When people talk about technological advances in the automotive industry, they’re usually talking about things like smart cars or hybrid electrics, but great strides have been made for traditional diesel and gas engine-powered vehicles as well. Although turbochargers have been around for over a hundred years, they only started showing up in cars in the late ’60s and ’70s. And even there they existed on the fringe for a while, mostly within the racing community. Lately, though, this technology is trickling down to the average car buyer, in the case of turbochargers. Some are built into the design of new models, but there’s also an increased popularity of after-market installs allowing anyone to benefit from the increased performance they provide.
A turbochargers’ operation is pretty brilliant. Engines require air to run, and turbochargers force more air into the chamber on each intake stroke, upping combustion efficiency. Their basic construction is two fans that connect and spin on the same shaft, turning a snail-shaped housing. It sits between the engine and the exhaust, as close to the block as space will allow. As exhaust gasses exit, their force sets the bottom fan (turbine) spinning. Since it’s connected to the top fan (compressor), that one spins as well and, as it does, its whirring blades pull in air from the outside, centrifugally condensing it in the housing before forcing it out the other side of the turbocharger, through the intake and into the chamber. More air means stronger combustion stroke and increased power from the engine.
The Power Impels You
Sounds like a sweet deal, right? Well, hang on there, because although the operating principle in relatively simple, installation is not. For one, simply finding the space for it in the engine bay can be tough. Beyond that, there are a number of modifications you’ll have to make to your intake and exhaust system, alongside other supporting components that will probably have to be installed too, such as an intercooler, wastegate and blow-off valve. With modification, most cars can handle a turbocharger, but unless you have serious mechanical experience, this is not a simple DIY and should be left to the professionals.
These days, many manufacturers are designing turbocharged engines by default. In part, this is to meet new government emissions targets, but it doesn’t hurt that rising prices at the pumps are causing customers to look closer at fuel-efficiency. Furthermore, while turbocharging used to be the domain of diesel engines, new technology has made turbocharged gas engines more of a viable option.
Turbochargers are, in principle, simple mechanisms to increase engine performance. And with dependable aftermarket turbos on the market, they’re kind of a no-brainer for anyone looking to get more power behind the wheel. Due to the technicality of the installation, however, this is one project you want to talk to your mechanic about.
Check out all the maintenance parts available on NAPA online or trust one of our 17,000 NAPA AutoCare locations for routine maintenance and repairs. For more information on turbochargers, chat with a knowledgeable expert at your local NAPA AUTO PARTS store.
Photo courtesy of Blair Lampe.
Blair Lampe is a New York-based professional mechanic, blogger, theater technician, and speechwriter. In her downtime she enjoys backpacking wherever her boots will carry her, rock climbing, experimental theatre, a crisp rosé , and showering love on her 2001 Sierra truck.