Automotive Fundamentals 101 | What does Turbo mean?

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Do you love cars, but struggle with the lingo? Perhaps all that automotive jargon is making it difficult to feel as passionate about the Automotive industry. Here at THE Blog About Cars we know how scary and impenetrable the world of petrolheads is – and we want to make it easy for you to get involved. So, week by week we are going to take a common yet potentially confusing Automotive term and explain it for you – a fast-track Automotive Fundamentals 1010, if you will.

Lesson 3: What Does Turbo Mean?

We’ve all heard the phrases – a car that comes with a “turbocharged V6 engine” or a “V8 Turbo”. We probably all know that it tends to be associated with cars that go fast, but beyond that many people will know little else. A nod and a knowing look may suffice, but what does Turbo mean really?

What is a Turbo?

Datsun 240Z Turbo

A Turbo Engine

Well, it is a centrifugal compressor powered by a high speed turbine (it was originally called a turbosupercharger because it supercharges a turbine engine) that is driven by an engine’s exhaust gases. The compressor increases the mass of air entering the engine, thereby resulting in greater performance. And yes, that can mean performance in terms of either power or efficiency. It’s all a bit sciency, but essentially it just squeezes more air into the cylinders. It does this by using the exhaust flow from the engine to spin a turbine, which in turn spins an air pump. Which doesn’t matter to us really.

And what does having a Turbo mean for your car?

More air in the cylinders means that you can add more fuel, and essentially that means a bigger explosion. Which, aside from being great for pyromaniacs, of course equals more power. This power, with a Turbo, doesn’t come at the prize of having a huge (and heavy) engine. Big engines are of course another way to up your car’s power, but that increases drag and weight – a Turbo just ups horsepower, without having a big effect on weight. Therefore the power-to-weight ratio for the engine is improved, but we won’t go into that too much!

In essence, a turbocharged engine means your turbo engine will do better than an equivalent engine without turbo – it will be faster and more powerful as long as everything else is the same. And now you know why!

A quick note on superchargers. Superchargers are forced induction systems just like turbo chargers – they do the same squidging air, more fuel, bigger explosions thing. The real difference is how the thing is powered – a supercharger doesn’t use the exhaust stream, but instead a belt that connects to the engine. Superchargers are therefore easier to install, but costly to buy – and you could argue a Turbo is more efficient because it uses wasted energy  – but a supercharger doesn’t cause any back pressure in the exhaust system. That’s the difference!

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1 Opinions

  • Leisa Dreps

    Car enthusiasts have different preferences when it comes to choosing turbo engines. There are actually some who just want it simple and optimized. On the other hand, there are others who want top of the line performance. Those who would be very interested on those are the muscle car collectors and racers.

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