Installing a Turbocharger or Supercharger

A Major Engine Power Upgrade

Turbo or Super
Installing a Supercharger - TorqStorm Superchargers on YouTube.com

Adding power is one of the most popular modifications people make to their engines. In fact, the practice of using a turbocharger to do that job dates back to 1905. Superchargers go even further back in time to 1878. So it’s no wonder that both have seen massive improvements and widespread adoption these days. Thanks to that acceptance, more individuals than ever before want to add turbocharging or supercharging to their vehicles. Still, this isn’t anything like adding custom seats to your ride. The actual act can be overwhelming. We’re going to try and simplify that as much as possible with this straightforward guide.


Turbo or Super
Turbocharger Engine - Mighty Car Mods on YouTube.com

Turbochargers use spent exhaust gas to drive a compressor wheel that in turn, compresses intake gases entering the engine. To accomplish that task, all exhaust gas must be piped into the turbocharger. So an exhaust manifold that will collect and flow into the turbo must be bought or created depending on your personal application. In addition, another pipe, usually called a downpipe or a dump pipe, needs to be fitted to the turbocharger as well. This will allow the gas that’s been used to spin the compressor wheel to then exit the turbo and ultimately to exit the exhaust. On the other side of the turbo, you’ll need to feed fresh air. Once that air is compressed by the turbo it will need to be routed into the engine. Typically custom piping is needed for both. Every turbo needs oil and coolant to keep it functioning so you’ll need to tap into a source for each and create a return line for each.


Turbo or Super
Supercharger Engine - Donut Media on YouTube.com

Superchargers use a belt-driven system to compress air that’s being fed into the engine. To that end, you’ll need to either buy a complete kit that is specific for your vehicle or fashion many custom parts. The belt length, supercharger pulley size, and intake routing are all important factors that require thoughtful consideration based on the engine in question. In addition, if building a custom kit, the mating surface between the supercharger and the intake manifold must be airtight. Many builders will create a custom adapter plate to accomplish this. Superchargers, just like turbochargers, require both oil and coolant to keep them functioning. To that end, you’ll need to find a place to tap into each and a way to return those fluids as well.

Supporting Modifications

Neither a supercharger or a turbocharger will do any good without some supporting mods. In fact, adding either modification could destroy an engine without these supporting modifications that apply to both power adders.

Engine Management

Turbo or Super
Turbocharger Kit - Driven Fab on YouTube.com

Every modern vehicle uses a form of engine management. Many refer to this part as the ECU. In effect, it’s the car’s brain. Among many of its functions, it controls when the spark happens and when the fuel is injected into the cylinder. Installing a turbocharger or supercharger drastically changes the ratio of air to fuel in the cylinder. To that end, it’s a vital modification for any engine that’s adding a supercharger or a turbocharger. In fact, it’s so important that we wouldn’t add a supercharger or a turbo without it.

If you’re buying a full kit for your vehicle it will most likely come with a form of engine management but check to be sure. If you’re building a custom kit you’ll want to find an engine tuning service in your area. This service will allow a trained professional to tune your engine with your modifications to its maximum potential. It will also allow them to decrease the risk of engine damage as a result of the modifications.

Additional Modifications

Turbo or Super
Injectors - Donut Media on YouTube.com

While not absolutely necessary in some situations, there are a number of upgrades that will allow your vehicle to make more power, more safely, and more consistently. Here are some of the most important.

Larger fuel injectors are a vital step in keeping an engine safe and healthy after adding a supercharger or turbocharger. Remember that you’re adding a lot more air with either mod. In turn, you’ll want to add more fuel as well to get the most power from the engine. In fact, without adding more fuel, engine damage is almost certainly going to happen. In addition, consider upgrading or at least installing a brand new fuel pump. That will ensure that the injectors will have a constant flow even after you’ve turned the boost up.

Adding compressed air to the engine adds heat and heat can lead to all sorts of problems. To combat that, intercoolers actually cool the air before sending it into the engine. Mostly seen on turbocharged cars, some superchargers are starting to incorporate them as well. Additional piping and routing will need to be created and all of it must remain airtight and capable of handling whatever pressure your intake charge is set to.

A Quick Summary

Turbo or Super
Installed Supercharger Engine - Engineering Explained on YouTube.com

We’ve only scratched the surface of what’s important when it comes to turbocharging or supercharging your engine. In short, let’s summarize what we’ve learned. Make sure you have built or bought all the associated parts and pieces required to add the turbo or supercharger. This includes manifolds, adapter plates, and associated tubing.

Make sure your application has a healthy flow of oil and water into and out of the power adder. Ensure the engine management is properly calibrated. Now add supporting modifications like larger injectors, a bigger fuel pump, or an intercooler. Keep in mind that until the engine management is complete, the car shouldn’t be driven hard or even revved hard. The risk for damage is simply too high.

Turbo or Super
Turbocharged 2010 Silverado - POWERNATION on YouTube.com

Many choose to do all of the supporting mods they can during the turbocharger or supercharger installation process. This allows them to get the engine management sorted out one time as opposed to multiple times after each successive supporting modification is installed.

There’s no doubt that it’s easier to do this job than ever before. That doesn’t mean it will be a walk in the park though. Be prepared before you remove a single bolt or screw, have the parts ready, and prepare a plan for your specific application. That will allow you to have a more seamless installation experience and it’ll leave you with lots more power than you ever had before.

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Stephen Rivers

Stephen Rivers is a car enthusiast who loves all things built with passion, extending to nearly all car cultures. After obtaining an occupational studies degree in sports medicine, Stephen turned his attention to sports cars. He was employed as an auto shop manager, spent time in auto sales, and worked as a software developer for a racing company, but Stephen began writing about cars over 10 years ago. When he's not in front of a computer screen, he's racing his own Bugeye Subaru WRX in as many autocross and rallycross competitions as he can.

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