The Low-Down on Forced Induction Systems: Superchargers, Turbochargers, and How They Compare

When it comes to vehicles, many different parts make them work and help them operate more efficiently. Almost everyone can get behind the idea of their car running smoother—especially those interested in decking out their vehicles to be the ultimate ride. When it comes to this issue, forced induction systems are the piece of equipment that can make that possible.

In short, a forced induction system forcibly feeds more air to the engine. This process allows for combustion engines to work more efficiently, which in turn makes your vehicle operate at a higher capacity by pumping as much air as possible into the engine. And while the end goal is the same, there are two categories of these systems: superchargers and turbochargers.

Supercharger vs. Turbocharger at a Glance

When it comes to knowing which forced induction system is better, the supercharger vs. turbocharger argument is one that seems to have no clear answer. But what distinguishes these two types of systems from each other, and what makes one better than the other?

To start, superchargers work by attaching directly to the engine and using the crank shift belt to power the supercharger, which helps force air through the engine. Part of this setup involves a pulley; the smaller this part, the more boost your vehicle will receive. A supercharger does not have a wastegate, so it will emit smog.

On the other hand, turbochargers don't directly connect to the engine. They don't need to, as they use the exhaust stream to produce energy, using that source to run through the turbine itself, which then spins the compressor. Turbochargers often have lower carbon emission thanks to smog altering equipment.

Both of these forced induction systems have the same goal of boosting the engine and giving the vehicle a sports car a distinctive roar whenever it accelerates. However, because the different ways superchargers and turbochargers get their power, they have their pros and cons to using—which can help you understand which one may be best for your vehicle in the long run.

Spinning Rate and Boost

The spinning rate of a forced induction system has an impact on how much boost it provides. In fact, because of the differences in what fuels super and turbochargers, they operate best at specific spinning rates. For superchargers, they can run at peak speeds of 30,000 rpm or higher, which turbochargers can function at 100,000. However, you won't get maximum boost until you reach the peak speed.

This difference starts to impact the overall boost you can get from your induction system. Superchargers work best at lower speeds, potentially able to give twenty to thirty percent of lift on average. However, once you get into the higher rpm levels, they start to lose some of their boost capacity and won't always work at peak levels.

Turbochargers, on the other hand, have the inverse problem: they work best at higher rpms but won't be able to work until they reach that spinning rate. This build leads to the issue known as turbo lag, which refers to the delay in boost you get when using a turbocharger.

Many potential solutions have risen to combat this issue, from combination chargers, two-stage turbochargers, and new types of systems—though those, too, have their problems.

Effect on MPG

One thing to note with both superchargers and turbochargers is that they do have an impact on your vehicle's fuel consumption. When you bring in more air, you ultimately use up more fuel to burn it and operate the engine. No matter which option you go with, you will see that your boost does lead to a higher cost at the pump.

When you put them up against each other, though, both superchargers and turbochargers impact your mpg in different ways. Something to note with superchargers is that, when it comes to everyday driving, they consume less fuel—even in comparison to larger displacement engines. That said, the same engine hooked up to a supercharger will consume more fuel than it would without one.

With turbochargers, you can see even more drastic impacts on your fuel economy, mainly when you use the boost a lot. There will still be an impact on the regular performance of the vehicle, but the more engine power you go through, the more quickly you can expect to go through your gas tank, to say nothing of the additional price you'll pay when refilling.

Cost Differences

The increased amount of money spent on gas costs won't be the only impact supercharging and turbocharging will have on your budget. You'll also need to account for the price of the forced induction system, the installation, and other parts your vehicle may need to complete the process, which can be a potential cost if you’re also considering new car prices.

Between the two, superchargers tend to be less expensive when purchased on their own, but that depends on multiple factors such as style, brand, and the make and model of your car. Looking on sites like Amazon, it's possible to find superchargers themselves for around $150-$250 depending on what model you choose.

Turbochargers can be available for roughly the same starting costs, but there are plenty of models that easily exceed that mark and cost $500 or even $700. In general, the more powerful boost you want, the more you can expect to pay for both types of forced induction systems. Quality is also essential to consider, as these parts will wear out over time, and you want them to last.

However, you need more than the induction system itself to install it into your vehicle. Along with the charger itself, you'll need all the correct connectors. Purchasing each of these parts individually not only takes up your time, but it's expensive. Thankfully, it's possible to buy everything you need in a complete kit, which ensures everything is appropriate for the charger of your choice.

Naturally, whenever you purchase a supercharger or turbocharger kit, the price is much higher than buying the induction system on its own. Once again, turbochargers tend to be the more expensive of the two. However, both types of kits will easily cost anywhere upwards of $2500, depending on the quality of your parts. Even so, this amount is still less than purchasing each piece on its own.

Installation Costs

If you can perform a DIY job, then you won't have to worry about installation costs. However, for anyone who wants to leave that work to the pros, labor will add on to the price you pay for boosting your engine.

With superchargers, you can quickly expect to pay at least one hundred dollars per hour when it comes to labor, if not more. The same holds for turbochargers, and that work can potentially be a bit more expensive. You're easily looking at several hundred more dollars in addition to the cost of the parts.

Another thing to keep in mind is that the price of your parts and service can depend on what type of vehicle you have; what you need for Ram trucks will potentially be different from a GMC car. Additionally, if you're replacing your old forced induction system with a new one, you may need different parts. The key is to properly research what you need to so you can get the job done right the first time.

In general, turbochargers will be more expensive all around, but many drivers find that worthwhile for the higher levels of boost they receive. Even so, you may find that a supercharger is better suited for your needs. Either way, you can expect an increase from your engine once you've installed one.