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Turbo Engine in Car: What It Is and How Does It Work

This article delves into what exactly does a turbo engine mean, or what is turbo in a car, and how does it work.

  • 12 Sep 2023
  • min read
  • 2029 views

Engines have long been the heart and soul of automobiles, propelling vehicles forward with their power and efficiency. In recent years, a remarkable advancement in engine technology has taken centre stage – the turbo engine. So, what is turbo engine in cars? We will look into the details so that you get a clear answer.

With its ability to deliver impressive performance and improved fuel efficiency, the turbo engine has become a driving force behind modern car designs. But what exactly does a turbo engine mean, or what is turbo in a car, and how does it work? Let’s find out.

 

What is a turbo engine in a car?

A turbo engine, also called a turbocharged engine, is a type of internal combustion engine found in cars. It utilises a turbine-driven forced induction system to increase the engine’s power and efficiency. The system works by forcing more air into the engine's cylinders, allowing it to burn more fuel and produce more power. This offers improved fuel economy and performance than a naturally aspirated engine.

 

How does a turbo engine work?

Now that you know what is turbocharger in cars, let’s understand its mechanics. To understand the mechanism of a turbo engine in a better way, go over the following pointers.

  • A turbo engine consists of a compressor wheel and a turbine wheel connected by a shaft. These components are seen within a snail-shaped housing with an exhaust and inlet ports.
  • The inlet port allows the exhaust gases produced by the engine to enter the turbocharger at high pressure and spin the turbine wheel. The turbine wheel, in turn, rotates the compressor wheel, which draws in a large amount of air from the outside.
  • The compressor wheel compresses the air, which then expels it through the outlet port. Next, the compressed air flows into the cylinders through a pipe, where it combines with the fuel, resulting in a more potent explosion within the combustion chamber.
  • The best thing about a turbocharger is that it does not require additional engine power to run. Instead, it uses the engine’s exhaust gases that would otherwise go to waste. This way, it improves the performance and efficiency of the engine without increasing fuel consumption.
  • Since the turbocharger works at incredibly high pressure and generates high temperatures, it is usually accompanied by an intercooler. The intercooler functions as a device to cool the compressed air before it reaches the cylinders. This crucial step helps prevent engine overheating and minimises the potential for engine knocking.

 

Advantages and disadvantages of a turbo engine

Turbo engines have their own set of pros and cons. Let’s look at them in the following table.

Advantages 

Disadvantages

 

Turbo engines generate more power than larger engines without turbocharging. This means that a small, turbocharged engine can accelerate much faster and can easily reach higher speeds than a bigger engine.

 

 

They are more complex and expensive than regular engines. They require more maintenance and care to avoid damage and ensure optimal performance.

 

They are more efficient than regular engines. They use less fuel and produce lower emissions than larger engines with the same power output. This means that turbocharged cars can save money on fuel and reduce their environmental impact.

 

 

They can cause engine overheating and wear. The turbocharger's high pressure and temperature can strain the engine components and reduce lifespan. Turbocharged cars also need high-quality oil and fuel to prevent engine damage.

 

They produce more torque than conventional engines. It is the force that rotates the wheels of a car. More torque means a car can accelerate faster from a standstill and climb steep hills more easily. Turbocharged cars also have better traction and handling than regular cars.

 

 

Turbo engines can suffer from turbo lag. This can affect the responsiveness and drivability of a car, especially in stop-and-go traffic or when overtaking other vehicles.

 

 

Turbo cars are more lightweight than regular cars. Since turbo engines are smaller than traditional engines, they reduce the car's overall weight. This improves the aerodynamics and fuel efficiency of the vehicle, as well as its agility and maneuverability.

 

 

Turbo cars are less reliable than regular cars. Turbo engines are more prone to breakdowns and malfunctions than regular engines, especially if they are not properly maintained or driven aggressively. 

 

Turbo engines have a muffling effect on the engine noise, as they reduce the sound of the exhaust gases escaping from the engine. This makes turbocharged cars quieter and more comfortable to drive than regular cars.

 

 

Turbocharged cars also have higher car insurance premiums than regular cars, as they are considered more risky by insurance companies.

 

Also read:

What is the difference between a turbo engine and a regular engine?

Both these engines are different in several aspects. Here is the table explaining the same.

Parameter

Turbo Engine

Regular Engine

 

Power Output         

 

Higher power-to-weight ratio, more powerful at high RPMs      

 

Generally, less powerful at high RPMs compared to turbo engines

Air Induction

Uses a turbocharger to compress air for forced induction      

Relies on natural aspiration for air intake

 

Low RPM Response

May experience turbo lag, slower response at low RPMs

More responsive at low RPMs without turbo lag

 

Fuel Efficiency

Improved fuel efficiency at higher speeds

Fuel efficiency may vary depending on engine size and design

Maintenance

Requires specific maintenance for the turbocharger, which can be costlier

Generally simpler and more cost-effective in terms of maintenance

 

Application

Commonly found in modern performance vehicles

Found in a wide range of vehicles, including economy cars

Energy Source

Utilises wasted exhaust energy for power

Operates without additional energy input

Complexity

Typically, more complex due to turbocharger integration

Simpler design and construction

Power Delivery

Provides extra power when needed, suited for performance driving

Suited for everyday driving and moderate power needs

 

Engine Size

Often smaller engine sizes with a high power output

Engine size varies based on application and power requirements

Use of Intercooling

Often equipped with intercoolers to cool the compressed air

No need for an intercooler, as there is no forced induction

 

What is the difference between a turbocharger and a supercharger?

Parameters

Turbocharger

Supercharger

Working Principle

In this process, the turbine wheel gets rotated by utilising the energy from the heat and velocity of the exhaust gases.

The engine drives the supercharger mechanically using a belt connected to the crankshaft.

 

Air Induction

It increases power and efficiency through the forced induction of compressed air.

 

Air induction is similar to a turbocharger.

Boost Lag

Aggressively applying the throttle may result in turbo lag, causing a delay in the engine's response.

 

Power delivery is quick, with no boost lag or delay.

 

Fuel Efficiency

Improved fuel efficiency

The fuel efficiency is affected as the compressor uses engine power to spin.

 

 

What is a turbocharged petrol engine?

You must have heard about a turbo-charged petrol engine. It’s time to figure out what is a turbo petrol engine.

A turbo-petrol engine is basically a petrol internal combustion engine with an added turbocharger. These engines stand out for their impressive power and efficiency compared to larger naturally aspirated petrol engines.

The turbocharger enhances performance by drawing in more air, compressing it, and delivering it to the cylinders. This results in a more potent combustion process, effectively transforming a smaller petrol engine into one with high-capacity capabilities.

Consequently, even a smaller turbo-petrol engine can produce equal or greater power than a larger naturally aspirated petrol engine.

 

What is the meaning of a turbocharged diesel engine?

Now let’s decipher what is turbocharger in diesel engines. A turbocharged diesel engine, also known as a turbo-diesel engine, is essentially an internal combustion engine equipped with a turbocharger, which aids in supplying compressed air for improved combustion. When fuel combustion is more efficient, the engine becomes more powerful and fuel-efficient. Therefore, turbo-diesel engines offer enhanced power while maintaining fuel efficiency. Additionally, turbochargers contribute to a superior torque curve, outperforming naturally aspirated diesel engines in this aspect.

 

Usage of turbo engine oil

In a turbocharged engine, the engine oil serves the dual purpose of lubricating and cooling the turbo. The turbo operates at extremely high RPMs and temperatures, making proper lubrication vital to prevent breakdowns caused by these extreme conditions. Consequently, the turbocharger receives a continuous oil supply, acting as both a lubricant and a coolant.

Ensuring a sufficient supply of oil is crucial, as any shortage or problems with the oil supply lines can lead to irreversible damage to the turbo. Furthermore, impurities present in the engine oil can also harm the turbocharger components. Hence, it is essential to diligently monitor the engine oil level and quality to maintain both the engine and the turbo in optimal condition.

 

What is the meaning of a twin-turbo engine?

  • A twin-turbo engine is a forced-induction system that employs two turbochargers to enhance engine performance.
  • Unlike a single-turbo setup, a twin-turbo system divides the exhaust gases into two separate streams. Each stream drives its own turbocharger.
  • The two turbos can be identical or differ in size and may operate in parallel or sequentially.

 

The key difference lies in how the turbos spool up.

  • In parallel twin-turbo, both turbos work together at lower RPMs, providing rapid response and power across the entire RPM range.
  • A sequential twin-turbo uses one smaller turbo for low RPMs, reducing lag, and a larger turbo for higher RPMs, optimising power at top-end performance. This design enhances engine efficiency, power delivery, and responsiveness.

 

How to get rid of turbo lag?

Turbo lag refers to a little response delay when you push the accelerator pedal. This happens due to insufficient exhaust gas to spin the turbo's turbine wheel quickly. It is noticeable mainly during aggressive driving or sudden acceleration from a standstill. However, modern cars have largely addressed this issue, making it less of a concern for everyday drivers.

Car manufacturers often use twin-turbo setups to overcome turbo lag, which involves fitting two turbochargers to the engine. This approach helps minimise or eliminate turbo lag, providing a more responsive driving experience.

Another effective method to eliminate turbo lag is by using a supercharger. Since a supercharger is driven directly by the engine's power, there is no delay in delivering the boost, ensuring immediate response when accelerating.

 

Tips to make turbo cars more efficient

  • Upgrade your intercooler. This component improves the air's density and oxygen content, enhancing the combustion process and increasing the engine's power and efficiency. However, stock intercoolers can become saturated with heat after prolonged or intense driving, which reduces their cooling ability. You can upgrade to an aftermarket intercooler with a larger surface area and better airflow.
  • A soiled air filter restricts the airflow to the turbocharger, reducing its efficiency and performance. A clogged air filter can also allow dust and debris to enter the engine, damaging the turbocharger and other components. Regularly inspect your vehicle's air filter and replace it if it appears dirty or damaged.
  • Monitor your boost gauge. It is a device that measures the amount of pressure that the turbocharger produces in the intake manifold. Any abnormal readings or fluctuations indicate a malfunction or a leak.
  • Avoid modifications, as some alterations that aim to increase the power output of your turbo car can also increase the stress on the turbocharger and its related components, reducing their lifespan and reliability.
  • The best way to make your turbo car more efficient is to follow your maintenance schedule as your manufacturer or mechanic recommends. This can help prevent problems with your turbocharger system and improve your overall engine performance and efficiency.

 

Things to avoid while using a turbo engine

When using a car equipped with a turbo engine, make sure you avoid the following mistakes.

  • Do not rev the engine when it is cold. A cold engine is more prone to wear and tear, and revving it can damage the turbocharger and other components. Letting the engine warm up gradually before driving or accelerating hard is better.
  • Do not turn off the engine immediately after driving. If you turn off the engine right after driving, the hot gases can cook the oil inside the turbocharger and cause clogging or damage. Let the engine idle for a few minutes to cool down the turbocharger and circulate fresh oil.
  • Do not lug the engine at low speeds. This can damage the pistons, valves, and other engine parts. It is better to shift down to a lower gear and maintain a moderate RPM level.
  • Turbo engines require higher octane fuel and premium synthetic oil to prevent knocking, overheating, and oil degradation. Using cheap or low-quality fuel or oil can reduce the performance and lifespan of the turbo engine.
  • Do not floor the throttle when coming out of a corner. When you accelerate hard from a low speed, the turbocharger has to spool up quickly to provide a boost. This can cause turbo lag, affecting the handling and stability of the car, especially when cornering.

 

Frequently Asked Questions

Q1. Does a turbo engine use more fuel than a regular engine?

Yes, a turbocharged engine typically uses more fuel than a regular engine. The turbocharger increases the engine's power output by forcing more air into the cylinders, which also demands additional fuel to maintain the higher combustion rate.

 

Q2. Is a turbo engine better than a regular engine?

The answer to this question depends upon specific preferences and requirements. Due to forced induction, turbocharged engines offer better power-to-weight ratios and improved fuel efficiency at higher speeds. However, non-turbo ones are simpler, more reliable, and often preferred for everyday driving and low-maintenance needs.

 

Q3. Is a turbo engine recommended for city driving?

A turbo engine can be suitable for city driving, providing extra power when needed. Still, it may not be the most efficient choice due to frequent stop-and-go traffic where turbocharging might not get fully utilised.

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