But first, a word from our lawyers: While turning up the boost can be fun, it can also lead to things like connecting rods playing a Peeping Tom out of the front of a short-block. Adjustments should be made sensibly, with caution and proper tuning, and all under the watchful eye of you and a boost gauge.
In a perfect world, you wouldn’t need any sort of boost control; you’d just pick a turbo that’d reach its maximum turbine speed and boost pressure by the time that B-series of yours hit its redline. But it’s not a perfect world, which means understanding how to tame that boost is just as important as you think.
Restrictors: Early modes of boost control were as simple as they were ridiculous. Here, sticking some sort of restriction right in front of that turbo compressor’s inlet or outlet or even the exhaust stream would tame that boost. It’s as silly as it sounds—putting a turbo on to increase airflow and then closing it back up part way—and it resulted in all sorts of problems, like increased intake temperatures and exhaust gas temperatures hot enough to start melting valves.
Vent valves: Imagine a radiator cap stuck onto that charge pipe of yours and you’ve just imagined the complexity of a vent valve. Like a radiator cap, vent valves were designed to crack open once a predetermined amount of pressure’s been reached. And like restrictors, they were designed to keep boost in check and not to increase it.
IT STARTS WITH THE WASTEGATE
Internal wastegates: As it turns out, those old-timers with their exhaust restrictors were on to something, but boost control didn’t get serious until somebody smarter than them developed the wastegate. It’s the wastegate’s bypass valve that controls exhaust gas flow, which, in turn, determines boost pressure. Here, a small flapper valve located inside the turbine housing opens and closes, determining exhaust gas volume and, ultimately, managing boost. The whole thing’s leveraged by a swing arm and an actuator diaphragm that’s typically connected to the turbo’s compressor housing. Once that diaphragm recognizes a certain amount of boost, it goes into action.
External wastegates: External wastegates have the same job as internal ones but are able to do it a whole lot more efficiently. Their external placement means there aren’t as many valve-size constraints, which means boost can be controlled better. They also don’t have to route those wasted exhaust gases back into the exhaust stream, disrupting the flow pattern. Placing an external wastegate in the right spot is key, though; if each cylinder’s exhaust gas pulses don’t reach the wastegate with the same amount of effort, things won’t work all that well. Where the wastegate gets its boost reference signal from is also important since boost varies throughout the system. Generally speaking, hooking it up to the turbo’s compressor is a good choice since, as opposed to the intake manifold or the charge piping, it offers optimum wastegate control. And bigger isn’t always better, either, when it comes to wastegates. The more boost there is and the more power that’s made, the less important it is to drive away those excess exhaust gases, which means something with a smaller valve might be exactly what you need.
Internal adjustments: Most external wastegates come with spring-loaded diaphragms that can be adjusted for small boost changes. Adding shims or a stiffer spring inside are easy ways to increase boost pressure even more.
Bleeder-valve controllers: Early methods of fooling the wastegate consisted of little more than creating a controlled leak in the wastegate signal line by way of a small hole or a bleeder valve that you picked up from Sears. Remember, that wastegate won’t start doing its thing until it recognizes a certain amount of boost pressure; if you can divert some of the pressure away from it, you’ve just delayed its opening up. For example, if your wastegate’s got a spring that limits boost to 7 psi and you’re looking to double that, it’s the boost controller’s job to bleed off enough pressure from that signal line to delay that wastegate valve from opening up until 14 psi has been reached. Bleed off 7 psi worth of pressure and, despite the 14 psi you just hit, that wastegate still thinks you’ve only reached 7 psi. More sophisticated bleeder valves are made up of a restrictor that makes these sort of valves much more accurate than what you got from Sears.
Ball-and-spring controllers: Later, more sophisticated ways of fooling that wastegate were introduced, like manual boost controllers that, internally, were made up of a spring-loaded steel ball that created its own controlled leak between the boost source and the wastegate. Boost controllers like these still bleed off boost pressure but are known for their ability to increase lower-end performance and turbo spool-up since they’re able to hold that wastegate valve shut until the last moment. Adjustments can be made by cranking on a knob that stiffens the spring, which means more boost will be required to move that ball out of the way.
Electronic controllers: More sophisticated electronic boost controllers, like GReddy’s longstanding Profec, are based off of an electric solenoid that acts like that ball-and-spring controller, only this one’s controlled by electrical current. Here, the solenoid’s held shut until the controller and its software tells it to open up. Electronic boost controllers can trigger boost changes based on gear changes, engine speed, time, or the flick of a switch, and they can even yield impressive gains without even raising the boost.
WHY YOU MIGHT NOT NEED ANYTHING AT ALL
The supercharger exception: This whole time we’ve been going on about turbos and boost control and you just want to know how to hit 12 psi with your blower. Unlike turbochargers that are driven by exhaust fumes, superchargers are driven directly off of the crankshaft. Here, a belt spans from the engine’s crankshaft pulley to the supercharger’s drive pulley. Change the size of either of those pulleys and you’ve just changed how much boost that supercharger will make.
Electronic wastegates: Get yourself something newfangled and already turbocharged from the factory and, chances are, it might have an electronic wastegate. Here, electrical current activates the wastegate’s actuator arm instead of anything pneumatic, which means that, as technology continues to get smarter, boost control will happen right at the ECU. The whole thing allows for better wastegate control over a wider range of engine speeds and load conditions, resulting in improved performance and better emissions.
Aftermarket ECUs and boost control: In some cases, boost control is already happening at the ECU. Many aftermarket stand-alone systems, like those from AEM or even Hondata’s systems, feature integrated boost control. The whole thing works similar to an electronic boost controller in which an electric solenoid is used but the interface takes place within the system’s software.