Turbocharger Shaft Balancing TF101-A

The information presented here will help clarify some of the often misunderstood effects of turbocharger construction, repair and test details surrounding the requirements of accurate shaft balancing.

 All turbochargers require that the rotating shaft utilising a pair of turbine wheels is dynamically-balanced at rotation speeds of 150,000rpm and sometimes higher.

This specialised procedure is carried out on all new, remanufactured and repaired turbos.

The test equipment consists of highly sophisticated devices such as accelerometers, high-speed stroboscopic light detectors, fine-tuned tachometers and state-of-the-art computer software.

To achieve such high levels of accuracy, the manufacturers use special fasteners designed to retain compressor-wheels to meet these exacting standards.

The balancing process uses a machine that identifies where small amounts of metal need removing from the compressor-wheel.

A small reflective line of paint helps the machine to determine the exact position of where there is an excess of material. The procedure is highly technical and requires a great deal of skill to perform the turbos balancing needs, correctly.

There is no known method for detecting the levels when a turbocharger is ‘out of balance’. The out of balance effect can cause vibrations when attached to a running engine. The amounts of natural vibration caused by a running engine are far too high.

This image displays turbocharger with special fasteners attached to correct in-balances #shaft balancing
Side of view taken of a Turbocharger with Special Fasteners to correct in-balances.


The most common implementations of a turbocharger involve mounting the unit to the downpipe of a vehicle under the hood towards the firewall of the vehicle.

A rear mount implementation is used when there is insufficient engine bay room; it may be used in place of the stock muffler. The turbo returns the boosted air (which is pulled in from a filter mounted somewhere in the rear) to the front of the vehicle and optionally through an intercooler, and then to the intake of the engine. Wiring and oil lines must be run to the rear of the vehicle and an auxiliary oil pump must be used to return oil from the turbo to the engine. According to Horsepower TV (2/3/2007), you can expect a loss of 1 psi using a rear mount turbo, because of loss due to the long pipe routings, and also about a 100oF drop in intake air temperature. The decrease is due to the cooler exhaust gases (thus a cooler turbo unit) and the cooler intermediate pipe between the turbo and the intake. Benefits include easier maintenance because the unit is more accessible.

Automotive Applications

Turbocharging is very common on diesel engines in conventional cars, in trucks, locomotives, for marine and heavy machinery applications. In fact, for current automotive applications, non-turbocharged diesel engines are becoming increasingly rare. Diesels are particularly suitable for turbocharging for several reasons:

Naturally-aspirated diesels will develop less power than a petrol engine of the same size, and will weigh significantly more because diesel engine require heavier, stronger components. This gives such engines a poor power-to-weight ratio; turbocharging can dramatically improve this P:W ratio, with large power gains for a very small (if any) increase in weight. Diesel engines require more robust construction because they already run at very high compression ratio and at high temperatures so they generally require little additional reinforcement to be able to cope with the addition of the turbocharger. Petrol engines often require extensive modification for turbocharging. Diesel engines have a narrower band of engine speeds at which they operate, thus making the operating characteristics of the turbocharger over that “rev range” less of a compromise than on a petrol-powered engine. Diesel engines blow nothing but air into the cylinders during cylinder charging, squirting fuel into the cylinder only after the intake valve has closed and compression has begun. Petrol engines differ from this in that both fuel and air are introduced during the intake cycle and both are compressed during the compression cycle. The higher intake charge temperatures of forced-induction engines reduces the amount of compression that is possible with a petrol engine, whereas diesel engines are far less sensitive to this.

Today, turbocharging is most commonly used on two types of engines: Petrol engines in high-performance cars and diesel engines in transportation and other industrial equipment. Small cars in particular benefit from this technology, as there is often little room to fit a larger-output (and physically larger) engine. Saab is a leader in production car turbochargers, starting with the 1978 Saab 99; all current Saab models are turbocharged with the exception of the 9-7X. The Porsche 944 utilized a turbo unit in the 944 Turbo (Porsche internal model number 951), to great advantage, bringing its 0-100 km/h (0-60 mph) times very close to its contemporary non-turbo “big brother”, the Porsche 928.

In the 1980s, when turbocharged production cars became common, they gained a reputation for being difficult to handle. The tuned engines fitted to the cars, and the often primitive turbocharger technology meant that power delivery was unpredictable and the engine often suddenly delivered a huge boost in power at certain speeds. Some drivers said this made cars such as the BMW 2002 and the Porsche 911 exciting to drive, requiring high levels of skill. Others said the cars were difficult and often dangerous. As turbocharger technology improved, it became possible to produce turbocharged engines with a smoother, more predictable but just as effective power delivery.

Chrysler Corporation was an innovator of turbocharger use in the 1980s. Many of their production vehicles, for example the Chrysler LeBaron, Dodge Daytona, Dodge Shadow/Plymouth Sundance twins, and the Dodge Spirit/Plymouth Acclaim twins were available with turbochargers, and they proved very popular with the public. They are still considered competitive vehicles today, and the experience Chrysler obtained in observing turbochargers in real-world conditions has allowed them to further turbocharger technology with the PT Cruiser Turbo, the Dodge SRT-4 and the Dodge Caliber SRT-4.

Small car turbos are increasingly being used as the basis for small jet engines used for flying model aircraft—though the conversion is a highly specialised job—one not without its dangers. Jet engine enthusiasts have constructed home-built jet engines from automotive turbochargers, often running on propane and using a home-built combustion canister plumbed in between the high pressure side of the turbo’s compressor and the intake side of the turbine. An oil supply for the bearings is still needed, usually provided by an electric pump. Starting such home-built jets is usually achieved by blowing air through the unit with a compressor or a domestic leaf-blower. Making these engines is not an easy task- unless the combustion canister design is correct the engine will either fail to start, fail to stabilise once running or even over-rev and destroy itself.

Most modern turbocharged aircraft use an adjustable wastegate. The wastegate is controlled manually, or by a pneumatic/hydraulic control system, or, as is becoming more and more common, by a flight computer. In the interests of engine longevity, the wastegate is usually kept open, or nearly so, at sea level to keep from overboosting the engine. As the aircraft climbs, the wastegate is gradually closed, maintaining the manifold pressure at or above sea level. In aftermarket applications, aircraft turbochargers sometimes do not overboost the engine, but rather compress ambient air to sea level pressure. For this reason, such aircraft are sometimes referred to as being turbo-normalised. Most applications produced by the major manufacturers (Beech, Cessna, Piper and others) increase the maximum engine intake air pressure by as much as 35%. Special attention to engine cooling and component strength is required because of the increased combustion heat and power.

Turbo-Alternator is a form of turbocharger that generates electricity instead of boosting engine’s airflow. On September 21, 2005, Foresight Vehicle announced the first known implementation of such unit for cars, under the name TIGERS (Turbo-generator Integrated Gas Energy Recovery System). 

Boost Threshold

Turbocharger starts producing boost only above a certain rpm (around 1200-1500rpm) due to a lack of exhaust gas volume to overcome the inertia of rest of the turbo propeller. Power suddenly increases after that particular rpm when turbo propeller starts spinning. So power Vs. rpm curve of a turbocharged engine has a steep increase in power at boost threshold rpm. There have been many advancements in technology to reduce boost threshold rpm below idle speed rpm of the engine, so as to virtually eliminate the boost threshold.


A pair of turbochargers mounted to an Inline 6 engine in a dragster. A lag is sometimes felt by the driver of a turbocharged vehicle as a delay between pushing on the accelerator pedal and feeling the turbo kick-in. This is symptomatic of the time taken for the exhaust system driving the turbine to come to high pressure and for the turbine rotor to overcome its rotational inertia and reach the speed necessary to supply boost pressure. The directly driven compressor in a supercharger does not suffer this problem. (Centrifugal superchargers do not build boost at low RPMs like a positive displacement supercharger will). Conversely on light loads or at low RPM a turbocharger supplies less boost and the engine is more efficient than a supercharged engine.

Lag can be reduced by lowering the rotational inertia of the turbine; for example, by using lighter parts to allow the spool-up to happen more quickly. Ceramic turbines are a big help in this direction. Unfortunately, their relative fragility limits the maximum boost they can supply. Another way to reduce lag is to change the aspect ratio of the turbine by reducing the diameter and increasing the gas-flow path-length. Increasing the upper-deck air pressure and improving the wastegate response helps but there are cost increases and reliability disadvantages that car manufacturers are not happy about. Lag is also reduced by using foil bearings rather than conventional oil bearings. This reduces friction and contributes to faster acceleration of the turbo’s rotating assembly. Variable-nozzle turbochargers (discussed above) also reduce lag.

Another common method of equalizing turbo lag is to have the turbine wheel “clipped”, or to reduce the surface area of the turbine wheel’s rotating blades. By clipping a minute portion off the tip of each blade of the turbine wheel, less restriction is imposed upon the escaping exhaust gases. This imparts less impedance onto the flow of exhaust gases at low RPM, allowing the vehicle to retain more of its low-end torque, but also pushes the effective boost RPM to a slightly higher level. The amount a turbine wheel is and can be clipped is highly application-specific. Turbine clipping is measured and specified in degrees.

Other setups, most notably in V-type engines, utilize two identically sized but smaller turbos, each fed by a separate set of exhaust streams from the engine. The two smaller turbos produce the same (or more) aggregate amount of boost as a larger single turbo, but since they are smaller they reach their optimal RPM, and thus optimal boost delivery, faster. Such an arrangement of turbos is typically referred to as a parallel twin-turbo system.

Some carmakers combat lag by using two small turbos (such as Kia, Toyota, Subaru, Maserati, Mazda, and Audi). A typical arrangement for this is to have one turbo active across the entire rev range of the engine and one coming on-line at higher RPM. Early designs would have one turbocharger active up to a certain RPM, after which both turbochargers are active. Below this RPM, both exhaust and air inlet of the secondary turbo are closed. Being individually smaller they do not suffer from excessive lag and having the second turbo operating at a higher RPM range allows it to get to full rotational speed before it is required. Such combinations are referred to as a sequential twin-turbo. Sequential twin-turbos are usually much more complicated than a single or parallel twin-turbo systems because they require what amounts to three sets of pipes-intake and wastegate pipes for the two turbochargers as well as valves to control the direction of the exhaust gases. An example of this is the current BMW E60 5-Series 535d. Another well-known example is the 1993-2002 Mazda RX-7. Many new diesel engines use this technology to not only eliminate lag but also to reduce fuel consumption and produce cleaner emissions.

Lag is not to be confused with the boost threshold; however, many publications still make this basic mistake. The boost threshold of a turbo system describes the minimum turbo RPM at which the turbo is physically able to supply the requested boost level. Newer turbocharger and engine developments have caused boost thresholds to steadily decline to where day-to-day use feels perfectly natural. Putting your foot down at 1200 engine RPM and having no boost until 2000 engine RPM is an example of boost threshold and not lag.

Electrical boosting (“E-boosting”) is a new technology under development; it uses a high-speed electrical motor to drive the turbocharger to speed before exhaust gases are available, e.g. from a stoplight. The electric motor is about an inch long. [4]

Race cars often utilise an Anti-Lag System to completely eliminate lag at the cost of reduced turbocharger life.

On modern diesel engines, this problem is virtually eliminated by utilising a variable geometry turbocharger.


Turbochargers can be damaged by dirty or ineffective oil, and most manufacturers recommend more frequent oil changes for turbocharged engines; many owners and some companies recommend using synthetic oils, which tend to flow more readily when cold and do not break down as quickly as conventional oils. Because the turbocharger can get hot when running, many recommend letting the engine idle for one to three minutes before shutting the engine if the turbocharger was used shortly before stopping (most manufacturers specify a 10-second period of idling before switching off to ensure the turbocharger is running at its idle speed to prevent damage to the bearings when the oil supply is cut off). This lets the turbo rotating assembly cool from the lower exhaust gas temperatures, and ensures that oil is supplied to the turbocharger while the turbine housing and exhaust manifold are still very hot; otherwise coking of the lubricating oil trapped in the unit may occur when the heat soaks into the bearings, causing rapid bearing wear and failure when the car is restarted. Even small particles of burnt oil will accumulate and lead to choking the oil supply and failure. This problem is less pronounced in diesel engines, due to the lower exhaust temperatures and generally slower engine speeds.

A turbo timer can keep an engine running for a pre-specified period of time, to automatically provide this cool-down period. Oil coking is also eliminated by foil bearings. A more complex and problematic protective barrier against oil coking is the use of water-cooled bearing cartridges. The water boils in the cartridge when the engine is shut off and forms a natural recirculation to drain away the heat. It is still a good idea to not shut the engine off while the turbo and manifold are still glowing.

In custom applications utilizing tubular headers rather than cast iron manifolds, the need for a cool down period is reduced because the lighter headers store much less heat than heavy cast iron manifolds.

Automotive design details

The ideal gas law states that when all other variables are held constant, if pressure is increased in a system so is the temperature. Here exists one of the negative consequences of turbocharging, the increase in the temperature of air entering the engine due to compression.

A turbo spins very fast; most peak between 80,000 and 200,000 RPM (using low inertia turbos, 150,000-250,000 RPM) depending on size, weight of the rotating parts, boost pressure developed and compressor design. Such high rotation speeds would cause problems for standard ball bearings leading to failure so most turbo-chargers use fluid bearings. These feature a flowing layer of oil that suspends and cools the moving parts. The oil is usually taken from the engine-oil circuit. Some turbochargers use incredibly precise ball bearings that offer less friction than a fluid bearing but these are also suspended in fluid-dampened cavities. Lower friction means the turbo shaft can be made of lighter materials, reducing so-called turbo lag or boost lag. Some carmakers use water-cooled turbochargers for added bearing life. This can also account for why many tuners upgrade their standard journal bearing turbos (such as a T25) which use a 270 degree thrust bearing and a brass journal bearing which only has 3 oil passages, to a 360 degree bearing which has a beefier thrust bearing and washer having 6 oil passages to enable better flow, response and cooling efficiency. Turbochargers with foil bearings are in development. These will eliminate the need for bearing cooling or oil delivery systems, thereby eliminating the most common cause of failure, while also significantly reducing turbo lag.

To manage the upper-deck air pressure, the turbocharger’s exhaust gas flow is regulated with a wastegate that bypasses excess exhaust gas entering the turbocharger’s turbine. This regulates the rotational speed of the turbine and the output of the compressor. The wastegate is opened and closed by the compressed air from turbo (the upper-deck pressure) and can be raised by using a solenoid to regulate the pressure fed to the wastegate membrane. This solenoid can be controlled by Automatic Performance Control, the engine’s electronic control unit or an after market boost control computer. Another method of raising the boost pressure is through the use of check and bleed valves to keep the pressure at the membrane lower than the pressure within the system. Some turbochargers (normally called variable geometry turbochargers) utilise a set of vanes in the exhaust housing to maintain a constant gas velocity across the turbine, the same kind of control as used on power plant turbines. These turbochargers have minimal amount of lag, have a low boost threshold (with full boost as low as 1,500 rpm), and are efficient at higher engine speeds; they are also used in diesel engines. [2] In many setups these turbos don’t even need a wastegate. A membrane identical to the one on a wastegate controls the vanes but the level of control required is a bit different.

The first production car to use these turbos was the limited-production 1989 Shelby CSX-VNT, in essence a Dodge Shadow equipped with a 2.2L petrol engine. The Shelby CSX-VNT utilised a turbo from Garrett, called the VNT-25 because it uses the same compressor and shaft as the more common Garrett T-25. This type of turbine is called a Variable Nozzle Turbine (VNT). Turbocharger manufacturer Aerocharger uses the term ‘Variable Area Turbine Nozzle’ (VATN) to describe this type of turbine nozzle. Other common terms include Variable Turbine Geometry (VTG), Variable Geometry Turbo (VGT) and Variable Vane Turbine (VVT). A number of other Chrysler Corporation vehicles used this turbocharger in 1990, including the Dodge Daytona and Dodge Shadow. These engines produced 174 horsepower and 225 pound-feet of torque, the same horsepower as the standard intercooled 2.2 litre engines but with 25 more pound-feet of torque and a faster onset (less turbo lag). However, the Turbo III engine, without a VATN or VNT, produced 224 horsepower. The reasons for Chrysler’s not continuing to use variable geometry turbochargers are unknown, but the main reason was probably public desire for V6 engines coupled with increased availability of Chrysler-engineered V6 engines. [3] The 2006 Porsche 911 Turbo has a twin turbocharged 3.6-litre flat six, and the turbos used are BorgWarner’s Variable Geometry Turbos (VGTs). This is significant because although VGTs have been used on advanced diesel engines for a few years and on the Shelby CSX-VNT, this is the first time the technology has been implemented on a production petrol car since the 1,250 Dodge engines were produced in 1989-90. Some have argued this is because in petrol cars exhaust temperatures are much higher (than in diesel cars), and this can have adverse effects on the delicate, moveable vanes of the turbocharger; these units are also more expensive than conventional turbochargers. Porsche engineers claim to have managed this problem with the new 911 Turbo.

There is also a type of turbo called centrifugal (or simply belt-driven), this functions in some ways similar to a standard turbo and in some ways similar to a supercharger. Since it’s belt driven (no exhaust is used) there is never any lag, however the boost isn’t “free” like with a standard turbo. The “cost” is extra drag on the crank, thus a loss in efficiency. The benefits are no lag, easier to setup – since no exhaust modifications are needed, and likely easier maintenance access.

How a Turbo Works series – Part 4

In this fourth instalment of the ‘How a Turbo Works’ series – Part 4, we discuss what and how the wastegate works.

How a Turbo works – Wastegate

The compressor turbine wheels job is to spin drawing in vast volumes of air. This goes into the engine and the turbocharger’s output exceeds the engine’s air pressure. This unequal balance is what produces boost – read part 3 in this series to learn more about how boost is produced.

But since a turbo can spin far beyond what is safe, the speeds restricted by the wastegate.

The wastegate is a common way to control the speed of something within a system. This can be further expanded by an electronic boost controller. The introduction of a wastegate allows the exhaust gases to bypass the turbine.

If you found this article interesting, we are sure will enjoy
part 5 of How a Turbo Works.

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How a Turbo Works series – Part 3

In this third instalment of ‘How a Turbo Works’ series – Part 3, we discuss specifically the boosting potential a turbo can give a car and tease the wastegate -more on that in part 4.

How a turbo works -Boost

Boost/thrust refers to the increase in pressure within the manifold. This is the level of thrust can be read by looking at the pressure gauge within the instrument panel. This is usually translated into bar, psi or kPa. The pressure reading is representative of the extra air pressure that is achieved over what would be achieved without the forced induction.

‘The typical boost provided by a turbocharger is 6 to 8 pounds per square inch (psi)… Therefore, you would expect to get 50% more power.’

taken from howstuffworks.com

Boost is limited by controlling the wastegate. This wastegate stops the exhaust gases from crossing over. In some cars, the maximum boost depends on the fuel’s octane rating and is electronically regulated using a knock sensor or Automatic Performance Control (A.P.C.).

Many diesel engines do not have any wastegate because the amount of exhaust energy is controlled directly by the amount of fuel injected into the engine.


If you found this article interesting, we are sure will enjoy
part 4 of How a Turbo Works.

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‘How a Turbo Works’ series – Part 2

In this second instalment of ‘How a Turbo Works’ series – Part 2, we discuss the various parts of a turbo and how they all play an important role in producing more power.


For a turbo to work it has to have four main components listed below and illustrated.

This image was borrowed from https://carbiketech.com/turbocharger/ and illustrates the components of a turbo in a simple way. #how-a-turbo-works
  • Turbine wheel
  • Compressor/Impeller wheel
  • Center Hub Rotating Assembly (C.H.R.A.)
  • Canonical housing

The turbine and impeller wheels are housed at opposite sides of the Centre Hub Rotating Assembly. This is also known as the C.H.R.A.

The housings fitted around the compressor and turbine wheels suck in and direct the gas through the turbo. The size and shape of the wheels dictate the performance characteristics of the overall turbo.

Often the same basic turbocharger assembly will be available from the manufacturer with multiple AR* choices for the turbine housing and sometimes the compressor cover.

We mentioned earlier the turbine and impeller wheels ‘size and shape of the wheels dictate the performance’. Generally, the larger the turbine wheel and compressor wheel, the larger the flow capacity. Measurements and shapes can vary, as well as curvature and the number of blades on the wheels all introduce a varying factor as to how well the turbo will perform.

‘size and shape of the wheels dictate the performance’

The Centre Hub Rotating Assembly (C.H.R.A.) houses a single shaft that connects and suspends the compressor and impeller wheels. At the rotating speeds the turbo wheels spin, bearings are necessary to have it rotate with minimal friction. This is usually performed by a thrust or ball bearing lubricated by a constant supply of pressurized oil. The C.H.R.A. can also be “water-cooled” by allowing the engine coolant to be circulated in place of oil.

If you found this article interesting, we are sure will enjoy
part 3 of How a Turbo Works.

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* The area of the cone to radius from centre hub is expressed as a ratio (AR, A/R, or A:R)

Turbo Force are moving from the 15th January!

The new workshop and premises will be located at:

Unit 10, Tardy Gate Mill, Coote Lane, Lostock Hall, Preston, PR5 5JD

The old premises will still be functioning as normal from 8.30 am to 4.30 pm and we can still be contacted on: 01772 697979 or by email to sales@turboforce.co.uk for any enquiries.