A turbo kit can cost about $4,000 and up – but why is it so expensive? The turbocharger by itself costs only $1,000 – where does the remaining go? Those were some questions I had when I first started out.
In this article, I will go through everything about a turbo kit – answering questions like what’s included in a turbo kit and what each of them is used for. This should help you understand how turbo is installed and why the kit is so expensive!
For a quick answer – turbo kits are expensive because they save you a lot of time and trouble. Everything in a turbo kit is designed to be compatible. Which means piping and all connection points just work – you don’t need additional cutting or welding. This saves you a lot of time, headache and ensures a great install.
Now that’s out of the way, let’s go through all the details. By the end of this article, you will understand how complicated it is to install a turbo and why turbo kits can be a lifesaver.
Spoiler alert – installing a turbo is not just plug and play! You need many other components and modifications to make it work. Did you think you can get additional 100 horsepower from just plug and play? No!
How Does Turbo Work?
Before we jump into the components required for turbo, let’s first understand exactly how turbo works.
To provide power, a car needs to generate combustion by using a combination of fuel and air. Combustion is an explosion which generates exhaust gases – this happens in the combustion chamber.
To get more horsepower, you need more fuel and air. Getting more fuel is quite easy, your car just needs to inject more of it into the combustion chamber. Getting more air is the hard part – this is where turbo comes in.
A turbo is an air compressor that will suck surrounding air, compress them and deliver them directly into the combustion chamber. Suddenly, the amount of air in the combustion chamber increases. With more fuel, your car engine can generate bigger combustion and thus, more horsepower.
What’s even better is the fact that turbo is self powered – it does not need any fuel to work. Instead, a turbo is equipped with a turbine that’s spun when exhaust gases flow through them. As the turbine spins, power is generated for the turbo to work.
This makes turbo very efficient. You can learn more about turbo in my other article here. Which Is Better: Turbocharger or Supercharger?
Look at this diagram below and follow the markers. It illustrates how a turbo works.
Pretty simple right? That was just the high level summary! In reality, you need much more than that. For example, you need a downpipe to allow exhaust gases to flow through the turbo and exit into the exhaust system.
You also need an intercooler because compressed air is very hot and you need cooler air to generate a big combustion. There are plenty more of these, so let’s cover all of them up right now.
What’s Included In A Turbo Kit ? (With Usage & Price)
Here is a list of things included in a turbo kit. For each, I will explain what they are used for, along with their price. With this, you can make your own comparison later: should you get a turbo kit or just build the kit yourself?
Also, the price for each component is an estimate. Prices vary depending on the brand and your vehicle. So you still need to research on your own later! But at least you get the big picture from this article.
1. Turbocharger ($1500)
Obviously, a turbocharger is included in the turbo kit! This is the main component that will compress air and force it into the combustion chamber for a boost in horsepower.
I have explained turbocharger in great length above. Just scroll up and read it if you want to understand about how the turbo works.
2. Intercooler ($900)
An intercooler is required to cool the compressed air down before they reach the combustion chamber. Turns out compressed air gets hot very quickly – and we do not want to use hot air for combustion because it has a very low oxygen content. You cannot produce big combustion with low oxygen.
Intercoolers are usually placed in the front of the vehicle. They work by allowing the hot compressed air from turbo to flow through a set of cooling tubes. This way, heat is transferred from the air into the tubes.
Once the compressed air is cooled, they will have higher density and will be much richer in oxygen. This can be used to generate a larger combustion that will boost your horsepower!
Every turbocharged car will need an intercooler. You cannot skip this one.
3. Turbo Manifold ($200)
A turbo manifold is required to collect exhaust gases from the combustion chamber and direct them into the turbo – spinning its turbine and thus powering it. A turbo manifold is specifically designed to direct exhaust gases to power the turbo.
If you are not getting a turbo kit, then you need to make sure your turbo of choice fits your manifold – also known as turbo flange. Some are bigger (T4 flange) while others are smaller (T3 flange).
Your turbo manifold also determines whether your turbo is top-mounted or bottom-mounted. I recommend going for a bottom-mounted turbo because turbo tends to get very hot when they work.
You don’t want the heat from your turbo to impact every part in the engine bay (if top-mounted). Plus, if your turbo is bottom-mounted, exhaust gases can easily flow downward to power your turbo.
4. Downpipe ($350)
A downpipe is required to allow exhaust gases to leave the turbo and enter the exhaust system where they eventually exit the car. Downpipes come in two flavours: catted or catless downpipe. I always recommend going for the catted version.
I wrote extensively about downpipe in my other articles. Here’s one you might be interested in. What’s Better: Catted Or Catless Downpipe?
A catted downpipe costs about $350 and it’s more expensive than the catless version. But believe me that’s what you want. Just read the article I wrote above and you will get it.
5. Blow Off Valve ($150)
Blow off valve is required to get rid of the compressed air and pressure when your car throttle suddenly closes.
When you accelerate, the throttle opens and turbocharger can deliver air to the combustion chamber. But when you suddenly let go of the gas pedal, the throttle body closes and suddenly compressed air from turbo cannot enter the combustion chamber.
This is where the blow off valve comes into place. It works by providing an alternative route for the compressed air and pressure to exit. This way, when the throttle body suddenly closes, the pressured air will not flow back into the turbo and cause damage.
When the throttle body opens again, the blow off valve would in turn close and allow compressed air from the turbo to reach the combustion chamber.
6. Cone Air Filter ($50)
Cone air filters are less restrictive, bigger and much more exposed as compared to the stock air filters – allowing much more air to flow into the engine at a given time. Cone air filters are not mandatory but they are usually included in a turbo kit.
Turbocharged cars need much more air supply than regular cars because they need to create much bigger combustions. Cone air filters allow exactly this.
You don’t have to go for the top of the line air filters – a regular $50 ones should be good enough. Although if you are looking for the best, I would recommend looking into the K&N air filters.
When it comes to performance air filters that are less restrictive, you could go for a cone or flat air filter. I have an article where I discuss more about this here. Cone Air Filter Vs Flat Air Filter
7. ECU Tune ($500)
ECU tune means reprogram the variables in your car’s computer so it works better with your aftermarket install (in this case, a turbo). With ECU tune you can change things like the ratio of fuel to be injected for given air, throttle response, torque map and many more.
Installing a turbo will require an ECU tune – there’s no other way around it. Some turbo kits provide you with a tool to automatically update your ECU. This is known as ECU flash.
If it’s not provided, then you will have to bring your car to a mechanic for a manual tune. I would recommend going for a manual tune because it’s much more customized for your engine.
Price for tuning is usually about $500. It could go higher depending on your tuner though. I talk more about tuning in this article. How Much HP Gain From A Dyno Tune?
By the way, all the components above total up to about $3,650. Not so much different when compared to the turbo kit at $4,000. I will cover more about this later!
Miscellaneous Not Included In Turbo Kit
These are items that are not included in a turbo kit but you should still consider. They can help elevate the horsepower boost even more.
1. Bigger Fuel Pump
Bigger fuel pump allows more fuel to flow into the fuel injector – where they eventually enter the combustion chamber. You need a bigger fuel pump to ensure that it’s not acting as a bottleneck for your turbo.
The turbo is able to force more air into the combustion chamber but your stock fuel pump does not let enough fuel from flowing and entering the combustion chamber.
2. Bigger Fuel Injector
You need a bigger fuel injector for a turbocharged car so that it can inject more fuel into the combustion chamber at a given time.
The reason is the same as the bigger fuel pump. You don’t want your fuel injector to be the bottleneck – preventing you from gaining that additional horsepower.
3. Bigger MAF Sensor
You want to get a bigger MAF sensor so it can accurately measure the amount of incoming air from your intake. This is especially true if you are getting the cone air filter that’s much bigger, less restrictive and more exposed.
Your car computer (ECU) controls the amount of fuel to inject by reading the amount of incoming air using the MAF sensor. If your small MAF sensor cannot accurately read the amount of incoming air, then not enough fuel will be injected.
Is It Cheaper To Build Your Own Turbo Kit?
It’s definitely cheaper to build your own turbo kit. Aside from just being cheaper overall, it’s also flexible – you are allowed to pick and choose components that you think should go cheaper or more expensive.
However, this comes with a much added complexity, hassle and time taken to actually install the turbo. Components that you purchase separately are not guaranteed to work together – you will need to cut and weld some components.
By summing up all the turbo components I explained above, we came at a price of about $3,650. This is about $350 cheaper than getting a turbo kit. Is it worth it for you?
Of course that price tag is a guesstimate. Depending on the brand and your car, the price of these components will vary. Cheaper turbo kits for smaller cars can start at a mere $1,500 whereas more expensive turbo kits on larger trucks can start at a whooping $5,000.
Ready Turbo Kit Vs Custom: My Take
For most people, purchasing a turbo kit is much better than building yourself. If your primary concern is horsepower, then you will want to avoid the hassle of building your own turbo kit. Pay the extra premium and make sure everything just works when installed.
However, if you are an experienced mechanic and have experience installing turbos before, then you are free to build your own turbo kit. You know your car best and you can decide which component to go more expensive and which ones you could go cheaper or even skip.
Do note that these are what you need if you want to install turbo on a car that does not have turbo yet (naturally aspirated engine). If your car already comes with turbo, then replacing the turbo with an aftermarket one should be much easier.
All the infrastructure like intercooler, turbo manifold and blow off valve already exists!
Can You Buy A Used Turbo Kit?
If you are a beginner and this is the first time installing a turbo, then I don’t recommend getting a used turbo kit. There are too many components in the turbo kit that you need to check on.
Buying a used turbo kit is a hit or miss. The price can drop substantially but it largely depends on how the previous owners abuse the turbo. Is the blow off valve working properly? What brands are the turbos and the inter coolers?
If you are an experienced guy and know alot about turbo and its components then buying a used kit could be great for you. Turbo kits are extremely expensive when new but drop significantly when already used.
You could take this advantage and get yourself a sweet deal! Again, it depends largely on how familiar you are with turbo and its components.