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Superchargers and Turbochargers – what’s the difference?

Superchargers and Turbochargers – what’s the difference?

Who doesn’t love a bit of forced induction? If the Fast and Furious films have taught us anything, it’s that turbochargers and superchargers are for life’s winners (and highly-wanted felons).

The woosh of the turbo, the whine of the supercharger, the wheelies, the burnouts, it’s all brilliant. 

But if we take Hollywood and Vin Diesel out of the equation, we’re left with one important question about the two main types of forced induction: what’s the difference?

Well, worry not, because we’ve got it all covered here in this handy guide. 

Superchargers and Turbochargers – what’s the difference?

Turbochargers 

Arguably the more common of the two, turbochargers work by sucking in ambient air, compressing it, forcing it though an intercooler and then dumping it into the engine along with the fuel.

Lots of cold, fast-flowing air means better ignition, which means a bigger bang, which means more power. 

Both a supercharger and a turbocharged deliver the same end result; more air into the engine. However, it’s the way they do it that separates them. 

In the case of the turbocharger, it’s propelled by the exhaust gasses. A turbocharger has two halves, but both share the same shaft.

On one side, you have compressor wheel, which as the name suggests, compresses the ambient air it sucks in. This is the air that goes into the engine. 

On the other side of the shaft, you have the turbine wheel. This wheel shares the same shaft as the compressor wheel, sow hen the exhaust gases rush past it and make it spin, it in turn makes the compressor wheel spin.

So it’s your exhaust that delivers the power the turbo needs. Simple, right?

Superchargers and Turbochargers – what’s the difference?

Superchargers 

As we said, superchargers deliver the same end goal of compressed air into the engine. However, they don’t work by propulsion from exhaust gasses.

Instead, a supercharger is connected, via a belt, to an output shaft that comes directly from the crank. As such, the supercharger gives as much as it gets – it’s powered by the speed of the engine. 

While the turbocharger has a compressor wheel, the supercharger normally has a screw system. So that belt turns a big screw inside the supercharger and it compresses the air as it does so.

The drawback here is that in many applications, the supercharger feeds straight into the engine. This means the air doesn’t go through an intercooler first, meaning that the compressed air isn’t as cold as it could be.

Push harder on the throttle, the engine spins faster, the supercharger spins faster, it sucks in more are, you go even faster. Power can also be controlled by the size of the pulley.

If the supercharger has a small pulley, it will be spun faster by the engine. A larger pulley, it spins faster.

So what’s best? 

Well that’s a big question. It’s not a case of one being better than the other, it’s more about the application and how each one fits your needs. With that in mind, we’ve put a handy chart together for you:

Superchargers                                                                            Turbochargers

No lag, the power is always there                                               Takes time to spool up, hence turbo lag

Easier to maintain, simpler construction                                     Complicated and costly if they go wrong

They pull power direct from the engine                                       Turbos use the exhaust, not direct engine power

You need good power to even run one                                       Turbos need very little power to operate

Compressor tips can wear out, losing compression            Bearings can fail, expensive to fix and can damage engine internals

Great for acceleration                                                                            Great for high top speeds

Conclusion

There you go then, a basic understanding of how each one works. The supercharger is good, but as Vin showed us, you need a big engine just to get a supercharger to work.

But as Brian demonstrated with his bright green Mitsubishi Eclipse, a smaller engine responds well to a turbo. At least as a general rule.

You can put a supercharger on a small engine, you can put turbos on a big engine, it’s all a case of what you want to achieve. Either way, at least you now know what each one does!