What is a turbo and how does it work?

Basic Information

A turbocharger is basically an air pump providing the engine with forced induction that is generated from the waste exhaust gases expelled from the engine.

Engine power is proportional to the amount of air and fuel that can get into the cylinders to burn. All things being equal, larger engines flow more air and as such will produce more power. Turbocharging at the simplest level forces more air through the engine, creating more power without increasing the engine's capacity. As engines produce more power, the ultimate objective is to draw more air into the cylinder achieved by using larger compressor and turbine wheel sizes.

Below are two simple diagrams showing the major components of a turbocharger and the operation of a turbocharger installation.











Illustration Key

1    Compressor Wheel 6    Bearings  
2    Turbine Wheel 7    Oil Inlet  
3    Compressor Cover 8    Heatshield  
4    Turbine Housing 9    Ring Seals  
5    Shaft 10  Water Inlet/Outlet  














Illustration Key

1    Compressor Inlet 5    Exhaust Valve  
2    Compressor Discharge 6    Turbine Inlet  
3    Charge air cooler (Intercooler) 7    Turbine Discharge  
4    Intake Valve    

Turbo Installation Components

  • The air filter (not shown) through which ambient air passes before entering the Compressor (1)
  • The air is then compressed which raises the air’s density (mass/unit volume) (2)
  • Many turbocharged engines have a charge air cooler (aka intercooler) (3) that cools the compressed air to further increase its density and to increase resistance to detonation
  • After passing through the intake manifold (4), the air enters the engine's cylinders, which contain a fixed volume. Since the air is at elevated density, each cylinder can draw in an increased mass flow rate of air. Higher air mass flow rate allows a higher fuel flow rate (with similar air/fuel ratio). Combusting more fuel results in more power being produced for a given size or displacement
  • Once the fuel is burned in the cylinder it is exhausted during the cylinders exhaust stroke in to the exhaust manifold (5)
  • The high temperature gas then continues on to the turbine (6). The turbine creates backpressure on the engine which means engine exhaust pressure is higher than atmospheric pressure
  • A pressure and temperature drop occurs (expansion) across the turbine (7), which harnesses the exhaust gas’ energy to provide the power necessary to rotate the turbine wheel, which in turn rotates the compressor wheel of up to 240,000 RPM.



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