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How Does a Supercharger Work? – Turbocharger vs Supercharger

Posted in Car Tech by Vito Rispo | September 20th, 2008 | 9 Responses |

A while back, I wrote a post about the effects of Nitrous Oxide on your car. I talked about how it basically just shoves oxygen into your combustion chamber. Well there’s an easier way to do that, without hilarious gas…forced induction systems.

The purpose of forced induction systems, aka superchargers and turbochargers, is to push more air/fuel mixture into the combustion chamber. The simplest way of visualizing them is as air compressors that just pump more air into the engine. More air and fuel means more power. That’s the primary goal of these devices: create more power. They both do this same job, although in slightly different ways.


A supercharger with part of the inside exposed

A supercharger is a belt driven device that forces air into an internal combustion engine. It consists of a drive belt, drive, the driven gears inside, and a centrifugal compressor wheel. The belt drives the gear and compressor wheel. The compressor wheel pumps air into the engine. In the picture above, the intake air comes in from the back, and goes out of the bottom, the belt drives the wheel in the front.

Supercharger are installed on top of the intake manifold on V-type engines and on the side of inline engines. Since they’re belt driven, supercharger speed is dependent on engine speed and is most efficient at higher engine speeds.


A turbocharger with the inside exposed

A turbocharger is actually a type of supercharger. In fact turbos used to be called turbosuperchargers because they’re just superchargers that are run via a turbine wheel.

A turbocharger is an exhaust gas driven device that forces air into an internal combustion engine. Turbochargers use the exhaust gases from the engine to drive a turbine wheel. That turbine wheel is connected to the compressor wheel by a shaft. That shaft speed can get up to 150,000 RPMs, so it has to be supported by ball bearings or tapered roller bearings that are pressure lubricated and cooled by the engine oiling system.

Which one is better?

Turbochargers are appealing because they use waste exhaust to power the boost, while superchargers have to take power away from the engine itself via the belt. Still, superchargers are much easier to install and tune, and they give a broader powerband, meaning more power over a broader spectrum instead of a quick jump in power once you get to a certain threshold – like a turbocharger.

It’s difficult to say which is better flat out. Superchargers are easier to install, they don’t get nearly as hot as turbochargers, they’re more reliable, more low end power, etc. There are lots of benefits to superchargers, but turbos have that one big one…they run off of wasted kinetic energy. Turbos address the one main disadvantage of using a supercharger, the fact that it has to take power from the engine to spin.

This is an age old question, both turbo and superchargers have been around for a while, and the debate still isn’t settled. I gave you the information, it’s up to you to make the informed decision.

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9 Responses

  1. john says:

    This site have very useful articles, keep it up! I prefer supercharger;)

  2. carlos says:

    i think u need to look up some more info on turbos, cause they do take power out of your engine. i know they use the exhaust to produce a high flow intake, but it takes power from the pistons by having them work harder to push out the burned fuel. therefore they are both taking some sort of power away from the engine but it is replaced with a higher one.

  3. James says:

    This is some really crappy information. Carlos beat me to the punch on the one thing that annoyed me the most here; that you say turbos don’t take engine power even though they do. You also forgot to mention centrifugal superchargers, roots superchargers, and twin screw, as if there’s only one type. Also, exhaust gas has very little torque as opposed to crankshaft power, so you can overdrive a supercharger a lot more than a turbo, but turbos also create more exhaust pressure, which they run off of, and continuously get faster and faster, creating more and more pressure as they go, which is an advantage of the turbo, and the reason they have wastegates. There’s a lot of vital information you missed that can hinder anyone’s ability to make an informed decision on a supercharger or turbocharger. Plus, you can always use both together.

  4. harry says:

    Hi I wanna get some information which engine is more better for or holden

  5. morgan kisali says:

    i think a supercharger has the advantage of being able to deliver near instant power when you want to suddenly speed off, as opposed to a turbo which will only deliver the required boost after it spins to a certain r.p.m. am i there?
    However, the turbo is more dramatic (especially the diesel engine)

  6. Chris says:

    Simple explanations but for some of us that are new owners of such equipment, please tell us how best to maintain superchargers. I have the 2010 range rover sport supercharged and I wish to know how best to manage my suv.
    Thanking you

  7. paul says:

    cant you just install both in a car to get the best of both worlds? i know it would be expensive but it would give you the broad powerband (supercharger) and the quick jolt (turbo).

  8. brandon says:

    i have a 1990 corrado G60 it has a supercharger in my eyes id rather have a supercharger altough id love to have a car that is turbo charged aswell they are both great to have on a car to add tons of power. the turbo charger takes a second to kick in and once it kicks in ull feel it :) but i like the supercharger better because they are easier to maintain im 16 yrs old and my dad makes his living by being a mechanic so its nice to know how to cfix things and immediatly able to ask him for help cause he knows the answer 10 times out of 10 but mainly id go with a supercharger because they are eiser to maintain and easy to take apart price tho they are both equal but i really dont mind which ckind id have in my car but i have a supercharger in mine and i cant complian or say id rather have on or the other soo its what u like best i guess…

  9. jacob says:

    what they are saying is that a supercharger is more combustable the instant you want it to be but its makeing the engine run alot harder that it should but still putting out as much power as it should and a turbocharger is running off its own waste its own supply makeing it easyer on your engine once you get to about 3,500 r.p.m’s thats when it hits usally but also putting out as much power as a supercharger would so i think there bothe even.