Supercharger vs Turbo: Are they different? How do they work?

With the recent shift in global warming awareness, the automobile industry is looking for any way to increase fuel output in their vehicles. Hence the biggest debate of the decade is which forced induction system is better? That’s why this article focuses on Supercharger vs Turbo. How they are different and how do they work? Which one should you install in your car to and dramatically increase fuel output keep your engine intact too? Keep reading to find out all the details and make the decision for yourself!

What is a supercharger?

Automobile engineers are obsessed with increasing fuel economy and increasing speed and horsepower in the process. While they can do this with a bigger engine, that won’t solve the problem of minimal costing and isn’t always as efficient. That’s where forced induction systems come in.

A supercharger is a system that forces more air into the engine. By achieving this, more fuel can also be added to the engine. Now a normal-sized combustion chamber is filled with more fuel than its usual capacity and hence means more horsepower. Let’s see how they do this in the next section.

fast car on the road

How do they work?

Superchargers take their power from the crankshaft of the engine through a belt or chain. Their job is to compress air by rotating rapidly and releasing it into the combustion chamber where more fuel can be added into the mix. Remember, more air means more fuel and hence more power!

This belt or chain is connected to the drive gear through a pulley. The job of the drive gear is to rotate and turn the compressor gear. Now the compressor has the highest priority task of letting maximum air and squeezing it into a small space in the engine. To do this, the compressor must spin significantly faster than the engine itself. Superchargers can usually spin anywhere between 50,000 to 65000 RPM.

What do they do?

At its lowest RPM of 50,000, a supercharger can produce anywhere between 6-9 pounds per square inch which translates to a whopping 50% more air into the combustion chamber. This means 50% more fuel output. This is great news for sports car enthusiasts and other car owners who want to save more on rising fuel prices and care for the environment in the process.

What are the types?

Superchargers come in many types. The most popular of which are: Roots, ProCharger’s, and Twin- Screw Chargers.

Roots ProCharger Twin- Screw

Roots chargers are one of the oldest in the game and have become less popular since they first arrived on the scene. They function by delivering air from one side to the other through spinning lobes of mesh. These are usually so bulky that a car vehicle equipped with Roots can be visible from far away due to its muscular hood. They have been replaced by better-performing chargers since they are not efficient in delivering cool air to the engine and waste a lot of energy in the process.

ProCharger is in fact the brand name of the first manufacturer of the centrifugal charger. A centrifugal impeller pulls the air inwards and to the center and is thrown outwards by force into the diffuser. The diffuser’s job is to convert the arriving air into high pressure but low velocity. These are very efficient and give high RPM with easy installation. ProCharger’s are known for their constant and obstruction-free boosting of the engine. Keep in mind though, it is a bit noisy when you hit the gas!

Twin-screw chargers probably provide the most speed when you hit the accelerator. This is because of their excellent fuel efficiency and rapid start-up. They also come at a higher price tag than other induction systems due to this selling point. But since it is also similarly attached atop the engine to Roots, it can look bulky when installed.

What is a turbo?

One major difference between them is the manner in which they derive their power. A turbocharger is turbine-driven and derives its power from the exhaust gases produced in the engine. These are most commonly found in construction equipment, heavy-duty vehicles like trucks, aircraft, and trains.

race car

How do they work?

It consists of two connected parts that fulfill the purpose of letting in more compressed air into the engine for optimum fuel performance. In the first part of the turbine, hot gasses rotate the turbine, while in the end the air is sucked under great pressure. This cool and compressed air is then let out into the engine through the compressor air discharge.

What do they do?

The compressor lets in air ranging between 6 to 8 pounds per square inch. This translates to about 30-40% more air and more fuel ratio in the engine. The wasted energy found in the exhaust is taken and fed back into the engine. This makes sure that maximum fuel is also used up instead of being vented out of the exhaust.

Is it possible to turbo and supercharge a car?

Yes. This phenomenon is known as twin-charging, and it’s not exactly a new revelation. Dated back to the 1980s, manufacturers like Nissan and Lancia had experimented with the duo but this system is rarely seen today.

Today this combination has been seen in light-duty vehicles. Twin charging can reduce turbo lags in RPM and boost even more air pressure into the combustion chamber. The best part – the deficiencies of both super and turbo’s can be overcome if they join their forces together. The supercharger is great at boosting the initial startup of the engine, but it does tend to lose energy after that, which is known as parasitic loss. The main disadvantage of the turbo, however, is the time it takes to get the turbine charged up and running. Luckily, combining the two systems can help overcome these problems.

How does this happen? Well, the supercharger kicks off the process and gives the initial pump of energy which overcomes the turbo lag. After this, the turbine power kicks in and overcomes the parasitic loss of the supercharger. So all-in-all, a great performing engine is created giving a high fuel ratio.

Some examples of twin-charging

Some automobile manufacturers went the extra mile to get the best of both worlds. Twin-charging was a major feature that automakers wanted to add to their sports cars and luxury cars. Let’s take a look at a few of these examples.

Volvo’s T6 and T8 models come equipped with a twin-charged four-cylinder engine. This gives the T6 models a horsepower of 316 while the T8 usually generates around 400HP. Both series are 2.0 liter- twin-charged.

But if you want to go top-notch, the Zenvo ST1 has a 6.8-liter twin V8 LS1 supercharger. This gives it a total HP of 1100 and the ability to go from 0-60KMPH in 3 seconds flat.

It wasn’t just Volvo and Zenvo that went the extra mile. Rather, Volkswagen also started up with a 1.4-liter twin-charged system, but the versions were only available for a limited time and in only certain models. Most never made it outside of Europe, but we would have liked to see them in the US market.

Twin-turbo vs Supercharger

We’ve already been over the working of the supercharger. It has a market rival in the form of the Twin turbocharger. To find out which one is the best match for your vehicle, let us see what a twin-turbo actually does differently.

What is a twin-turbo?

Not to be confused with a twincharger, it involves the use of two turbochargers in a single-engine to boost air induction. This can be done by laying them out in a certain setup. There are three types of setups: Parallel, Series, and Sequential.

The use of a twin turbocharger can double the fuel performance in comparison to an engine without a single turbo.

What is the difference?

Now that we know what a twin-turbo does, let us compare its properties with a supercharger. Please note that since twin turbos are essentially two chargers combined, this section will cover all the differences between a basic turbo charger and super charger as well.

The first and foremost difference between the two is that turbochargers derive their power from the engine’s exhaust gas while the super charger derives its energy from the crankshaft. Let us take a look at the other factors.

Adiabatic efficiency

Turbochargers stand winner in the department of adiabatic efficiency. Adiabatic efficiency is the ability to inlet and compress into the engine without adding heat in the process. Even with the best products, super chargers usually result in higher temperature air inlets compared to turbo ones. The Roots supercharger uses almost 50% of its power to produce heat and not pressure.

The lag

While turbochargers’ main disadvantage lies in their late response time, its main super-power is the ability to start up without missing a beat. This is because they derive their power directly from the crankshaft. But the gases from the exhaust will take a little bit of time before they get enough of a boost to get the turbines up and running.

The load on the engine

By now you would have understood that super chargers place a direct load on the engine because they derive their running energy from it. The turbine takes the otherwise wasted energy from the exhaust and drives it back into the engine to recycle it. While this recycling is one of its main advantages, this does mean the engine has to work harder on its exhaust system. But the net result is still considerably less than the damage done by super chargers on the engine.

The uses

Turbos are generally more popular amongst the light mainstream vehicles. This is because they have a better fuel-economy FTP75 rating. But it’s the high-performing vehicles that the super chargers are saved for like the Chevrolets, Jaguars, and race cars.

The cost

Since the super charged system requires durable components to withstand the bigger combustion of energy, these are usually pricier. But since they are usually part of high-end race cars and SUV engines, the trade-off is usually worth it.

But if you’re looking to upgrade smaller vehicles with better fuel performance at high speeds at a reasonable cost, turbo’s are your go-to. Super’s are usually saved up for more dramatic performance. Even though there is a lag on the turbo throttle, it’s worth waiting a couple of seconds rather than spend extensively on a super.

Which is better?

Now that we have compared the various factors, we can take a final look and come to a decision.

The major benefit of a super charger is the instantaneous start-up without any lag. These are also good for any novice to install since they are low maintenance and easily attachable to the engine. These are great for smaller engines and to increase the performance of high-end luxury cars.

On the other hand, the major advantages of a turbo include the lack of mechanical load due to its drawing power from the exhaust chamber. It also reuses the waste energy and propels it back into the combustion chamber to be used. Along with this, it adds little heat to the air that gets fed into the engine.

Therefore, along the lines of fuel efficiency, it is the turbo charger that proves better. Not only does it power the most heavy-duty vehicles, it is also inexpensive to add to your small vehicle. And when you double up with a twin model, it’s icing on the cake!

race car driver

How much is a twin turbo?

Since a twin turbo kit is double the throttle, it’s quite literally double the price too. A good quality These kits from Jim wolf technologies costs about $8000. Other brands are also in the same range, for instance, the Can Am Maverick also costs around $7800.

In comparison to single kit, these twin models are worth much more. A single kit by Rev9 will cost you $2400 on Amazon. So it’s worth doing the math since a twin can cost you even more than your car!

Can you put a turbo on any car?

Yes, you can indeed add a turbo charger to virtually any car engine and possibly in an inexpensive way too. But it may not be as easy as you think. The trick is to find the right match for your engine.

While you may have seen some in garage sales for $100, it’s important to remember the cons of the older models. The main factors to look out for when you purchase one for your vehicle are the wheel trims, the design of the bearing, and the number of parts. Garrett GT turbos, in fact, has seen a dramatic drop in the number of components from a whopping 54 to a mere 29. Not only does that mean fewer chances of a breakdown due to the non-functioning of any one part, but it also means lighter weight. You should also take a look at the bearings to make sure there are no chances of oil leaking and ruining your engine.

That’s it, folks!

We hope you’ve made up your mind about turbo and super chargers now that you’ve read all about their functioning, cost, and performance. Depending on your vehicle and your speed requirements, you can choose the best match for your engine. If you decide to go full engineer and install an induction system on your own, get some professional advice beforehand. Make sure to DIY and drive safe!

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