What Does a Turbo Do In a Car?


Also known as turbochargers, the turbo used to only be found under the bonnet of the fastest performing vehicles. However, today, most car manufacturers employ the trusty turbo for their cars. In this guide we’re looking at exactly what a turbo does and how it works.

A turbo increases the efficiency and power of an engine. How does it do this? The turbo forces more air (and fuel) into the engine which causes a bigger explosion. This means more power for your car – sounds good, right?

What difference does a turbocharger make?

The turbo extracts more power out of an engine and can help a small engined car outperform a larger car. The turbo component is a snail-shaped tube. It’s made up of a turbine and a compressor. Turbos increase torque, or an engine’s strength, particularly at low revs. It’s particularly useful in small petrol engines as these are often unable to produce much torque at high revs without the help of a turbo.

Car Turbocharger Cross Section

It’s not just about power. It’s also a way to make engines more efficient. This point should turn the heads of both petrolheads and motorists who are looking to save money on running costs.

Previously, cars had naturally-aspirated engines. Back in 2015, even published a feature questioning whether the dominance of the turbo was the beginning of the end of the naturally aspirated engine.

The pledge to lower car emissions in the 90s, alongside a push for greater efficiency within the car industry, saw the turbo take favour. The turbo was able to generate a lot more power with a much smaller engine. The need for less cylinders also meant less friction. So all in all turbos could generally outperform the natural aspirators.

Any downsides?

We’ve spoken a lot about the advantages of the trusty turbo, but are there any downsides? With more primitive turbochargers, motorists reported a ‘lag’ between putting their foot on the accelerator pedal and the turbo becoming fully engaged. Also some of the classic naturally-aspirated cars offered a more sonic, classically sporty soundtrack, which some petrolheads will prefer.

How to know if your car has a turbo engine?

So, if you’re won over by the turbo, you’re probably wondering how to know if your car has one. Or, you may be wondering the opposite – whether there are any modern cars that don’t have turbo engines?

With the rise of the turbo, most new cars are fitted with one. However, there are some companies that are still offering the non-turbo. These are few and far between though, so you’re most likely to have luck finding a classic naturally-aspirated engine car in a used car showroom. If you’re looking to buy a classic car without a turbo, you can visit your to see if they have a modern or older non-turbo car, such as the Mazda MX-5 RF, Toyota GT86 or the Porsche 911 GT3.

Hopefully, this guide has answered your questions about what a turbo is and how it works.


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