15,000 RPM. Whereas a supercharger can spin at 50,000 RPM. This means that a supercharger has the potential to provide a much higher performance boost when compared to the turbocharger. 

Also, a supercharger will be consistent in its performance boost. This is because it’s powered mechanically by the car’s engine. 

Winner: Supercharger

 

Price / Availability

A turbocharger is typically cheaper and more available than a supercharger. A turbocharger is much more available now – especially after car manufacturers begin equipping them on their stock setup. I understand though – with a small engine, the car manufacturers can market the huge horsepower because of the boost by a turbocharger. I don’t know why the manufacturers don’t equip all their cars with turbochargers in the first place. Topic for another article maybe? 😉 

Winner: Turbocharger 

Should I Install Them?

If you have the budget – absolutely! Turbochargers or superchargers are an excellent way to increase performance. While other performance mods like cold air intake and aftermarket exhaust only provide a small performance gain – installing a turbocharger or supercharger will get you at least a solid 30% horsepower gain. At least!

Which one should I get?

Which one you should get depends on where you are driving. If you are driving on the street then I suggest you get a turbocharger.

  • Turbocharger provides you with a better emission because it reuses the exhaust gases to power itself
  • Turbocharger is more efficient because it does not draw power from the engine.
  • Turbocharger runs more quietly, which is more suitable on a street setting.

One thing to note is that you have to be careful with the turbocharger. Sometimes it gives you an unexpected performance boost when you’re on a corner – which can be dangerous.

 

On the other hand, if you’re driving on the race track then I recommend a supercharger.

  • Supercharger could give more performance gain than a turbocharger
    • Turbocharger has an average RPM of 15000
    • Supercharger has an average RPM of 50000
  • Supercharger provides you a performance boost on a wider RPM range. Low and high alike 

Although, the supercharger runs more loudly and it could have a negative impact on fuel economy. This is because a supercharger draws power from your engine at all RPM range.

Conclusion

That’s it! I hope this article has been useful to you. If you want to learn more about car performance, check out more of the articles in this blog.

Have a good day ahead!

Ifandi S.

Ifandi S.

Passionate about everything mechanical. Ifandi has been involved with motorcycles and cars since the old days - in his family's auto parts shop. Want to keep in touch? Scream "STRAIGHT PIPEEEEE" at the top of your lungs and Ifandi will show up.

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