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Superchargers, Turbos and Forced Induction | MAPerformance

Dan Carey  October 02 2019

Superchargers, Turbos and the World of Forced Induction

You probably know that superchargers and turbos make engines more powerful. However, you may not know what they do or how they work. These power adders use a process called forced induction to create power. Below we'll explore what forced induction is, how a turbocharger works versus a supercharger and how you can harness these technologies.

Naturally Aspiration Vs. Forced Induction

Internal combustion engines ignite a mixture of fuel and air to create small, controlled explosions that move pistons. The oxygen in the air is an essential component of making engines run. In many cases, the amount of oxygen sucked in by an engine is a significant bottleneck on making power. Throughout the history of the automobile, most engines have been naturally aspirated, also called normally aspirated. This means that the engine breathes in air at atmospheric pressure. In other words, the engine is pulling air from around the engine without changing its pressure or density. Forced induction uses either a supercharger or a turbocharger to compress air before it is pushed into the engine. This increases the density of the air and means there is more oxygen being mixed with the fuel. More oxygen means more powerful explosions in the cylinders and faster-moving pistons.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Forced Induction

Adding a turbo kit or supercharger kit to a car can mean more power. However, the benefits don't stop there.

  • More Efficient: The power-to-fuel-consumption ratio is significantly better with forced induction. The engine can generate more power and waste less fuel.
  • More Power Per Pound: Forced induction is very weight-efficient. In other words, to achieve the same power output, a naturally aspirated engine must be heavier than a forced-induction engine.
  • Opportunities for Tuning: This is where enthusiasts can get really excited. Managing forced inductions, especially turbos, through tuning can produce a lot of power.
  • Less Power Loss at Elevation: Planes were one of the fields to push forward supercharger technology initially. This is because naturally aspirated engines lose a lot of power at elevation. Forced induction helps overcome this issue.

It probably sounds like forced induction is inherently superior to natural aspiration. Many auto manufacturers and enthusiasts would agree. However, the question is a little more complicated. Forced induction is not without its drawbacks.

  • More Complex: Forced induction engines have more moving parts and complexity. This can make it harder to maintain and repair.
  • Reduced Reliability: For similar reasons, not only are forced induction engines harder to repair, they are more likely to break. Their complexity can harm reliability.
  • Lag: Forced induction engines, especially those using turbochargers, suffer from power lag. They need to be spinning quickly to deliver their full power boost.
  • Greater Heat: Compressing air makes it hotter. This can cause engine overheating more quickly than in naturally aspirated engines.

How a Supercharger and a Turbocharger Work

A supercharger is a mechanically-driven compressor. It uses a belt attached to the engine's crankshaft to drive spin the compressor and force air into the engine. This means that it begins compressing immediately but is relative to the engine's RPMs. Additionally, there is some power loss due to mechanical motion. Originally considered a type of supercharger, a turbocharger works by spinning a compressor using exhaust from the engine. The exhaust gases spool a turbine wheel that compresses the air and pushes it into the engine. It does not use the mechanical power of the engine; however, turbos need sufficient exhaust gases to spool up and make power. Today, turbochargers are generally considered superior to superchargers because they have a better weight-to-power ratio and are more efficient. However, some drivers prefer superchargers for their more consistent power delivery, which makes it easier to drive with.

Setting Up Forced Induction

Forced induction can provide a lot of great benefits. It also makes tuning and working on your own car all the more fun. Turbochargers are particularly configurable. This makes them perfect for enthusiasts who want to wrench on their vehicles. While modifying your vehicle with forced induction does require some effort and expertise, anyone can learn. It is especially easy with a complete supercharger kit or turbocharger kit. These have everything you need to boost your engine and get more power. It is time to start getting more performance from your car.

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