How Much Horsepower Does a Turbocharger Add?

May 24, 2022 8:02 pm Published by Leave your thoughts

Lots of folks ask whether a car that is sold as a turbo model or “turbocharged” is really just a marketing gimmick to sell a more expensive car. The answer in response is a bit of both. While a turbocharger can definitely make a car drive and perform faster, especially when the throttle is applied, it also comes with a lot of headaches that can be directly related to the driver and how he or she drives. Not used correctly, a turbocharger can actually decrease a vehicle’s horsepower and drain a bank account with a lot of related car repairs! On the other hand, driven correctly, the turbo addition to a car’s engine can practically turn it into a sprinting racehorse on the road as well.

What Kind of Horsepower Boost Actually Occurs?

Depending on the turbocharger system applied and the car model involved, a turbocharger addition to a stock engine can boost the output vehicle power anywhere from 10 to as much as 50 percent over the original stock design. The variance depends on how the car engine responds to the additional exhaust gas manipulation applied to the engine’s combustion mix. Other factors come into play as well. For example, a heavier car is going to have the same output with the same engine but will respond slower off the line.

Referring back to the original design of how a combustion engine principle operates, three things are needed for an engine to work repeatedly: air, fuel and ignition. A stock car engine already comes with all three, and the onboard computer helps keep everything in exact balance for the most fuel-efficient driving. Sensors are used to tell the computer when things change, and then the programming directs adjustments accordingly. However, when the sensors fail or are overridden, the mixture becomes even more important. When too much fuel gets into the mix, however, the car will run rough at idle and might even bog out. Too much air, and the engine runs hot, burning up the fuel exceptionally faster. This other end of the combustion spectrum is where the turbocharger lies.

A turbocharger essentially pulls in more air and adds oxygen to the combustion mixture inside the engine. The increased suction is created by manipulating the engine’s exhaust gases to spin an intake fan which then creates suction to pull in greater amounts of fresh air. This in turn creates a greater explosion inside the engine chamber, producing greater power. This creates far more responsiveness from the engine, and the driver feels the engine push itself with far more strength. However, all that increase in energy comes at a cost. Everything gets extremely hot, and that heat has to go somewhere, or the engine breaks down quickly. So, to match the additional air and combustion the turbocharger creates, the system addition also tends to come with an increased ability to vent and release the created exhaust pressure and hot gases not needed to power the engine intake. In short, more air and more gas are burned hotter to produce more horsepower (and more waste of fuel too), and the extra pressure or gas is vented faster to avoid bad things from happening.

The Achilles Heel of a Turbocharger

The problem with turbo engines is that they need to run at highway speeds to really be efficient. Idle and slow driving is the worst thing that can be done with a turbo. There is insufficient exhaust being produced to help create the pressure and additional air intake that makes the turbocharge dynamic happen. Instead, the engine struggles to get enough air, and oftentimes bogs with too much fuel. Fuel injectors get clogged, and poorly burned fuel residual adds up in the engine chambers. The combination creates very expensive repairs and cleaning issues if not properly run and burned out of the engine frequently with high-speed, long-distance driving (think Autobahn type distances).

Because the added combustion doesn’t happen at low speeds, a turbo is practically useless and just added parts with no actual function in normal city and commute driving. And, let’s face it, most people do exactly that with 80 percent of their daily driving. So, no surprise, a turbocharged engine is the worst thing to have for a daily, short-distance driver.

Your Driving Makes a Big Difference

Back to the horsepower question, poor driving and low engine usage with a turbocharge will, as noted above, produce lousy horsepower results. It’s simply not worth the trouble to use a turbo engine for regular transit driving. On the other hand, if a driver likes to really get out on the road, make long-distance trips, and needs good handling in the turns and challenging roads such as those in the mountains, then a turbocharger is going to come in handy and produce significant horsepower return.

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