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Automotive Technology DIY Auto Repair

How to Turbo a Car: The Step-By-Step Guide

So you want to go fast? That’s one of the goals for every tuner out there who does work on their car. One of the fastest ways to add extra horsepower is by adding forced air induction into your engine. 

Sounds simple, doesn’t it?

It may sound simple, but adding a turbo or supercharger to a naturally aspirated engine has its challenges but isn’t impossible by any stretch. Do you own a car that didn’t come with forced induction from the factory?

Want to learn how to turbo a car if you have never done it before? Take a look at the steps here to tweak your way to a turbocharged engine.

What Is a Turbo Charger?

A turbocharger is a turbine-driven device that forces air into the engine’s combustion chamber.

When air is forced into the engine’s combustion chamber from the turbo’s compressor—along with more fuel—this amps up a higher power output, which increases horsepower and speed.

The goal of a turbocharger is to improve the efficiency of the engine by increasing the amount of air, thereby freeing up more power per engine cycle. 

How to Turbo a Car

There’s plenty of advice on how to turbo a car, but not all of it is right.

Let’s go over the necessary steps to turbo’ing your vehicle correctly so you can ensure your engine doesn’t blow up on you.

1. Supplies

First, you’ll need some supplies. As much as it would be awesome to buy a turbo, bolt it on a drive off, it doesn’t happen this way. You’re going to need more than just a turbo. 

Heres what you need:

  • Non-turbo car
  • Turbo
  • Turbo Manifold
  • Intercooler
  • Piping
  • Water lines
  • Oil lines
  • Dump Pipe
  • Exhaust 
  • ECM
  • Wastegate

Need help looking for turbo parts—read more here

2. Upgrading Fuel Components

In most cases, the stock fuel components, such as the fuel injectors on non-turbo cars, aren’t going to provide enough of the fuel for your turbocharged engine. More air being forced into the combustion chamber means more fuel is needed to set up the right fuel/air ratio.

When you upgrade your fuel delivery system, which includes the injectors and fuel pump, be sure to use the highest octane fuel you can. This will provide cleaner-burning fuel to your newly turbo’d engine and will also help prevent pre-ignition and engine knock later down the road.

3. Engine Management and Monitoring

When adding a turbocharger, you are going to need proper engine management and monitoring.

This is where you need to upgrade your car’s engine control module (ECM). An ECM designed to run a turbo will manage the fuel and air demand. Doing this remaps how the car responds to the increased airflow, increased fuel, and timing your turbocharging is demanding.

If you don’t install an ECM, you run the risk of your car running worse, and the vehicle will illuminate multiple cautions and warning lights letting you know something is wrong with the engine. 

Also, make sure your ECM kit monitors exhaust gas temperatures air and fuel levels.  Monitoring these levels is vital to ensure you don’t do catastrophic engine damage.

4. Cooling

When adding more fuel and air into the mixture of the engine, you’re going to get a lot more heat under in that engine bay. When air compresses, it heats up, and you don’t want all that hot air going into your engine. Cooler air has more oxygen, which is what combusts in the chamber.

Adding an intercooler ramps up more power coming out of your engine and makes everything run more efficiently.

Your turbocharger would also need to be cooled down and lubricated as well. Some turbocharger kits come pre-installed with an oil-feed and oil-return. All you’d have to do is tap into your engine oil, and you’re good to go. If not, you will need to install an oil pan for the supercharger so it can get its own supply of oil.

5. Upgrade the Exhaust

With more engine power, you’ll need to make sure you have maximum flow out of your engine. The turbo runs off of your exhaust gas, so you’re going to need to fabricate a pipe that allows the exhaust gas to flow where it needs to go. 

Invest in strong manifold head studs and a reliable exhaust manifold. The last thing you want is to have a cracked manifold only to start your build over again.

6. Don’t Forget the Necessities

Before you install your turbo, you want to think about all the weak points your car may encounter that have nothing to do with the turbo itself. Pushing out more horsepower means you’ll be increasing speeds that your car wasn’t meant to handle from the factory. You’ll want to make sure you have bigger brakes, pads, and rotors that can handle these speeds. 

You’ll also want to get tires that are rated at higher speeds to ensure you don’t have a blowout flying down the road.

Upgraded sparks a good idea when adding a turbocharger. In a higher boost situation like what a turbocharger brings, you want to push heat away from the spark plug to ensure even combustion. This is done by purchasing spark plugs that have a lower heat range.

Be safe When Installing a Turbo Charger

Installing a turbocharger takes a lot of time, dedication, and of course, money. But one thing you want to ensure is safety throughout the process. 

If you’re not sure how to do it yourself, don’t do it. Go to a reputable engine shop and have them do it. 

If you are mechanically inclined and want to tackle the job yourself, consider doing all of your testing on a dynamometer. This way, you ensure the safety of your turbo installation without putting yourself or anyone else on the road at risk. Knowing how to turbo a car properly is the key to success down the road with your vehicle.

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