Turbocharging 101

Fitting a turbocharger onto your vehicle’s internal combustion engine will increase its efficiency and power output by pushing compressed air into the combustion chamber.

“Turbocharger” comes from the words “turbine” and “air intake charger.” Nowadays, “turbo” will do. The turbine, depending on its size and shape, can dictate the amount of air that can flow through the system, and the relative efficiency at which it operates.

A turbocharger’s performance is closely tied to its size. Large turbochargers take more heat and pressure to spin the turbine, creating lag at low speed. Small turbochargers spin quickly, but offer less performance less at high acceleration.

The turbocharger has three main components: the turbine, which is almost always a radial inflow turbine (except in large diesel engines where it is usually a single-stage axial inflow turbine); the compressor, which typically is a centrifugal compressor; and the center housing hub rotating assembly. When it comes to building an engine, turbochargers can offer an excellent return on investment. Chances are, when you buy a diesel car now, most, if not all, have a turbocharger.

Contrary to popular belief, turbocharging is not confined to the realm of high-performance cars, racing cars, and rally cars. The turbo is more common nowadays, most especially in diesel cars.

A good turbo can provide extra oomph, without the need to increase engine capacity, which means less fuel and fewer emissions. But like anything in life, there are pros and cons to it.

A turbocharger kicks in properly only when it reaches its boost threshold. Once you cross the threshold, you still have to deal with the issue of turbo lag. You’ll often feel that there’s a hesitation from the moment you put your foot down on the accelerator, and when the engine responds. This occurs because pressure is released from the turbo when not under a full load so as to protect it and increase lifespan. So, a turbocharger is basically a glorified air pump — nothing more, nothing less.

It sucks in air; it blows out air. 

Sounds a bit technical? Well, if you want a more comical description of a turbocharger, its like a typical blender, or even a vacuum cleaner. It can be your mom’s oven or broiler. Now you can see where the confusion takes place, and how the technology works. Yes, there’s a tad of misconception here and there, but if you see where it starts, and where it ends, you can learn to appreciate it.

Love or hate the turbocharger, it’s here to stay. The days of the naturally aspirated V8 are over. 

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