It’s a question many gear-heads are afraid to ask – and it can be followed by a lengthy answer.
"How does a turbocharger work, and how is it different from a supercharger?"
For those with shorter attention spans, the basic concept behind both turbocharging and supercharging is getting more air to be forced into a vehicle’s engine. With more air, an engine can then use more fuel, which in turn sparks more engine power. However, while a supercharger is powered by a car’s rubber belt, a turbocharger runs with the help of exhaust flow.
In a normally aspirated engine, exhaust fumes don’t facilitate power to the vehicle, whereas in car’s fitted with a turbocharger, exhaust pressure is used to generate boost. A turbocharger creates boost (pressure) through the spinning of a small turbine (pushed by exhaust gases) that shares a shaft with a similar-looking compressor, which delivers the extra air to the engine. Simply put, this air pressure is what gives a turbo-powered engine more horsepower.
As an added bonus, many believe turbos can be more efficient than superchargers because they use waste energy from the exhaust versus power from the crankshaft. They also offer packaging and weight advantages over superchargers. Because of this, turbos have long been recognized by auto manufacturers such as Saab for their value, and have been applied in aircraft engines and even 1000-hp Formula One cars.