Let’s Dive Into Superchargers and Why They Whine
You’ll likely never be a pro funny car driver, but a supercharger can help your car look like one (if you squint really hard).
If you’ve never heard the intoxicating whine of a Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat at full chat, you’re missing out. Besides the massive V8 moving heaven and earth underneath the hood, the car has an extra power boost courtesy of a truly massive supercharger – 2.3-liters to be exact.
The supercharger is designed to bring more air into the engine, and as a result, the mill can generate MOAR horsepower. Car Bibles’ editors have seen more than a few supercharged cars over the years, as well as driven and built them, and we are here to give you the basics. Whether you’re looking to buy a supercharged car, hit the drag strip with a vengeance, or add more power to your daily driver, we’ve got you covered.
Let’s get rolling.
What Is a Supercharger?
To get more power out of an engine, two things must be available: Air and fuel. The vehicle could pump more fuel into the combustion chamber, but it wouldn’t do much good without an accompanying increase in the amount of air for combustion.
In the simplest explanation possible, superchargers pressurize intake air above atmospheric pressure, which means more air in the combustion chamber. Along with more air comes more fuel, creating a more dramatic explosion and more power as a result.
How Are Superchargers Different From Turbochargers?
Both turbochargers and superchargers work to increase air pressure, and the amount of air, that reaches the combustion chamber. The main difference between the two is in how they are powered.
Turbocharger power comes from the flow of exhaust gases, which drives a turbine. Whereas a supercharger’s power comes from a belt or chain connected to the crankshaft, which requires some engine power to work. That means that superchargers take some of the engine’s power in order to create more power in return.
The upside is that superchargers provide immediate power thanks to power always being available. Because of their power source, turbochargers experience lag, which happens when the pressure from exhaust gases needs time to build.
Are Superchargers Better Than Turbochargers?
Superchargers and turbochargers are designed to do the same basic thing, which is to increase the amount of air available to an engine so that it can burn more fuel and generate more power as a result.
The biggest drawback to using turbochargers is turbo lag, which takes time to overcome as gases need time to build pressure. With superchargers, it’s efficiency, because they require some of the engine’s power to operate. Saying one is better than the other is tough because they’re each better in certain situations.
There’s a reason why the Dodge Demon uses a supercharger, which provides instantaneous, gut-wrenching acceleration. At the same time, there’s also a reason why most automakers stuff turbochargers under the hoods of their cars. They allow manufacturers to use smaller engines that provide more fuel efficiency without totally sacrificing performance. If we’re looking purely at the numbers of each type of forced induction used today, turbochargers are far more widely used in new vehicles.
What Models Currently Feature a Supercharger?
Stellantis (formerly Fiat Chrysler Automobiles) isn’t scared of the supercharger, and neither is Jaguar Land Rover. The brands that live under those two corporate umbrellas make the vast majority of supercharged vehicles today.
- Dodge Challenger Hellcat and Hellcat Redeye
- Dodge Charger Hellcat and Hellcat Redeye
- Dodge Durango Hellcat
- Jeep Grand Cherokee Trackhawk
- Ram 1500 TRX
- Land Rover Discovery
- Land Rover Range Rover, Sport, and Velar
- Jaguar F-Pace
- Jaguar F-Type
- Jaguar XF
- Jaguar XJ
- Volvo S60, V60, and XC60
- Volvo S90 and XC90
- Lotus Evora
- Ford Mustang Shelby GT500
Superchargers in Racing
Superchargers have been in use in racing almost since the beginning. Pre-World War 2, companies like Bugatti, Bentley, Mercedes, Fiat, and Alfa Romeo all used a version of a supercharger, led by Mercedes who started supercharging road cars in 1921.
After the war, hot-rodders started slapping superchargers onto V8 engines as a way to get more power and performance on the drag strip. Around the same time, Formula 1 allowed engines of up to 4.5 liters without a supercharger and up to 1.5 liters with a supercharger to power cars on the grid.
Leave it to the drag racers to have the most fun, though. The last few decades have seen superchargers come into their own as a way to take big-power engines to the next level. Supercharged engines are capable of making over 10,000 horsepower, but the units used in these applications won’t work on a road car. In some racing systems, the engine has to be able to spare 750 to 1,000 horsepower just to power the supercharger.
Car Bibles answers all your burning questions!
Q: How Much Does It Cost To Supercharge A Car?
A: Assuming your car doesn’t need any major modifications to fit or run a supercharger, you can count on spending at least $1,500 and as much as $10,000 or more for a serious unit. It’s best to take your time and choose the supercharger that best fits your vehicle and that best delivers the power gains you’re hoping to see. If cost stands in the way, wait. Don’t cheap out to get a supercharger faster.
Q: Are Superchargers Reliable?
A: Superchargers are generally considered to be more reliable than turbochargers, but that’s not to say that a turbocharged car can’t run for tens of thousands of miles without issue. It’s important to remember, though, that both turbos and superchargers expose the engine to greater air pressures and more violent combustion than it was designed for at the factory, so the engine could end up becoming the point of weakness.
Q: Are Superchargers Illegal?
A: Superchargers themselves are not illegal, and you won’t go to jail for installing one on your car. You may, however, fail an emissions check or void your warranty if you’re not careful. Check with your DMV to be sure that you’re not going to run afoul of emissions laws and talk to your dealer if your car is under warranty to be sure that you’re not voiding any coverage.
Q: Do Superchargers and Turbochargers Make Noise?
A: Yes, and depending on who you ask, that could be part of the charm. Turbos make a characteristic whistle/whine as they spool up and whoosh sound as they blow off excess air. Superchargers make a prominent whine that can be heard outside the car.
The Car Bibles’ Collection of Supercharger Fun Facts
You know you want more supercharger facts!
- Superchargers consume engine power to operate, and some require as much as 1,000 horsepower just to spin up and provide extra go-power to the engine.
- Superchargers have been around since the late 1800s when one was fitted to a two-stroke engine.
- The trademark supercharger whine is due to the gears inside turning, combined with the belt driving it and air flow.
- Superchargers, such as the 2.3-liter units used in some Hellcat vehicles, can be larger than the entire engine in some cars.
Video on superchargers
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Got a supercharged car? It can be hard to find products to keep your engine running smoothly. That’s why Car Bibles’ editors have selected a few of their favorites to get you running on all cylinders. They include Mechanix Work Gloves, Pro-Lift jack stands, and Chevron Techron Concentrate Plus Fuel System Cleaner.
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