What is the difference between superchargers and turbochargers?

I looked it up before but I really don't understand what the difference is.

  • If the answer given by @Zaid answers your question, please consider placing an upvote on it. Feb 10, 2015 at 21:11
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2 Answers 2


Both turbochargers and superchargers perform the same function: compress air that will be fed into the engine. In other words, they are glorified air compressors.

As with any compressor, both need energy in order to compress the air, which is where the difference between the two devices becomes relevant.

Superchargers are belt-driven or chain-driven, so the compressor rotor is mechanically coupled to the rotation of the engine; when the engine rotates, the supercharger vanes rotate and compress air.

How Superchargers Work

Turbochargers use a completely different energy source - hot exhaust gases. The idea here is to make use of the hot gases to spin a turbine, which turns a shaft that turns the compressor vanes. As the hot exhaust gases perform work in turning the shaft, they cool down.

How Turbochargers Work

The difference is concisely captured on this HowStuffWorks page:

Unlike turbochargers, which use the exhaust gases created by combustion to power the compressor, superchargers draw their power directly from the crankshaft. Most are driven by an accessory belt, which wraps around a pulley that is connected to a drive gear. The drive gear, in turn, rotates the compressor gear. The rotor of the compressor can come in various designs, but its job is to draw air in, squeeze the air into a smaller space and discharge it into the intake manifold.

Comparing the two...

Both technologies have their advantages and disadvantages; the "better" choice depends on a number of factors which include design philosophy, cost, available space, controller complexity and desired torque/power gains.

Having said that, there are plenty of "forced-induction" configurations out in the wild, ranging from single superchargers to twin-turbo and three-turbo (!) setups. In fact, some VW engines operate a turbocharger and a supercharger in tandem.

  • This could be moved to wiki. If you have time, compare other things like response curve, lag, efficiency etc.
    – chilljeet
    Feb 11, 2015 at 6:31
  • Turbochargers are a subset of superchargers. See Juann's answer below. The source of impelling energy is the only distinction.
    – Bob Cross
    Feb 11, 2015 at 17:42
  • @BobCross : As alluded to in my answer, they are both compressors.
    – Zaid
    Feb 11, 2015 at 17:54
  • I'd love a link to a reference about the VW engines, if you have time. Either way, +1. Nice Answer. Feb 11, 2015 at 22:58
  • @LynnCrumbling : They're mainly the VW TSI engines. You can google "vw twincharger engine". Also, there's a Wikipedia entry.
    – Zaid
    Feb 12, 2015 at 3:25

A turbo is a type of supercharger. Superchargers all compress the intake air before pushing it into the engine. A turbine-supercharger (aka "turbo") is powered by a turbine wheel connected to the exhaust. Other superchargers are driven via a pulley system directly from the engine.

That's all really. Conceptually speaking, a centrifugal supercharger and turbocharger are the closest in terms of performance and function. They both provide increasing levels of boost as RPM increases (within the limits of their efficiency). The only difference is that a centrifugal charger does not need to "spool up" because its speed is dictated by RPM, while a turbo's speed is dictated by the speed and volume of the exhaust gases, so there's a small amount of "lag" while the gases increase in proportion to how much boost is fed in.

Pro tip: it is possible to run some superchargers without installing an intercooler because they produce much less heat than a turbo. Although they eat a lot of torque in the process of increasing performance, so they are less efficient than turbos and will be worse for fuel consumption.

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