Car turbocharger isolated on white background. Auto part turbo engine.

Top 10 FAQs About Turbo Technology Answered

Turbo technology often leads to questions due to its complex nature. People are curious about how it works. Here are the most frequently searched questions about turbochargers. These are to be considered in the top 10 category. Who knows, your particular question could be on our list. 

When did Turbos come out?

Turbocharging has been around since the early 1900s. It was first patented by Alfred Büchi in 1905, who managed to use engine exhaust to boost engine power. Turbos were first used in planes in the 1920s and 1930s, helping them fly better at high altitudes.

Cars started using turbos more in the 1960s and 1970s to get more power without using more fuel. Nowadays, turbo engines are very common in cars, thanks to better materials and technology that make them more efficient and reliable.

Are Turbos illegal?

Turbos themselves are not illegal. They are a popular way to increase an engine’s power and are commonly used in a wide range of vehicles, from small cars to large trucks. However, there are regulations in place regarding vehicle modifications, and these can vary by location.

In some places, certain modifications that dramatically increase a vehicle’s power could make it illegal for use on public roads if it doesn’t meet safety or emissions standards. It’s also worth noting that some racing leagues have rules about turbos to keep competition fair. But as a component, turbos are legal and are even standard in many modern vehicles for their benefits in efficiency and performance.

If you’re thinking about adding a turbo to a car, it’s important to check local laws and regulations to make sure you’re in compliance. In general, as long as your vehicle meets the required standards and you’re not breaking any local modification laws, having a turbo is perfectly legal.

 How do Turbos work?

Turbos work by using the engine’s exhaust gases to spin a turbine. This turbine is connected to a compressor that sucks in and compresses air, forcing more of it into the engine’s cylinders. With more air in the cylinders, more fuel can be added, and this mix of extra fuel and air creates a bigger explosion in each cylinder. A bigger explosion means more power for the engine.

The turbo’s turbine spins at very high speeds, often over 100,000 RPM, which is much faster than the engine itself. This speed is crucial for the turbo to pressurize the air effectively. A component called an intercooler is also often used to cool down the air compressed by the turbo because cooler air is denser and better for combustion.

One of the great things about turbos is that they can improve an engine’s efficiency and power without making the engine larger. This is why many car makers use turbos to get more performance out of smaller engines, which can help with fuel economy. However, there can be a slight delay in the power boost from the turbo kicking in, known as “turbo lag.” Modern technology is constantly improving to reduce this lag and make the turbo’s power delivery smoother.

 What Turbos fit my car?

Choosing the right turbo for your car depends on several factors. First, you need to know the specifications of your engine, like its size, layout, and how much power it can safely handle. Turbos are not one-size-fits-all, so it’s important to match the turbo to your engine’s capabilities. If you get a turbo that’s too powerful for your engine, you risk damaging your car.

Car manufacturers sometimes offer turbocharged versions of specific models, and choosing an OEM turbo designed for your car’s make and model can ensure compatibility. For more customized setups, you can consult with performance parts suppliers who can recommend turbos based on your specific goals, like whether you want more acceleration or better fuel efficiency.

You’ll also need to consider the space available in your engine bay. Some turbos might be physically too large to fit without modifications. Additionally, you may need to upgrade other parts of your car, like the fuel injectors or the exhaust system, to handle the extra power and airflow from the turbo.

Lastly, always think about your car’s overall condition. If your vehicle is older or has a lot of miles, adding a turbo without making other necessary upgrades or repairs could lead to mechanical failures. Consulting with a professional mechanic or a turbo specialist can help you make the right choice for your car. They can advise you on what turbo fits your car best and what additional modifications you might need.

 Are Turbos better than Superchargers? 

Whether turbos are better than superchargers depends on what you’re looking for in terms of engine performance. Turbos are powered by the exhaust gases of the engine, which means they can take a moment before they provide a boost, a phenomenon known as “turbo lag.” However, turbos tend to be more efficient than superchargers because they use “waste” energy from the exhaust gases.

Superchargers, on the other hand, are driven directly by the engine through a belt. This means they can provide an increase in power almost immediately, without the lag associated with turbos. But this direct connection means they can be less efficient, as they take power from the engine to work.

Turbos generally offer a better boost in fuel economy compared to superchargers. They’re often used in smaller engines to provide both efficiency and power. Superchargers are popular for providing a consistent power increase and are often found in high-performance and racing engines.

The decision between a turbo and a supercharger also depends on the type of driving you do. If you want immediate response and power at low speeds, a supercharger might be the way to go. If you’re looking for efficiency and high-end power, a turbo could be better.

What are the signs of a poor conditioned Turbo?

When a turbo isn’t in good shape, there are several signs you might notice. One common symptom is a decrease in engine power. If your car feels sluggish and doesn’t accelerate as quickly as it used to, it might be a sign that the turbo is failing. You might also hear a strange whining noise from the engine, which gets louder as the turbo’s condition worsens.

Another sign of a poor conditioned turbo is smoke from the exhaust. If you see blue or grey smoke, it could mean that the turbo is burning oil. This happens when the turbo’s seals wear out. There might also be an increase in exhaust emissions, which can cause your car to fail emissions tests.

Turbo oil leaks are another common issue that can occur with turbocharged engines. These leaks happen when oil, used to lubricate the turbocharger’s moving parts, escapes from its intended pathways.

If you suspect your turbo is in poor condition, it’s important to get it checked out by a professional. Ignoring these signs can lead to more serious and expensive damage to your engine.

What maintenance should be performed on Turbos?

Maintaining a turbocharged engine involves several key steps to ensure its longevity and performance. Firstly, regular oil changes are crucial. Turbochargers need clean, high-quality oil for proper lubrication, as they operate at high temperatures and speeds. Use the recommended oil and change it as specified in the car’s manual.

Another important aspect is to let your engine warm up before driving, especially in cold weather. This helps the oil reach the right temperature and consistency to lubricate the turbo properly. Similarly, after a drive, especially a high-speed one, let the engine idle for a short while before turning it off. This cooldown period allows the turbo to cool down gradually and prevents oil from coking inside it.

Checking the air filter regularly is also important. A clean air filter ensures that the turbo gets a good supply of clean air. Dirty or clogged filters can reduce the turbo’s efficiency and potentially damage it.

Inspecting the turbo’s hoses and connections is another key maintenance task. Look for any signs of wear, cracks, or leaks and address them promptly. A leak in the turbo system can lead to reduced performance and potentially more serious engine issues.

Finally, listening for unusual noises and monitoring the car’s performance can help catch issues early. If you hear strange sounds from the engine or if your car feels less powerful, it could be a problem with the turbo.

Regular servicing by a professional mechanic who knows turbocharged engines is also important. They can perform a thorough inspection and address any issues before they become major problems. Regular maintenance not only keeps your turbo running smoothly but also helps to avoid costly repairs down the line.

Are Turbo engines reliable?

Turbo engines are generally reliable, but like any engine type, their reliability depends on several factors. One of the key factors is maintenance. Turbo engines require regular and proper maintenance, especially regarding oil changes, as they rely heavily on oil for cooling and lubrication. High-quality oil and timely oil changes are crucial to prevent issues.

Turbo technology has improved significantly over the years. Modern turbo engines are built with advanced materials and designs, making them more reliable than older models. However, they do have more moving parts than naturally aspirated engines, which can mean more potential points of failure.

The manufacturer’s design and build quality also play a role. Some brands are known for producing particularly reliable turbo engines. It’s important to research and consider the reputation of the specific make and model.

In summary, turbo engines can be very reliable with proper maintenance and use. Advances in technology have made them more dependable than ever, but it’s important to consider the potential for higher repair costs and the need for meticulous maintenance.

When does a Turbo "kick in"?

A turbo “kicks in” or starts to boost the engine’s power at a certain point when driving, known as the “boost threshold.” This is when the engine’s exhaust gases have enough flow and speed to spin the turbocharger’s turbine fast enough to start compressing air into the engine. The exact point when this happens varies depending on the engine and turbocharger design.

In many cars, the turbo kicks in at a mid-range RPM (Revolutions Per Minute). For instance, you might not feel much boost at low RPMs, like when you’re just starting to accelerate. But as the RPMs increase and the engine works harder, the exhaust gases flow faster, spinning the turbo more rapidly.

This increase in RPM and the resulting boost is often felt as a surge or a sudden increase in acceleration. It’s like the car suddenly gets a burst of energy. This is the turbocharger doing its job.

In modern cars, turbo lag – the delay between when you press the accelerator and when the turbo kicks in – has been significantly reduced. Advanced engineering and technologies like variable geometry turbos or twin-scroll turbos help in making this transition smoother and quicker.

Some high-performance cars might have the turbo kick in at lower RPMs for quicker response, while others might have it set to engage at higher RPMs for maximum power. The tuning of the engine and turbo system can affect when and how the turbo kicks in.

Understanding your car’s turbo behavior can help in driving more efficiently. For instance, knowing at what RPM your turbo kicks in can help you use the engine’s power more effectively, especially when you need quick acceleration, like when overtaking another vehicle.

Where is a turbo engine placed/fitted?

A turbo engine is fitted with a turbocharger, which is usually located near the exhaust manifold of the engine. This placement is strategic because the turbocharger needs to use the exhaust gases from the engine to work. The exhaust manifold collects these gases from the engine’s cylinders and directs them to the turbocharger.

The turbocharger itself is made up of two main parts: the turbine and the compressor. The turbine side is connected to the exhaust system, where it gets spun by the outgoing exhaust gases. The compressor side is connected to the engine’s air intake. As the turbine spins, it drives the compressor, which pulls in and compresses air, sending it into the engine.

Understanding turbo technology is crucial for several reasons. First, it helps car owners make informed decisions about their vehicles, especially if they’re considering a turbocharged model or thinking about adding a turbo to their existing car. Knowing how turbos work, their benefits, and the maintenance they require can greatly impact the performance and longevity of the engine.