Turbochargers Explained – Unleashing Your Vehicle’s True Potential

Turbocharging Your Vehicle to Improve Performance

Not satisfied with the power output of your car’s engine? Would you like some extra go when merging onto the highway or passing a large truck? Or maybe you want to transform your vehicle into the high performance machine you know it could be. It’s time to get acquainted with aftermarket turbochargers, your ticket to more power and performance.

Areas we’ll be covering:

How A Turbocharger Works

A turbocharger is basically an air compressor that is powered by the pressure of your exhaust gas. A turbocharger can rev at speeds of 200,000 RPM or more. As the pressure of the exhaust spins the turbine wheel, an impeller on the intake side compresses the intake air.

Compressed air has a much higher oxygen content than unpressurized air. In an effort to maintain the precise air-fuel ratio for proper combustion, the engine management software adds more fuel to balance out the extra oxygen, resulting in a major power increase, and greatly improved acceleration. The effect can be compared to replacing your engine with a larger one.

Turbos Are Great, But That Extra Power Has A Downside

Aftermarket turbos can give you a truly impressive power increase, but all that extra air and fuel being burned makes a tremendous amount of heat. The cylinders run hotter from producing all that extra power and transfer that heat to the coolant and oil.

The exhaust gases are hotter as well, and all that heat gets transferred right to the exhaust-driven turbo. It is not unusual for the turbo to run red-hot! This exhaust heat then gets transferred through the turbo to the intake air, lowering power and potentially causing engine-damaging detonation (which is premature ignition).

Heat buildup under the hood can also damage electronics and plastic components located there.

How to deal with these problem areas? Fortunately, decades of experience with turbo systems have produced reliable solutions. Most turbo installations include an intercooler, which cools down the intake air temperature much like a radiator does.

Sensitive components located in the engine compartment can be protected with heat shields. Other upgrades, such as a higher-capacity radiator or booster fans may be necessary with higher output turbo systems.

Tuning With A Turbo

TurboCharger Tuning

Turbochargers come in a range of sizes. The size of the turbo can affect your car’s performance in a variety of ways. Generally speaking, a smaller turbo will spool up faster, have less lag time and will have a beneficial effect on low-end power. A larger turbo takes longer to get up to speed and will give you more boost at the top end.

You must also consider the car you are adding to the turbo to. Is it a smaller engine that would benefit from more low-end and midrange power for better all-around driveability? Or is it a larger, more powerful engine, with plenty of low speed go, that you’d like to make into a mighty high-speed performer?

These are the choices you will need to make to select the right aftermarket turbocharger system for you and your car.

You Will Need More Than Just A Turbo

Unlike a cold air system, a turbocharger is not an item you can just bolt on and go. While the turbo is the main component of your turbo installation, you need to think of it as part of a system.

A Good Place To Start

If this is your first time dealing with an aftermarket turbocharger system, don’t get too extreme. Consider a turbo system that does not require you to upgrade the internal components in your engine. This type of installation is the most cost-effective and can produce a power increase of 50% or more.

That is more than enough to produce a major boost to your vehicle’s acceleration. Do the math – 50% more power is an awesome increase!

What You Will Need To Add A Turbo

These elements are normally required for your turbocharger installation:

  • A turbo sized appropriately for your car
  • An exhaust manifold that the turbo attaches to
  • An intercooler to cool down the intake air
  • A blow-off valve to keep the intake air pressure from damaging the engine
  • Air intake pipes and hoses to connect everything on the intake side
  • Oil and water lines for lubricating and cooling the turbo
  • Heat shields to protect temperature-sensitive items under the hood
  • All other hardware and fittings needed to complete the installation
  • (Sometimes) Parts to upgrade your fuel system and engine management computer

Shopping For Your Aftermarket Turbo

Shopping for turbo kits online

An excellent source for aftermarket turbochargers online is amazon.com. Amazon offers you a very large marketplace to shop in and choose from. Let’s get started!

The Easy Option – A Complete Custom Turbo System

If there is a complete bolt-on turbo system available for your car, that should be your first choice. A complete kit means one-stop shopping, with everything you need in one box, designed to fit your car exactly.

The first step is to visit amazon.com and search for “Turbocharger kit MAKE MODEL,” inserting your car’s make and model into the search box. You will get the search results; look through them to see if there is a complete turbo kit made for your car. If so, your search can stop here – if it looks good (and don’t be afraid to call the seller if you have any questions), purchase it.

The Next Best Choice – A Universal System

A complete aftermarket turbocharger system custom made for your specific car may not be available. This is where a universal-fit system becomes a fallback option. Universal systems have almost everything you need to add a turbo to your engine, but some custom fitting will be required.

You will likely have to do some extra work to fit the intake piping, the intercooler, oil lines, etc. You will also need to purchase a specialized exhaust manifold that will fit your engine and bolt onto the turbocharger.

An Electronic Control Unit may also be necessary to mate the system to your specific engine. Again, call the sellers of systems you are interested in purchasing BEFORE you buy and get all your questions answered first.

If you don’t like what you hear, shop somewhere else! Read the reviews from other purchasers, know what you are buying, and understand the degree of difficulty before you pull the trigger on a universal kit.

Want To Push It To The Limit?

If you want to push your power output beyond this level, it can be done. You can double or triple your original horsepower, but it will take a lot more than a bigger turbo. High output means high internal engine pressures and high temperatures.

You will need to upgrade your cooling system, your fuel delivery system, your exhaust system, and some of the internal moving parts of your engine to handle the added stress of this kind of horsepower boost. Do your research and be sure you have all the answers before you go down this road. Good luck!

What About Supercharging?

Supercharging your vehicle

Supercharging is another route to more horsepower. You may have seen superchargers sitting atop the engines of top fuel dragsters, where they help these cars to produce over 10,000 horsepower. They reach speeds of over 300mph from a standing start, after covering a distance of only 1,000 feet!

While these superchargers are an extreme example of what these devices can do, superchargers of a more streetable type are also available.

How Does A Supercharger Work?

Both turbochargers and superchargers compress the intake air to increase an engine’s power. Instead of using the exhaust gas to drive a turbine like a turbo does, a supercharger is driven by the engine’s crankshaft. One of the supercharger’s advantages is faster response when you need power, due to its direct connection to the crank.

There is none of the lag time waiting for the exhaust pressure to speed up the turbo and compress the intake air that there is with a turbo. There is usually less heat produced as well, since superchargers mount right to the engine.

The exhaust gases get an uninterrupted trip right out the tailpipe, and there is no red-hot turbo under the hood to heat things up!

Installation of a supercharger system is very similar to that of the turbocharger system on the intake side. The intake air compressed by the supercharger goes through an intercooler and then into the engine, where it is mixed with fuel.

But a supercharger does without exhaust plumbing, and is mounted in a similar way to an alternator, usually hanging from the front of the engine and driven by a belt. Some superchargers for V-type engines sit right on top of the intake manifold.

Installing A Supercharger System

As with the turbocharger systems, first look for a supercharger system designed for your car. If that is not available, then a universal kit may be the way to go. Do thorough research on the web and shop on amazon.com to see what is available. Talk to the sellers and the previous buyers. Make sure you understand everything about these systems before you make a buying decision.

Getting The Most From Your Increased Power Output

Once you have installed your new aftermarket turbocharger or supercharger system, break it in gently. Make sure that everything is securely fastened and attached, that there are no leaks, and that the engine runs smoothly at low, medium, and high revs.

Check your fluids frequently and keep everything topped off. Keep a close eye on the temperature gauge to make sure things stay cool under the hood. Enjoy your major boost in horsepower, and use it responsibly!

Now that you’ve learned all about turbo/supercharging, be sure to read:

Thanks for reading.

-Sean from ShortRam.com.

2 CommentsLeave a comment

  • I appreciate that you explained how the additional tubing required for an intercooler can require some special work to fit. I’m trying to learn more about cars and various upgrades, so learning what an intercooler is and does was super helpful for me! Thanks for your explanation about an intercooler being used on a turbo and supercharged engines to cool the intake air temperature.

  • I like how the article explains that when you get a turbocharger you also need to get other parts to make sure your turbocharger will work safely and efficiently. My husband and I are wanting to fix up our car and make it faster and we are looking into getting a turbocharger but we want to make sure we can have it work efficiently and safely. We will make sure to get all the parts needed to make it safe and efficient.

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