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What is turbocharging and how it works

We’ve been talking a lot about turbocharged engines in 2012 and odds are that we’ll continue talking about them this year as well considering the general trend of the car-making industry towards smaller and more efficient engines. So what is turbocharging anyway?

First of all let’s start with a bit of history because very few people know that turbocharged engines first appeared during the First World War and ever since then have been used to generate more power without increasing the displacement of an engine. However turbocharging has only truly started being popular in the past two decades or so thanks to turbocharged diesel passenger cars, and more recently the turbo charged engine is finding its way into small petrol engines in order to improve their fuel economy.

But going back to WW1 for a bit longer, the first turbochargers were used on airplane engines – since that’s where the technology was still in its infancy and more power was needed to keep the airplanes in the air. However, quickly after that – during the 1920s – the technology was introduced to the large diesel engines that were used on trucks, trains and ships.

The first turbocharged cars appeared in the 1970s and ever since then various technological improvements have increased the appeal of turbocharged engines by reducing the time needed for the turbo’s boost to kick in – called turbo-lag.

Now that we’re done with the very short look into the history of the turbocharger it’s time to actually explain how it works.

What a turbocharger basically does is helps the engines breathe better and as a result perform better. They do this by recycling the engine’s exhaust gas to spin a different turbine wheel that is connected to a compressor wheel via a shaft, which in turn compresses intake air and then forces it into the cylinder. This compressed air allows for more fuel to be burnt and more power to be produced at the same engine speed.

Many turbochargers now control the maximum intake pressure or the boost with a wastegate valve so that some of the exhaust gasses bypass the turbine, thus improving low-speed performance without the risk of dangerously overboosting at higher speeds.

Most turbochargers also run an intercooler, which is like a radioator that cools the intake air after it has been compressed, thus increasing its density and the overall power potential while also guarding against knocking or detonation in petrol engines.

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