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Turbochargers vs. superchargers – how they work

Banner with a turbocharger beside a supercharger

Turbochargers and superchargers can sometimes get confused. With "chargers" in their names, it’s easy to mistake turbochargers and superchargers as one-to-one engine devices. However, there are a few significant differences that put them on opposite ends of the automotive spectrum.

Turbochargers and superchargers: The function of induction

Before discussing their differences, it helps to understand what links turbochargers and superchargers from an engineering standpoint. Turbochargers and superchargers are forced induction systems. These systems use compressors to push compressed air into the engine. The compressed air allows for extra oxygen to reach the engine, which helps create an extra boost of power.

The main difference between turbochargers and superchargers is their energy source. Turbochargers use the vehicle’s exhaust gas; two fans – a turbine fan and a compressor fan – rotate from exhaust gas. Conversely, superchargers are powered directly by the engine; a belt pulley drives gears that cause a compressor fan to rotate.

Powered differently: Turbochargers and superchargers
Diagram showing the difference in turbocharger and supercharger power sources

Turbochargers find a new purpose in modern engines

Known best for their use in high-performance cars and racing applications, turbochargers and superchargers can command a lot more power from engines. However, only turbochargers have recently experienced mainstream success and are now being leveraged by major automakers for their fuel economy benefits. Everything from sedans to light-duty trucks feature turbo options, allowing drivers to enjoy plenty of horsepower from a fuel-efficient engine.

Although superchargers are still relevant in the automotive industry, they’re not part of the latest industrywide focus on fuel economy. Superchargers are primarily installed for their boost in horsepower. Regardless of the application, turbochargers and superchargers create extreme operating conditions, placing more stress on engine oil. Mobil 1™ advanced full synthetic motor oil provides proven performance in some of the toughest conditions. It’s why automakers with celebrated turbocharged engines (e.g., Mercedes-AMG, Porsche) and supercharged engines (e.g., Corvette) use Mobil 1 motor oil as the factory fill oil in some of their vehicle models.

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