17 Supercharger vs Turbocharger Pros and Cons

Superchargers and turbochargers both offer a performance benefit to your engine. Both options are forced induction systems, which mean they force air into the engine of your vehicle. When more air is present, then higher levels of power creation become possible because of the design. These two options have several similarities and differences to consider, starting with the fact that you can boost power by up to 50% with either one.

The supercharger bolts to your engine, connecting to it with a belt between itself and your crankshaft. When the engine of the vehicle spins, the supercharger also moves to force air into the engine. The amount of air you can pull depends on the size of the pulley involved. Small pulleys make the unit spin faster, which gives you an extra boost.

Turbochargers function in a way that is similar to a supercharger, but with one key exception. Its design includes an exhaust housing instead of a pulley. It runs off the gases produced from the vehicular exhaust. Those gases cause the turbine to spin, forcing air into the engine through the compressor.

Here are the crucial supercharger vs. turbocharger pros and cons to review.

List of the Supercharger vs. Turbocharger Pros

1. There are more smog-legal options with a supercharger.
Superchargers do not impact the exhaust system of a vehicle like a turbocharger does. That means there aren’t nearly as many modifications or alternations to smog generation. You can still have a blow-off valve and an intercooler with a supercharger, but you won’t have the wastegate that the turbocharger typically requires. That means a vehicle with a supercharger equipped is more likely to pass a smog test, reducing the expense of controlling emissions that turbochargers create. That keeps this option budget-friendly.

2. Superchargers require less maintenance than turbochargers.
There are several reasons to like a turbocharger, especially since it is more of a back-end system than a front-end option. You’re using exhaust to force more air, creating a sound that is intensely cool. That setup also requires added maintenance costs to your vehicle upkeep which aren’t necessary if you decide to use a supercharger instead.

The cost difference in maintenance is like taking your car in for an oil change versus having a complete transmission rebuild occur. The complexities of the turbocharger make it an expensive option.

3. Superchargers offer a lower spinning rate.
The average supercharger rotates at 15,000 rotations per minute (RPM), delivering their boost at a much lower rate than the 50,000 RPM offered by some turbochargers. Because superchargers operate well at the lower spinning speeds, you have better performance throughout the entire acceleration profile of the vehicle. Turbochargers tend to work better when you use them at higher engine speeds. That means you receive more reliability when installing a supercharger vs. the installation of a turbocharger for your engine.

4. The supercharger operates at cooler temperatures.
Both superchargers and turbochargers compress air as they force it into the engine. Whenever you do that to air, you’ll increase its temperature. Both products have the fuel/air charge become a primary limiting factor in the final performance profile. If you get them too hot, detonation of your mixture with a spark ignition engine creates damage. Compared to the turbocharger, you’ll find that superchargers tend to operate at a cooler temperature, giving you more options for use on custom setups where you must tailor a specific performance profile.

5. There is no lag involved when you choose a supercharger.
Because the supercharger is connected to the crankshaft with a pulley system, the benefits of performance it offers occur immediately. There’s no need to wait for the engine to produce exhaust to encourage an increased intake of air for improvements. The power delivery is always immediate when you choose the supercharger vs. the turbocharger because of the connection to the crankshaft. That’s why anyone wanting a specific response at any time when handling their vehicle should choose this option first.

6. Superchargers offer better lubrication options.
The design of a supercharger today often includes a self-contained system which features automatic lubrication. That design reduces the impact of the higher temperatures on the vehicle, reducing the number of oil changes which are necessary to limit the impact of wear. You’ll discover that oil deterioration occurs less rapidly when using a supercharger compared to the times when a turbocharger is used on the same engine.

7. A supercharger doesn’t require after-cooling.
The heating issues created by compressed air require after-cooling when using a turbocharger because of its exhaust-use design. You must lower the discharge temperatures from the turbocharger to receive the higher performance levels you want. Forcing hot air into the engine reduces the amount of power achieved. Superchargers work on the front end of the system, compressing new air into the engine instead of exhaust, which means the power requirements for after-cooling are not required at all.

That design offsets some of the power loss experienced by the requirement to attach the supercharger to the engine by a pulley or belt.

8. There are fewer vehicle modifications required with a supercharger.
The design of a supercharger doesn’t require a change to the physical configuration of your vehicle. It is fitted wherever connections are convenient through the drive belt and its brackets. Your exhaust and air cleaner stay intact, and no internal modifications to the engine are necessary to receive an extra boost.Turbochargers become an integrated component of your exhaust system. If your vehicle comes equipped with a standard exhaust, then significant modifications are sometimes necessary. You might need additional piping and cooling components to help the unit work correctly. Some must have heat insulation installed with them to protect the engine and under-hood components from excessive temperature exposures too.

9. You have more stability with a supercharger.
The performance profile of a supercharger moves upward with a consistent improvement curve. You know how the engine performs based on where you are at in the acceleration profile. When using a turbocharger, the boost threshold is different. You can receive instant power surges at the higher RPMs as you approach top speed, which can lead to instability for the driver. A shutdown sometimes occurs in some vehicles because the issue triggers the governor for the engine, capping your levels until the environment restores itself.

10. Superchargers can be fitted to almost anything.
Superchargers were initially referred to as “blowers” because they used to funnel fresh air into mineshafts for workers. That design means they can be fitted to almost any engine type in use today as well. You’ll find them on airplanes, boats, trains, and even lawnmowers to improve the performance of the unit.

List of the Supercharger vs Turbocharger Cons

1. It connects directly to the engine.
Turbochargers are more efficient than superchargers because the engine isn’t required to work harder to receive the performance boost. It does not connect directly to the engine. That means you get a faster rotation when comparing superchargers vs. turbochargers with the turbo option, giving you a better option for a performance boost because of its design. You’ll receive more power with less work if you decide on a turbocharger.

2. The turbocharger offers more torque on most setups.
Superchargers and turbocharger both produce plenty of power. They feel great when you engage them, giving you the extra acceleration and performance wanted with your vehicle. With its system of power delivery and added torque, however, the turbocharger does create immediate results with a steeper success curve when compared to a supercharger. There are always going to be exceptions to this disadvantage, but in general terms, the average turbocharger delivers more torque than the average supercharger.

3. The cost of a supercharger is higher than a turbocharger.
The cost of a supercharger varies on the engine type you’re modifying for your vehicle. The equipment cost to modify a 1995 Buick engine, for example, hovers around $750 to $850 if you do the work on your own. Installing a Whipple supercharger kit on a modern engine might cost you around $3,500, going up to $5,000 if someone does the work for you. The median cost is about $2,200 right now.

Most turbochargers are priced below $1,000, with entry-level models priced as low as $400, depending on your make and model. Smaller cars can sometimes be priced even less. Even if you require a Dodge 6.7L Cummins turbocharger, you’ll find the price is still around $1,500 for refurbished models.

4. Superchargers reduce the efficiency of your engine.
The primary disadvantage of a supercharger vs. a turbocharger is that you’re robbing the engine of performance to offer it more performance. Because it runs from a pulley that’s connected to your crankshaft, you’re powering an air pump by using another air pump to give it some juice. From a purely power-generating capacity, there is much less energy produced through the use of a supercharger because of its connectivity, despite the advantages which are present.

5. The longevity of the engine becomes an issue with superchargers.
Superchargers (and turbochargers) expose the internal components of your engine to higher temperatures and pressures when forcing in more air. Those elements increase the rate of wear-and-tear of your engine components, which reduces the longevity of an engine not built to withstand these issues. Whenever you choose a forced-induction system, it is best to build the engine from the ground up, rather than use stock internals, to create the long-term results you want.

6. Superchargers tend to be louder than their counterparts.
If you’re concerned about the noise produced by your engine, then turbochargers will be the better option. Improved supercharger designs limit the noise pollution generated, but similar improvements to the turbocharger design virtually eliminate annoying noises when the unit runs. The supercharger tends to be more durable than the turbocharger, but the latter reduces turbine noise almost entirely, allowing you to enjoy the added rumble of a happy engine performing at high speeds.

7. Turbochargers improve the fuel efficiency of your vehicle.
If you drive a lot of highway miles, or you’re behind the wheel of a high-performance racing vehicle, then the fuel economy boost you receive is up to 40%. Superchargers do not provide a similar boost. You must choose a premium fuel product to receive this boost, so the cost of your fuel does go up somewhat, even with the improvement. This turbocharger benefit does negate some of the emissions issues that some setups create.

These supercharger vs. turbocharger pros and cons look at your preference for creating more performance. Choosing a supercharger means you’ll have performance always available to you with a low-maintenance profile, but at a higher initial cost. Turbochargers cost less, but then they make up the difference with their maintenance requirements due to their complexities. All-around results require a supercharger, but if you want rapid performance improvements, a turbocharger could be the better option.

About the Author
Brandon Miller has a B.A. from the University of Texas at Austin. He is a seasoned writer who has written over one hundred articles, which have been read by over 500,000 people. If you have any comments or concerns about this blog post, then please contact the Green Garage team here.