What Does it Mean When an Engine Is Supercharged?


When it comes to car engines, most are usually either supercharged or turbocharged. If you’re like most laypeople, you probably don’t know the difference between the two. Both sound amazing, of course, but the names themselves don’t necessarily translate into great or powerful engines. The debate between these two engine types and which one is best is ongoing, but once you learn a little about each of them, you can more easily make a choice as to which one would be best for you when you’re out car shopping.

Just the Basics

To understand a supercharged engine, you need to first understand how an engine works. An internal combustion engine produces power depending on how much fuel it is able to burn and how well the heat is converted into mechanical force. Since fuel needs oxygen to combust, the maximum amount of power you get from an engine depends mostly on how much air it can take in to burn that fuel. This is why force-feeding an engine air is the technique used in these instances.

The more air you force into an engine, the more fuel it will burn and the more power you’ll end up with. Turbochargers and superchargers are air compressors that supply that needed air, and while they are both the same type of item, they work completely differently.

What Is a Turbocharged vs. a Supercharged Engine?

To put more air into an engine, a turbocharger uses the heat energy and velocity of the exhaust gases that come out of the engine’s cylinders to spin a turbine which drives the compressor (or the impeller) so that it can force more air back into the engine. By contrast, while a supercharger also pumps more air into an engine, the air is mechanically driven via a belt on the engine and it runs off of either an electric motor or a crankshaft of a regular engine.

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Pros and Cons of Each Type

As you can imagine, there are advantages and disadvantages to both types of engine, and that’s what we’ll explain here. For starters, the turbocharged engine has a “turbo” or “boost” lag once you press on the accelerator. In other words, there is a slight delay once you press on the accelerator with your right foot, simply because the turbocharger itself needs a bit of time to “spool up” before it delivers that burst of power. This is because the pressure and heat needed to increase the spin on the turbo takes a second or two.

Is this necessarily a bad thing? Not at all, but it is one of the differences between these two types of engines. A supercharger has no lag because its air pump is always spinning, thanks in part to the fact that it is linked directly to the crankshaft of the engine. Because of this, with a supercharged engine, the boost is noticed immediately because there is never any type of lag.

Other differences between turbochargers and superchargers exist as well. For one, they each have drawbacks. While the turbocharged engine’s disadvantage (for some people) is the lag, the supercharged engine’s disadvantage is overall efficiency. Remember that a supercharger uses the power of the engine itself to spin itself, which means that it can use an awful lot of that engine’s power by the time the action is complete. Because of this, superchargers tend to be less fuel-efficient since they grab so much power away from the engine throughout the process.

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Another factor to consider is throttle response. With supercharged engines, you get great throttle response, which in turn instantly develops the mega-power you need to produce the response you’re looking for. Superchargers produce a great kick-in-the-rear throttle response that makes the power of your engine rise drastically and therefore provide you with a better overall driving experience. Some of the well-known vehicles that use supercharged engines include the Chevrolet Corvette Z06 (650 HP), the Dodge SRT Challenger Demons and Hellcats (700+ HP), and the ZR1 (755 HP).

Why Choose a Supercharged Engine?

While both turbochargers and superchargers have their fans, and while supercharged engines may be a bit behind turbocharged engines when it comes to fuel efficiency, they still offer numerous advantages over the turbochargers. These include:

  • They generally cost less than a turbocharged engine
  • They help reduce the amount of smoke coming from the exhaust gases
  • They produce more power than a turbocharger
  • They allow for faster acceleration of the vehicle
  • They produce no lag like a turbocharger does
  • They provide great power at a lower RPM
  • They tend to provide great horsepower overall

There are also three different types of superchargers, which are wise to take into consideration when you’re out shopping for your next vehicle. These three are:

  • Centrifugal superchargers, which get their power via a belt-pulley system in the engine.
  • Root’s type superchargers, which have two epicycloid-shaped rotors that are keyed on two shafts separately. A V-belt or gear train is used to power the remaining shaft.
  • Vane type superchargers, which use several vanes that are mounted on a supercharger drum. Pre-compressed springs are used to push the vanes outside.
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And when you’re considering the advantages of using a supercharged engine, you should also take into consideration its disadvantages. In addition to being less fuel-efficient, superchargers can also be a little less reliable than turbochargers are. This is because it does a number on the engine and is tougher on the engine than turbochargers are, which means your engine likely won’t last as long as it would if you had a turbocharger.

These are just a few of the reasons why, despite the many advantages of using a supercharger, more and more people are choosing turbochargers instead. In this day and age of cities and states making laws regulating fuel consumption, the fuel-efficiency issue alone is enough for many people to choose the turbochargers, even though turbochargers have a lag that you don’t have to suffer with when you’ve chosen a supercharger.

In the end, though, it’s up to you to review the pros and cons of the supercharged engine to make sure it’s right for you, which should be a fairly simple process.

James May

I use more of my time on cars than anything else. If you're like me, then you'll hopefully like what I am writing about cars on this website.

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