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The main difference between turbocharger vs. supercharger is the way each one is powered. Turbochargers run off exhaust gases.  A supercharger is powered by the car’s engine using a belt or chain connected to the camshaft.

Both of them increase power to the engine by acting as a turbine to push more air into the engine through the intake manifold. This process is explained by and called, “forced induction.”

A ‘naturally aspirated’ engine is any engine that is not equipped with a turbocharger or a supercharger. Turbochargers and supercharges both act as a compressor to force more oxygen into the engine. The main advantages are better performance, and in the case of the turbo, better gas mileage.

Alfred Büchi, a great Swiss engineer, invented the turbocharger in 1905. Over the years turbos were used a lot in ship and aircraft engines. They are also very common on diesel engines used to power trucks, busses, and other hard-working vehicles.

The first production car to use a turbocharger was the 1962 Chevrolet Corvair. Next they showed up on Porsche’s during the 1970’s.

Gottlieb Daimler, an engineering genius who would go on to start the Mercedes Benz car company, started working on early versions of superchargers by getting a patent on a way of using a gear-driven pump to force air into an engine in 1885.

Earlier versions of superchargers were used in blast furnaces as early as 1860. Mercedes rolled out their Kompressor engines equipped with superchargers in 1921.

An engine equipped with a supercharger and a turbocharger is called a ‘twincharger.’

For more performance breakdowns check out our article on comparing cars beyond price.

Turbocharger vs. supercharger, which is faster?

A supercharger has faster response because it is directly controlled by how fast the car’s crankshaft is spinning. It works all the time, no matter how fast you’re going or how you drive.

Dual Supercharger
Dual Supercharger

The faster the engine spins, the faster the spin of the supercharger as more air is pushed into the combustion chamber. A supercharger typically provides an engine with higher horsepower, increased performance, and more boost across the entire operating range of the engine from top to bottom.

Hot exhaust gases power the turbocharger creating a short lag time from when the throttle is opened by pushing the gas pedal down. It typically takes a few seconds for the power to spool up. Turbochargers provide more power in the low or high end of the engine’s RPM range depending on the type of turbo used.

Turbocharger
Turbocharger photo courtesy of Frank Derks via Flickr under CC 2.0

Turbos are very popular in diesel engines where they are used to help produce extra torque needed to power buses, and locomotive engines.

Turbos produce extreme amounts of heat and need to be lubricated by the same oil that flows through the engine. This is a possible maintenance issue as the oil will wear out faster and need to be changed more often.

Most superchargers don’t need to be lubricated with engine oil. Superchargers do not produce nearly as much additional heat as a turbocharger.

What effect does a turbocharger or supercharger have on car value?

When considering a turbocharger vs. supercharger in terms of a car holding it’s value, the effect is very little. Assuming the car or truck included a turbo or supercharger, as original equipment it doesn’t cause the car hold its value any better or worse.

If you paid extra for a supercharger or a turbocharger on your car, it will retain this value when you go to sell it just like any other desirable option.

Adding a turbocharger to the standard engine package when buying a new car is usually costs about $1,000 extra.

Keep in mind that turbochargers are much more popular when it comes to engine upgrades.  In the year 2018, there were over 200 models of cars and trucks available with a turbocharger as an option. In the same year there were only 30 models available with a supercharger. The latest numbers are similar for the 2019 model year.

In some ways, turbos and superchargers are one more thing that can go wrong on a car. Older cars with turbos run the risk of extra maintenance. Overheated engines were a concern on some older model cars equipped with turbos. Turbos have come a long way as they’ve become more established.

Transmission and brakes are other possible problem areas.  If you’re considering buying a car with a turbo have these items looked at by a qualified mechanic.  Today’s new generation of turbos tend to be less troublesome.

Can you add a turbocharger or supercharger to a car? 

You can add an aftermarket supercharger system to a vehicle but it is very big expense and probably not a good investment or worth the money.

Superchargers come in three main configurations known as root, twin screw, and centrifugal.  Superchargers are usually standard equipment on many types of racing cars where it’s all about the speed, and in some cases are not actually going to be street legal.

Installing an engine in a car.
Edited photo courtesy of Dr. Warner via Flickr under CC 2.0

Be aware of any warranties on your car that could be voided by adding a supercharger.

You can add an aftermarket turbocharger to your car but it too is very expensive and probably not worth the time or extra cash. Any fuel savings you get from adding a turbo will be very small as compared to what it will cost to turbocharge the engine.

You would need to buy the turbocharger, upgrade the fuel system, and possibly change the engine control module, which is the engine’s brain.

You could also replace the entire engine in your car with a turbocharged model, but once again it’s a very expensive way to go.

How much does it cost to add a turbocharger vs. supercharger to a car?

Installing an aftermarket supercharger will cost anywhere from $1500-$7500 and should not be tried by amateur car mechanics. Installation tips are available via video on various company’s websites and they can be contacted by email for more information.

Upgrading the size and capacity of the cooling system of a car equipped with an aftermarket supercharger is also needed.

Adding a turbocharger to a naturally aspirated engine is a complicated and expensive job. An aftermarket turbocharger sells for anywhere from $500-$2000.

You will also need to change several other engine components or buy a turbo conversion kit. By the time you pay for the kit, the turbo, extra parts, and the labor you could easily be close to $5000.  The bottom line is that it’s not a simple build and unless you’re doing it as a hobby would be wasted money.

Turbocharger vs. supercharger effect on horsepower?

Turbochargers and superchargers both boost horsepower by injecting more air into the engine. A turbocharger is powered by exhaust gas, which is a waste product so they tend to be more fuel-efficient.

A supercharger actually requires horsepower to turn it. That horsepower is sacrificed for better performance. Extra power supplied by the supercharger is not free.

Experts estimate that adding a supercharger to a car’s engine will boost performance by 30%-50% over a comparable car without a supercharged engine.

Keep in mind that since the supercharger runs on engine power, it also subtracts up to as much as 20% of the engine’s energy.

Car manufacturers, including Mercedes are now offering electric superchargers that are powered by an electric motor as opposed to the car’s engine. This is a relatively new innovation and how well they perform is still being debated.

Adding a turbocharger to a car’s engine will also give you a boost in power of about 30%-40%. Some cars are equipped with twin turbos with one designed to add boost at lower RPMs and a second one that’s targeted at reducing the amount of performance lag.

Because turbochargers produce extreme amounts of heat, some of them come equipped with “intercoolers.” Intercoolers work very similar to radiators. In a turbocharger they cool the exhaust gas before it’s sent back into the engine, which also boosts the performance.

Both types of forced induction systems create more horsepower. Turbochargers make more economical sense if you are trying to save gas while a supercharger provides quicker and better-balanced performance.

Turbocharger vs. supercharger effect on fuel economy?

Gas pumps

A turbocharger typically helps a car get better gas mileage because a smaller engine can be used to get the same amount of performance. Expect a turbocharged engine to be about 8% -10% more fuel efficient that the same engine that is not turbo equipped.

Because engine power controls superchargers, they are not a reliable way to save fuel.  They do allow a smaller engine to be used in a car to get the same performance as a larger engine, but they are not designed to save gas. Superchargers are installed to enhance performance.  They are not the best choice for fuel efficiency.

Is a supercharger or turbocharger bad for your engine?

Superchargers and turbochargers are not bad for your engine. They have been used on engines since engines were originally designed. They offer the advantage of increasing engine performance.

Turbochargers can also enhance fuel economy but have more moving parts, which could lead to extra maintenance.  Superchargers improve performance but don’t really save any gas.

Conclusion

In many ways there is nothing new about how turbochargers and superchargers work and what they do.  Both of them share the same function of forcing more air into the engine, which creates more horsepower.

A turbo relies on the byproduct of the engine in the form of exhaust gas to run. The engine itself – except for the new electric superchargers available on some models – powers a supercharger.

Turbocharged engines tend to be more fuel-efficient. Supercharged engines are more about getting better performance. Their effects on resale value are very little in terms of being a plus or a minus.

The money you paid upfront to get an engine equipped with a turbocharger or supercharger retains its value when it’s time to sell or trade your car. Both of them boost engine performance by about 40%.

Turbochargers and superchargers are mechanical devices that may at some point need maintenance. Of the two, the turbocharger has more things that can go wrong.

The expense of adding a supercharger or a turbocharger onto a car as an aftermarket item doesn’t make any economic sense. When looking at the pros and cons, along with the differences, the bottom like is really about performance and fuel efficiency when looking at turbocharger vs. supercharger.

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Turbocharger vs. supercharger (Similar Yet Different)
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Turbocharger vs. supercharger (Similar Yet Different)
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In our turbocharger vs. supercharger comparison we show how these engine upgrades alter horsepower, fuel economy, and the overall value of the car.
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Scott Sowers is a writer based in Washington, D.C. His work appears in The Washington Post, The New York Times, The Atlantic and many other fine publications. He grew up in the car business as his father managed Western Auto and Goodyear stores for several years before buying his own repair shop. He’s written automotive content for Car Gurus, The Fuel Line, The Auto Body Line, Auto Exec and serves as an Associate Editor for AutoDealer.

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