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Dad vs. Daughter: The Turbo-Charged Engine

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Dear Tom and Ray:

My dad and I are looking for new cars. I test-drove a car, and then I test-drove the same car with a turbo engine. It had more power and got better gas mileage. I liked it. My dad said no to the turbo model. He said turbo-charging an engine takes the life out of it. He says it will not last as long as the non-turbo-charged engine. Do you agree with my dad? Who should buy a turbo?

-- Hayley

TOM: You should buy a turbo, Hayley. And so should most people.

RAY: In the early days of turbo-charging, it was common for turbos to fail at less than 100,000 miles. The failure often was catastrophic, leading to thousands of dollars in engine repairs.

TOM: Ask anyone who owned an '80s-era Saab turbo about this phenomenon. But first, be prepared for them to start weeping.

RAY: Unlike those devices, today's turbos are very reliable, partly because we have a lot more experience in designing them, but also because today's motor oils do a far superior job of keeping them cooled and lubricated.

TOM: The advantage of a turbo is that it allows you to use a smaller, more fuel-efficient engine while having the turbo on standby for when you do need some extra oomph.

RAY: The truth is, a smaller engine is all you need most of the time. Then, once in a while, when you need to pass a truck, enter a highway or peel away from a boyfriend's house after he says those shoes make your feet look fat, you step on the gas, and the turbo adds all the extra power you need.

TOM: Your dad does make a fair point -- that a turbo can be harder on the engine if it's abused. So if you drive like an animal and stomp on the gas all the time, a turbo is not for you. Traffic court is for you.

RAY: But for all reasonable drivers, a turbo does exactly what you say it does, Hayley: It allows a smaller engine to provide additional power when it's needed, and better mileage the rest of the time. Enjoy your new car. 

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