The Pros & Cons of Turbo

by Jeff Slater
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Car manufacturers employ turbochargers to increase engine output on virtually any type of vehicle or motor. A turbo harnesses the exhaust energy created by the engine to drive the turbine wheel. This wheel utilizes specially designed blades to capture the high temperature stream and convert it into kinetic energy. The energy is sent to the compressor wheel, where ambient air is pressurized before being sent into the engine, where it is mixed with fuel and ignited.


Undoubtedly the turbo's biggest advantage is its unrivaled ability to produce horsepower and torque. Manufacturers often couple fuel-efficient 4-cylinder engines with turbo units to give them the acceleration and power of a much larger six or even 8-cylinder motor. The turbocharged engine retains good fuel economy because the turbo only operates when more power is needed.


Unlike other superchargers that consume power from the engine via a drive pulley, a turbo is only powered by waste exhaust gases. As such, turbo's can be mated to a wider variety of engines, and do not consume additional power or fuel when not in use.

Turbo Lag

One drawback of the turbo is the need to produce enough excess engine gases to spool the turbo. At low rpms, small engines sometimes do not produce enough exhaust gas to create usable boost. Consequently, there is a delay -- called turbo lag -- when the unit must build up enough energy to pressurize the intake charge. Proper turbo sizing and tuning can mitigate this issue, but there is no way to completely eliminate turbo lag.


Engines with turbos are more complex than conventional engines. In addition to a specially designed engine, automobiles with turbo often need beefed up transmission and brake systems. All these components must handle the added heat and stresses that come with turbo. In addition, a strict maintenance schedule is required to ensure proper operation of all major systems.

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