What Is a Turbocharged Engine?
If you’ve been shopping for cars recently, you may have seen references to turbocharged engines. Although these engines are quite popular, many car buyers don’t fully understand what turbocharged means. If you’re interested in learning more about this technology, keep reading to find out what turbocharged engines are, what their benefits and disadvantages are, and how they compare to other engines.
What Is a Turbocharged Engine?
A turbocharged engine is a variation of a normal internal combustion engine that uses forced induction to enhance performance. Forced induction involves forcing compressed air into the engine, which can have the effect of enhancing torque and overall engine power. A turbocharger can have this effect without significantly increasing the size and weight of the engine. Although this technology is now available in a range of vehicles, it was previously used mostly in high-performance racing vehicles.
How Does a Turbocharged Engine Work?
To understand how turbocharged engines work, it’s important to understand the internal combustion mechanism that car engines use. In simple terms, car engines use a series of pistons to convert the energy of expanding gas into motion. Pistons sit inside cylinders in your car’s engine and are attached to a crankshaft that transfers movement to the vehicle’s wheels. Most engines use a four-stroke cycle to create energy. The first stroke of the piston is called the intake stroke. In this phase, the piston moves downward in the cylinder and a mixture of gas and air is let into the chamber.
The next stroke is the compression stroke. This involves an upward movement of the piston, compressing the mixture of hot air and gas in the chamber. As the piston reaches the end of the stroke, the car’s spark plug emits a spark that causes an explosion in the chamber, driving the piston back down into its third stroke. The compression of the air and gas mixture at the point of ignition makes the explosion more powerful. The fourth stroke involves another upward movement of the piston that drives the exhaust fumes out of the chamber to prepare for another cycle.
Now that we know how the engine works, we can explain what a turbocharger does. A turbocharger is a small fitting that attaches to the exhaust manifold of a car’s engine. Unlike a typical gas engine, which draws air from the outside through the air filter, a turbocharger uses the exhaust gases emitted by the engine. It captures these gases and forces them through a turbine and into a compressor. The pressurized air is then injected back into the cylinder.
You may be wondering how this simple process produces greater power. The basic idea is that pressurizing the air allows more air and fuel to fit into the chamber. This means that once it’s compressed, the power released can be up to 50 times greater than that of a naturally aspirated engine.
What Are the Benefits of a Turbocharged Engine?
While they aren’t without faults, turbochargers can provide three main benefits over traditional naturally aspirated engines. The first and most important of these benefits is increased power. The pressure introduced by the turbocharger allows your car you burn more fuel and air, and increases the power released after combustion. This can add anywhere from 30% to 50% more power to your engine’s output.
The second advantage is efficiency. Turbocharged engines are powered by your engine’s exhaust, which is a natural byproduct of its operation. This means that turbochargers are often more efficient than other engine upgrades. Additionally, turbochargers can increase the power of smaller engines without the need to massively modify the vehicle or increase fuel use.
The final, unexpected benefit of turbocharged engines is that they can provide a quieter ride. Although we don’t usually associate greater power with lower volumes, the structure of a turbocharger can positively affect your vehicle’s engine noise. The additional components of a turbocharger often have the effect of filtering and reducing exhaust and intake noise, making your vehicle quieter on the road.
What Are the Disadvantages of a Turbocharged Engine?
While turbocharged engines provide a range of benefits, they’re not without their downsides. The first disadvantage is cost. Installing a turbocharger can be quite expensive, and many cars that come with turbochargers installed cost more than their naturally aspirated counterparts. A turbocharger also increases the part count and complexity of your engine, which may increase the cost of repairs. Many insurance companies also charge extra for turbocharged vehicles, and adding a turbocharger to a stock vehicle may invalidate your warranty. Adding more components to your car can also increase the chances of something breaking or malfunctioning.
The second major disadvantage of a turbocharged engine is turbo lag. This refers to the delayed response that sometimes happens when drivers hit the accelerator. This phenomenon occurs when the engine isn’t producing enough exhaust to power the compressor and introduce more air into the chamber. While some high-performance vehicles are built to avoid this, many commercial vehicles experience turbo lag.
While turbochargers can enhance the performance of your engine, they can also increase wear and lead to failure in certain circumstances. Since they introduce high-pressure air into your car’s cylinders, they require your pistons to operate under higher pressure than normal. If the pressure is too great, it can lead to permanent engine damage. In order to prevent this, some vehicles require reinforced pistons and valve train components. Using a turbocharger can also increase the interior heat of your engine when used without an intercooler. This can also lead to engine failure in extreme circumstances.
Finally, turbochargers may sometimes result in greater fuel use. The primary benefit of a turbocharger is that it allows your car to produce greater power by burning more fuel. While this can be great in certain circumstances, it often requires drivers to adjust their normal driving styles. Car owners who drive turbocharged vehicles like their other cars may end up experiencing higher prices at the pump.