Thinking about turbocharging your car’s engine? Not a bad idea. Turbocharged engines are faster, and actually offer more in the way of benefits besides increased speed. But, where there are benefits there are drawbacks.
Plenty of automakers are creating cars with the turbocharged option. Lexus of Pennsylvania is no exception. In fact, the manufacturer has big plans to upgrade more of its models with turbocharged engines.
Could one of those be right for you? Read on to discover the pros and cons of a turbocharged engine…
To Turbocharge or Not? That is the Question…
When it comes to getting more bang for your buck in the speed department, a turbocharged engine is the way to go.
For as racy as they sound, they were actually created as a very practical solution to an energy problem, specifically, the energy crisis of the 1970s. With oil in high demand, but short supply, automakers had to create cars that could offer better fuel economy for the consumer. So, engines decreased in size and more and more consumers wanted to purchase turbocharged vehicles or had turbochargers installed. What they got was a smaller engine with greater fuel efficiency and more power.
However, like all burgeoning technology, the turbocharged trend wasn’t without its setbacks. Some of the engines produced were unreliable and so, after their hey-day in 1980s, turbochargers faded away under the growing shadow of larger, more fuel-efficient engines.
But, as Carol Ann famously said in Poltergeist, “they’re back.”
We are once again in an era of uncertainty when it comes to energy sources. Ford is leading the charge and intends to opt for twin-turbo V6 engines in lieu of the larger V8s. This is the brand that coined the term, “Ecoboost” that you so often see on spec sheets. You can find just about all Ford models have an Ecoboost engine option these days.
Getting back to Lexus…the manufacturer announced at this year’s auto show in Detroit that it will equip more of its models with the turbocharged four-cylinder 2.0-liter engine featured in the NX200t, which generates 235 horsepower. While exact details are being kept under wraps, this news would make more Lexus way more competitive with its European rivals, like Audi, Mercedes, and BMW, all of whom utilize turbocharged technology.
It’s like the pony wars of the luxury line!
How Does a Turbocharger Work?
Simply put, a turbocharger is a pump, a type of gas compressor, that pushes air into the engine’s cylinder. Once combined with fuel, the engine gets increased combustion pressure, making it more powerful and able to burn more fuel.
Since the turbochargers get their power from the energy coming out of the exhaust pipe, which would usually just go to waste, the turbocharger actually makes the engine more efficient.
Some estimates put that increased efficiency up to twenty percent greater than regular, naturally-aspirated engines, but even with more modest figures of five to ten percent, the saving is still significant.
In addition to increased efficiency, turbochargers are attractive options for those of us concerned with our carbon footprint. Because turbochargers don’t burn as much fuel as naturally-aspirated engines, they don’t create as much carbon dioxide. So, with a turbocharger you’re actually driving with reduced emissions.
Small, Silent, and Svelte…
Turbocharged engines are much smaller than naturally-aspirated engines because they have fewer cylinders; therefore, they weigh less as well.
An upcoming Ecoboost from Ford, for example, is reportedly thirty pounds lighter than the V8 engine. This is a big deal because the car will weigh less overall and so should deliver enhanced efficiency.
In addition to being smaller, turbochargers are quieter than regular engines, acting almost like a silencer, improving the overall quality of the ride.
So, what’s the problem?
A Few Turbocharger Troubles
Things get a little tricky when it comes to installing the turbocharger. Now, if you purchase an engine already turbocharged, disregard this warning. However, if you are interesting in adding horsepower by installing a turbocharger, you will want to be very selective when it comes to finding the right mechanic to perform the service.
Even the teeniest mistakes during the installation process will render the turbocharger useless and might, in fact, damage the entire engine. A mismatched system, one that is unable to handle a turbocharger, might result in engine failure. Your mechanic needs to evaluate the fuel-to-oxygen ratio in your engine and modify the engine accordingly.
To be more specific, turbochargers are evaluated by the amount of air they are able to deliver in pounds per square inch, or PSI. When it comes to the majority of vehicles, tuning between five and seven PSI allows them to work properly with the additional power. If you tune anywhere between eight and twelve PSI, your engine will need to be supported by a heavy-duty valve train and customized pistons. Any turbochargers exceeding 12 PSI will need to be completely modified in order to avoid any damages to the block or other engine components.
In some cases, the functionality of the turbocharger can wear down the engine, requiring that it be replaced sooner than later. This is especially true if the turbocharger was installed properly, but the driver disregards how to operate it safely.
Just in case the prospect of replacing your engine wasn’t pricey enough, consider the cost of a turbocharger on its own. Turbochargers cost thousands of dollars, not to mention what you’ll have to pay your mechanic for the actual install.
Additionally, you’ll want to decrease the amount of heat created by the turbocharger, which can damage your engine, by installing an intercooler. This is another expensive endeavor.
There is one near-inevitable drawback of turbochargers and that is referred to as “turbo lag.” What this means is the amount of time the turbocharger takes to build enough pressure in the combustion chamber before the added power actually kicks in. While this just sounds like the gripe of the eternally impatient, turbo lag can actually be quite dangerous, especially when maneuvering tight turns, around which your tires are already being tested.
And of course safety is always something to think about. By design, turbochargers are meant to increase a vehicle’s power, allowing it to travel a higher speeds. High speeds plus potential malfunction make for a dangerous combination. Depending on the type of driving you do, for example, if you have to traverse hilly terrain on a regular basis, a turbocharger might be just what you need to do the drive more efficiently. But, if you’re just interested in crushing the commute, a turbocharger might not be in your best interest, with respect to overall cost and safety.
Other things to consider are the warranty on your vehicle and the cost of your insurance. Depending on your warranty, if you install a turbocharger after you’ve purchased or leased the vehicle, you might compromise your coverage.
Even though we are seeing an increase in their popularity and presence in the automotive market, if you do an after purchase install, you might cancel your warranty terms outright. On their own, turbochargers are categorized as racing equipment and so will not be considered a proper match to your engine.
Between turbocharged and non-turbocharged vehicles, turbocharged engines are considerably more expensive to insure. This is especially true for teenaged drivers, who might face up to double the price of insurance premiums to cover a turbocharged car.
As you can see, the decision to purchase a car with a turbocharged engine or pay to have one installed after the fact really just comes down to your own personal driving needs and desires.
If you need and can afford the extra horses, then giddy up and go for it! Just make sure you trust an expert to do the work and be mindful of the extra power at your feet. Put the pedal to the metal responsibly!