How do Turbos Work on Cars?

Turbochargers work much the same way as jet engines. A jet engine sucks in cold air at the front, and squeezes it into a chamber where it burns with fuel, before blasting hot air out the back. As the hot air leaves, it roars past a turbine, which is essentially a very compact metal windmill that drives the compressor at the front of the engine. This is the part that pushes the air into the engine, to make the fuel burn properly.

The turbocharger on a car uses a very similar process to the piston engine. The turbocharger uses exhaust gas to drive the turbine, this spins an air compressor which pushes extra air, and oxygen, into the cylinders, allowing them to burn more fuel each second.

The basic idea is that the exhaust drives the turbine which is directly connected to, and powers, the compressor, which forces air into the engine.

Step by Step Turbocharger Function

Cool air enters the engine’s air intake, and heads towards the compressor.
The compressor fan helps to suck air in.
The compressor squeezes and heats the incoming air, and blows it out again.
Hot, compressed air from the compressor passes through the heat exchanger, which cools it down.
Cooled, compressed air enters the cylinders air intake. The extra oxygen in this air helps to burn fuel in the cylinder at a faster rate.
Since the cylinder is burning more fuel, it produces energy more quickly and can produce more power, which it sends to the wheels via the piston, shafts and gears.
Waste gas from the cylinder exits through the exhaust outlet.
The hot exhaust gases blowing past the turbines make them rotate at high speed.
The spinning turbine is mounted on the same shaft as the compressor, so that when the turbine spins the compressor spins too.
The exhaust gas leaves the car, wasting less energy than it would otherwise.

This is why a car that has a turbocharger can produce more power, this is another way of saying more energy per second.

A supercharger is similar to a turbocharger, but instead of being driven by exhaust gases it is instead powered by the car’s spinning crankshaft. This is actually a disadvantage, a turbocharger is powered by waste energy in the exhaust, but the supercharger actually steals energy from the car’s own power source, which is actually unhelpful