Question: How does a turbocharger on a car work?
Answer: A turbocharger is a pair of fans that harness waste exhaust power from the back of an engine to cram more air into the front, giving more power than you’d otherwise get on an ordinary, non-turbo engine.
Turbos are formed of two main parts – a turbine and a compressor. These are linked, so, when the one spins, the other spins with it. As fuel in the engine is burnt, exhaust gasses are forced out of the engine at high pressure, down a snail-shaped tube to spin the turbine. This turbine spins at incredibly high speeds (up to 250,000rpm) and causes the compressor (effectively a reversed turbine) to spin. This sucks significantly more air into the engine than a normally-aspirated (non-turbo) engine, making more power.
Advantages- A turbocharger gives more power, but power is far from the only advantage. Turbo engines can make the same power as a normally-aspirated engine while using less fuel. Which is why Ford, has replaced the old 1.6-litre petrol engine with a new 1.0-litre turbo – it makes the same power but uses much less fuel. Turbos also give engines more torque – often lower down in the rev range. This means they feel much stronger around town where the extra torque makes nipping into gaps easier. Another, unexpected, advantage is that turbos actually make for a quieter engine as they muffle the sound of the intake.
Disadvantages- Not many, which is why they’re so common in engines now. Mainly, they add cost and complexity to an engine – becoming just another part to go wrong – and, with the high temperatures and pressures they operate at, when they do, it’s often in quite a spectacularly expensive fashion.
Brett Bergman is a senior at Dallastown Area School District. His area of interests are light-duty diesel engines and off-road vehicles. He plans to enlist in the Marines, become an ASE Certified Master Technician. Bergman is currently studying Automotive Technology at the William F. Goodling Advance Skills Learning Center / the course is instructed by ASE Certified Master Technician, Chad D. Fadely. Fadely is also a graduate of Pennsylvania College of Technology and is employed by Fadely’s Automasters.