Supercharger vs. Turbocharger: What are the Differences?

As an auto enthusiast, there is a high chance you once toyed with the idea of improving your vehicle’s power output. There are many moves to pull to increase a car’s horsepower, including the use of a supercharger or turbocharger. Supercharger vs. turbocharger, which is which and how do they work?

Many people confuse the two engine additions and may wrongly use the two words interchangeably.  Some pundits classify the turbocharger as a special type of supercharger. If you have questions on the supercharger vs. turbo debate, you are in the right place. Stick on as we look at each of the two power boosters focusing on their functionality and differences.

Supercharger

The supercharger is a common feature in most speed-oriented vehicles, like sports cars, as it helps boost their power. It is an air compressor whose primary role is to boost the density and pressure of air entering the engine. The more air that gets into the engine, the more fuel it takes for ignition, translating to more power.

The supercharger is engine-driven, meaning it runs mechanically with the aid of a belt, chain, or shaft linked to the engine’s crankshaft. Before having an in-depth focus on the supercharger’s functionality, let us have a look at its history.

How Does a Supercharger Work
Image Credit: GarageDreams

A Brief History of the Supercharger

According to records, the first supercharger prototype was the work of G. Jones of Birmingham. It was around 1849, later taking the name the Roots design. The naming came after The Roots Brothers patented it in 1860. The Roots Brothers owned Roots Blower Company, which used the design in their air movers. A successful test of the supercharger on internal combustion engines came in 1878, under Dugald Clerk.

In 1885, Gottlieb Daimler took a German patent for the supercharger on the internal combustion engine. Following closely was the patent that Louis Renault took for the centrifugal supercharger in 1902.

Test on this power booster proved to be impressive after its installation on a racecar in 1908. The racecar peaked at 100mph. Mercedes was the first car company to produce a vehicle series that featured the supercharger in the 1920s. The models used the Roots design.

How the Supercharger Works

To understand how the supercharger works, you have to understand the basics of the combustion engine. The combustion engine has a combustion chamber where air and fuel mix. The resultant reaction causes the pistons to move, affecting movement. For more power, you need more fuel and air to burn.

Here is where the supercharger comes through by providing more compressed air.  There are three types of superchargers, as highlighted below and how they work.

The Roots Type

The Roots-type is the earliest form of the supercharger. It has a pair of rotors that provide fast-moving air to the intake port. At the intake port, the high level of air gets compressed, triggering the supply of fuel to match the air intake. When the fuel burns, you get more power from the engine.

Twin-Screw Supercharger

The twin-screw supercharger will compress air in the supercharger housing, rather than the intake port, like the Root’s type.  It has two rotors that look like screws that help draw in air and send the compressed air to the engine.

Centrifugal Supercharger

The centrifugal supercharger has a unique design that does away with rotors. Instead, it uses a fan to bring in the air. Air comes in through its intake at high speed, then gets compressed and slowed down in its housing before it goes to the engine.

There are also electric superchargers, such as those developed by Mercedes, to do away with engine dependence.

Also Read: WHP vs. HP: What’re The Differences?

The Turbocharger

On the other side of the turbocharger versus supercharger debate, we have the former. The turbocharger is a common car part when it comes to auto-tuning to boost performance. This car add-on takes advantage of the exhaust gases, which come out fast, dependent on ignition. Instead of letting the exhaust gases go to waste, the turbocharger harnesses its power.

This power booster is like a turbine that helps draw more air into the combustion chamber, driven by the leaving exhaust gases.

how does a turbocharger work

History of the Turbocharger

The history of the turbo goes back to the late 1800s when Gottlieb Daimler was experimenting with forced induction. His works formed the foundation of the turbocharger. Alfred Buchi, a Swiss engineer, made a patent in 1905, which many consider being the dawn of this car power booster.

The first prototype came roughly ten years later, targeting aircraft, but failed to reach the intended targets. It did not make it to production. Several patents and prototypes followed in the coming years, the main focus being in aircraft manufacturing.

Some of them include one in 1916 by Auguste Rateau for French fighter planes running on Renault engines. Several tests showed that the turbo could aid the engine in avoiding power loss at higher altitudes.

Commercial application of the turbocharger came through in 1925 in diesel ships. The engine add-ons showed a tremendous power boost of around 40%. The turbo was prominent on airplanes during World War 2, while its use in vehicles came in the 1950s.

Its adoption by motor vehicles had some hurdles, such as dealing with lag.  Technological advancements sorted the lag issue to a great degree. Turbocharged cars are more prominent at the time as they help in reducing emissions and improve fuel economy.

How Turbochargers Work

The turbocharger consists of two impellers or fans situated on the same shaft. One fan is on the path of exhaust gases from the combustion chambers. As the exhaust gases get expelled, they turn the impeller, which in turn causes the other fan on the shaft to revolve. The other fun is in the car’s air intake, and its propulsion draws in the air into the engine.

The drawn air is quite compressed, which makes it warmer; hence, less dense. There is a heat exchanger, which will cool the air before it goes into the cylinders.

The turbocharger’s functionality is cyclical. The exhaust fumes turn the turbines, drawing in more air. More air draws in more fuel, and when it burns, it produces more exhaust gases, and the process repeats.

Supercharger vs. Turbocharger Difference

Turbocharger vs Supercharger

Supercharger vs. turbocharger difference is a critical area to focus on to know which add-on to go for. A thing that you should know is that the latter initially went by turbosupercharger.  It is because, at the time of its invention, any device that boosted a vehicle’s power via air pressure or density increase was a supercharger.

The two have many similarities; for example, both seek to improve the vehicle’s power output. However, the two differ in many areas, the most evident being their operation. The supercharger relies on engine power to run. It runs courtesy of a belt, chain, or shaft connected to the engines’ shaft.

On the other hand, the turbocharger runs on turbines powered by exhaust gases. It does not rely on the engine, instead of on the gases coming from the combustion chamber.

You will find that powerful American car brands go for supercharging, the same as some European models. Turbocharging is the to-go boost for most Japanese models.

ProCharger vs. turbo, which one to go for? ProCharger is a centrifugal supercharger that uses less engine power than most superchargers. In this vein, the ProCharger is more efficient than most boosters. Compared to the turbo, you have the guarantee for a higher power threshold.

Supercharger vs. Turbocharger Fuel Efficiency

A critical area to look at to know which is better, a turbocharger or supercharger, is fuel efficiency. Here, the focus is on how the boosters impart fuel consumption.  When fixed to a smaller engine, they help improve their output and towing strength. So, which of the two is more efficient, consumption-wise?

You have to look at how they operate, where you will realize that the turbocharger takes the top spot. Turbo draws its power from exhaust gases leaving the engine to power it to bring more air for combustion.

The supercharger relies on the engine to get the power to compress air and send it to the combustion spot. It may result in a power drop of up to 20% despite having an efficiency of up to 40%.

Supercharger vs. Turbocharger Price

We will also focus on supercharger vs. turbocharger price discussion to better grasp these two car horsepower boosters. When getting one, you have to check on the price to see which one is friendly to your budget.

Installing a supercharger will cost you around $1000 to $7500, inclusive of labor. The price will depend on the size, manufacturer, and type of car. For a turbocharger, you may part with roughly $500 to $2500, together with labor.

You may save some cash on labor if you have experience in such installations and fixtures, where the standard mechanics toolbox is all you need. However, if you do not know how to go about it, you better consult a professional to handle it.

Supercharger vs. Turbocharger Sound

Sounds from the engine indicate many things; one of them may be the nature of its modification. It brings us to the supercharger vs. turbocharger sound. Superchargers produce much sound due to the suction effect as they draw air into their assemblies.

Twin-screw superchargers emit the most sound, and you may install them if you want to make a statement when driving on the streets.  The centrifugal-type will also produce a whistling sound as the compressed air leaves via its outlet. The higher the sound pitch translates to higher power output, something most car enthusiasts target to show off their vehicles.

Turbochargers emit a lower pitch, more like a smooth whine. If you find noise to be a nuisance when driving, you can install a turbo on your vehicle’s engine. Beware of the sounds, taking note of any deviation, which may mean that you have engine problems.

Supercharger vs. Turbocharger HP

As severally hinted through this piece, both the supercharger and turbocharger enhance the engine’s power output. They achieve this feat by compressing air to make it denser and supplying it to the engine for combustion.

Supercharger vs. turbocharger HP output, which one comes on top? The supercharger will boost the power by up to 40-50%. The problem is that it derives its power from the engine, and it takes roughly 20% of the engine power. Despite the power deduction, it still ensures that the vehicle runs on more power than similar models without the add-on.

The turbocharger improves car power by roughly 30-40%. It is an excellent increment, though it suffers from lagging. In terms of power, the supercharger will provide more than the turbocharger.

Supercharger vs. Turbo Reliability

When talking about reliability, you focus on your goals. The two power boosters are reliable, each having areas that stand out.  For instance, the supercharger produces more power and does not lag when in operation. Power delivery is immediate; as such, you feel the effects instantly. It is also efficient in low RPMs.

The turbocharger brings its best in many areas like fuel economy, and it lowers emission levels. Additionally, it does not produce too much noise when running. When talking of reliability, it is a matter of the attributes you seek. You may consider it a biased tie.

Supercharger vs. Turbocharger Power Delivery

Supercharger and turbocharger’s main difference comes in power delivery, mainly how they derive the power. The former runs mechanically, supported by the engine through a belt or chain. The latter is a turbine running on exhaust fumes.

In power delivery, they bring their best to shoot up the horsepower. The supercharger will increase it by up to 50%, while the turbo can register a 40% increment. The supercharger’s downside in power delivery is that it consumes engine power to produce more horsepower. It lowers its efficiency.

For the turbo, there is the lag, where it takes time to convert the exhaust gas speed to power. The good thing is that there are several tech developments to help beat turbo lag.

Supercharger vs. Turbocharger Pros and Cons

Supercharger Pros

The supercharger will provide more power to the engine, going to 50%. This is impressive horsepower uplift, ideal for sports cars.  Additionally, the supercharger is easy to install if you have experience in handling auto works.

It delivers a decent power threshold at lower RPMs, and it has no lag, meaning you enjoy the effects straight away. It is very reliable, a thing you notice from its braking power increase of averagely 35%.

Cons

Sound production is one of the noticeable downsides of the supercharger. If you do not love sounds when driving, the supercharger can be quite a nuisance, drawing attention to your car. It has compromised efficiency, considering it gets its force from the engine to generate more.

Turbocharger Pros

The turbocharger does not disappoint when it comes to the supply of compressed air to the intake. It amplifies the horsepower up to 40%. It is also economical on fuel consumption as it relies on exhaust gases. The reusing of exhaust fumes reduces pollution.

It also runs quietly, ideal if you love a peaceful driving moment. The turbocharger is a perfect add-on for high-altitude driving.

Cons

A significant downside to the turbocharger is the lag. It will take some time before it produces ample power, compared to the supercharger, which has a more immediate action. Another disadvantage is its complex installation process. It is hard to install a turbocharger of your own, and you may need an experienced hand to assist you.

Also Read: Radiator vs Intercooler: What is the Difference?

Turbochargers vs Superchargers YouTube Video 

Frequently Asked Questions( FAQs)

Q: Is It Cheaper To Supercharge Or Turbocharge?

When choosing between a supercharger and a turbocharger, you have to consider their respective costs. The turbocharger is, in most cases, cheaper than the supercharger, though it may have a higher installation price tag. The turbocharger is also economical on fuel consumption; as such, it is the more pocket-friendly option.

Q: Is Supercharger Safer Than Turbo?

A look at the safety aspect, you see that the turbo and supercharger are very safe. The turbocharger’s edge of safety is where it uses the exhaust fumes, reducing the vehicle’s emissions. The supercharger is easy to install, presenting minimal hitches when fixing it to the engine.

Q: Is Supercharging And Turbocharging The Same Thing?

Supercharging and turbocharging work on the same principle of forced induction, which is the provision of compressed air to the internal combustion engine’s intake. While they have similar targets of improving the vehicle’s force, their functionalities contrast.

For supercharging, the booster relies on engine power through a belt, chains, or a shaft connected to the engine’s crankshaft. Turbocharging banks on exhaust gases to turn its fans to draw in air through the intake.

Q: Does A Turbo Or Supercharger Make More Power?

Supercharger vs. turbo power output discussion looks at which of the two boosters is more powerful.  Turbocharging has a threshold of 30-40% while supercharging is at 40-50%. It is clear that supercharging will produce more power. It further holds the top spot as it does not lag.

Q: Do Superchargers Shorten Engine Life?

The supercharger improves engine performance, but it can reduce its life if not used properly. For instance, if the boost is powerful, it can cause the car part to wear fast.

Q: Does Turbo Shorten Engine Life?

A common myth about turbocharging is that it will reduce engine life. It is not valid, but if not correctly installed or faulty parts like the ignition time, it may contribute to engine degeneration.

Final Word

There are many ways to amplify your car’s horsepower, including supercharging and turbocharging. As you may see from this piece, the two are different ways of getting a power lift, though they have the same target. They supply compressed air to the intake to mix with fuel for more force.

Pick the more preferable of the two for your vehicle, depending on your goals. Also, seek the services of a pro for installation if you are not experienced.

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Tito

Hi There, I am R. Hasan Tito, a mechanic, and owner of this website. My friend and I created this website to share our knowledge, expertise, and experience with our fellow mechanics' community and car users. I am a specialist and certified automotive mechanic (Both Heavy Commercial and Private Cars). I have been working as a mechanic for over fifteen years. I worked for a long time at Global Rebound Automotive companies (Toyota, TATA, BMW, Nissan, TVs, and Others ) as a Mechanic and Mechanics Supervisor.

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