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All about the turbo trend and why you might want one.

Find out why this classic auto technology is now popping up everywhere

Closeup shot of person fixing the engine of a car

In a quest to chase the disparate goals of more power and better fuel economy, many manufacturers have settled on the turbocharger as their go-to piece of helpful technology. In fact, more than 25 per cent of vehicles built last year had a turbo. Here’s what makes them so handy.

How turbochargers boost your car’s performance

First, a quick science lesson. An engine is similar to a big air pump in that it gulps in large amounts of atmosphere and exhausts it out the tailpipe. In between those two events, ignition occurs inside the engine’s cylinders and power is made.

A turbocharger compresses and pressurizes air molecules of rapidly spinning blades inside the unit, making the air denser so more atmosphere can be fed into the engine. This is why turbocharging is sometimes referred to as forced induction. To get those turbo blades moving quickly, the unit is mounted so that some engine exhaust blows through the turbo to spin the blades.

How turbochargers help with fuel economy

The upshot of this wizardry is that more air is delivered to the engine, creating more power without having to increase the actual size of the engine. Freed from having to design vehicles with monster engine bays, automakers can craft more aerodynamic cars, which have better fuel economy.

How to get the most out of a turbocharged car

Turbocharged engines generally only produce rock-star-level fuel economy when driven gently. This does not include the start-and-stop staccato of a morning commute or rushing to merge onto the Don Valley Parkway. During these demands for power, a turbocharged four-cylinder engine can burn just as much fuel as a larger V6.

Typically, though, turbocharged motors weigh less and produce fewer emissions than a normal engine tasked with making the same amount of horsepower. Even in cases where power is reduced compared with a larger engine, overall performance is typically on par or better, thanks to the turbo engine’s smaller mass.

How much do you know about cars?

Now that you’re an expert on turbochargers, take our quiz on unusual car terms. Or learn which 7 cars are best for new drivers.

Plus, find out how CAA Auto Insurance can protect your ride, turbocharged or not.

Image credit: iStock/thaistockphoto