Can You Put a Turbo on an Automatic Car?

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Key Takeaways:

  • A turbocharger can be installed on any internal combustion engine regardless of transmission type.
  • Turbocharging increases engine power and performance by forcing more air into the combustion chambers.
  • An automatic transmission may require tuning to handle the extra power from a turbocharged engine.
  • The turbocharger bolts directly to the engine, not the transmission, so it works the same with manual or automatic cars.
  • With proper installation and tuning, turbocharging an automatic car boosts power while retaining daily drivability.


The quest for more power is inherent in every auto enthusiast, leading many to ask: can you put a turbo on an automatic car? The short answer is yes, turbochargers can work effectively on automatic vehicles.

This comprehensive article will evaluate the viability, benefits, installation process, and considerations when turbocharging an automatic car. Turbochargers are often associated with manual transmissions, but they can substantially increase performance on properly tuned automatic cars as well.

Adding forced induction allows automatic cars to produce significantly more power while maintaining the convenience of an auto gearbox. With some key modifications, turbocharged autos can offer the best of both worlds – accessible power and effortless cruising.

Whether an old muscle car or modern sports sedan, virtually any automatically shifted car can benefit from the extra horsepower and torque of a turbo if done correctly. Read on to learn everything required to successfully and safely turbocharge an automatic transmission vehicle.

Can You Add a Turbo to Any Engine, Whether Manual or Automatic Transmission?

The turbocharger bolts directly to the cylinder head and connects with the exhaust manifold and intake piping. This means it interfaces solely with the engine, having no direct attachment or connection points on the transmission.

Consequently, the transmission type – manual or automatic – has no bearing on the ability to turbocharge an engine. The turbo functions in the same way turning the engine’s exhaust gas into additional horsepower forced into the cylinders.

So yes, you absolutely can add a turbo to an automatic transmission car just like a manual. The turbocharger does not care how the engine power gets sent to the wheels. It only serves to boost the power coming from the engine.

What are the Benefits of Turbocharging an Automatic Car?

Adding a turbo to an automatic car provides several meaningful benefits:

Increased Power and Performance

The key benefit is substantially more power, thanks to the ability to force more air into the engine. The turbo allows the engine to burn more fuel and air, which translates directly into higher horsepower and torque output.

This amplified power enables improved acceleration for a more exciting driving experience. Turbocharged autos accelerate faster and feel significantly quicker.

Improved Fuel Efficiency

Oddly enough, the increased power from turbocharging can also improve fuel efficiency. How? When not under full throttle, a turbocharged engine can use a leaner air/fuel mix. The turbo supplies enough air for combustion without needing extra fuel.

So turbocharged cars can achieve enhanced fuel economy when cruising or driving lightly. The turbocharger effectively reduces fuel consumption at partial throttle.

Higher Altitude Performance

Turbos enable better performance at high elevations where the air is thinner. The turbo compressor packs more air into the engine to compensate for the lower atmospheric pressure at altitude.

This allows a turbocharged engine to avoid significant power loss at elevation. Naturally aspirated engines inevitably lose power the higher they go.

Retain Automatic Transmission

Those seeking more acceleration often turn to manual transmissions. But a turbo allows keeping an automatic gearbox while still achieving impressively boosted performance.

Drivers who need an automatic for health reasons or preference can still enjoy amplified power thanks to turbocharging. This makes the car more accessible while remaining quite quick.

What is Needed to Turbocharge an Automatic Car?

Turbocharging an automatic vehicle is a straightforward but involved process. It requires:

  • Turbocharger sized appropriately for the engine
  • Oil feed and drain lines for the turbocharger
  • Oil pan baffle to prevent oil starvation with the turbo
  • Boost piping from compressor to throttle body
  • Blow-off valve to release pressure spikes when closing throttle
  • Intercooler upgrade recommended for cooling compressed air
  • High-flow exhaust from manifold to turbo inlet
  • ECU tuning to handle the turbocharged engine
  • Upgraded fuel injectors and fuel pump for more fuel
  • Lower compression pistons recommended to prevent detonation
  • Stronger connecting rods for added reliability under boost

Optional supporting mods like ported cylinder heads, higher flowing intake, and lightweight pulleys also help optimize performance. But the critical items are the turbo system itself and the engine tuning.

Installing the turbo without properly tuning the ECU will result in a dangerous lean condition and certain engine damage. Proper professional tuning is imperative.

Does Turbocharging an Automatic Transmission Car Require Different Steps Compared to a Manual?

The process of adding a turbocharger follows the same overall installation steps whether mated to a manual gearbox or automatic transmission. The turbo itself and associated piping bolt up identically in both applications.

Some best practices for turbocharging an automatic include:

Torque Converter Upgrade

While not absolutely necessary, a high-stall speed torque converter helps an automatic transmission better cope with the increased power. The higher stall speed allows the engine to reach optimal boost before the vehicle starts moving.

Transmission Cooler

Adding a separate transmission cooler helps control heat from towing or hard launches. The fluid stays cooler and lasts longer, which is helpful under the increased stress of a turbo engine.

ECU Tuning

Tuning the ECU properly for an automatic is critical. The boost and fueling strategies may differ from a manual to account for torque converter slippage or shift firmness and timing.

A turbocharged automatic transmission requires custom ECU calibration to maximize performance while retaining normal driveability and functionality.

Aside from those considerations, turbocharging an auto follows similar installation steps as with a manual gearbox. The transmission itself does not affect the process of adding a turbocharger.

What are Some Examples of Production Turbocharged Automatic Vehicles?

Many modern performance cars now combine turbocharging with automatic transmissions:

  • BMW M5
  • Mercedes AMG 63
  • Nissan GT-R
  • Porsche 911 Turbo
  • Chevrolet Corvette Z06
  • Audi RS models
  • Ford Mustang EcoBoost

These demonstrate that turbo power and auto gear shifting can work together harmoniously. Automakers invest heavily in engineering to seamlessly blend the technologies.

Even affordable economy cars are now turbocharged and automatic, like the Mazda3, Hyundai Elantra, and Subaru Crosstrek. The combo offers accessible performance for the average driver.

Performance sedans in particular have embraced turbo autos to provide sports car power with luxury car comfort. Tuned correctly, the drivetrain configuration provides the best of both.

What Power Levels can an Automatic Transmission Reliably Handle?

With proper upgrades and a well-engineered turbo system, many automatic transmissions can handle quite impressive power numbers:

  • 500-600 horsepower for performance-oriented auto gearboxes like those found in corvettes, vipers, etc.
  • 400-500 horsepower for heavy duty truck/SUV transmissions when built up.
  • 250-350 horsepower for most moderately built V6/4-cylinder car automatic transmissions.
  • 150-250 horsepower for economy car autos like CVTs or 4-speed automatics before needing upgrades.

The transmission ultimately needs to be robustly constructed and designed to take some punishment to handle high levels of turbocharged power. Built transmissions with gentle, ramping boost strategies can accommodate quite potent turbocharged engines.

What are the Downsides or Considerations When Turbocharging an Automatic Car?

While offering great performance potential, some downsides exist with turbocharged automatic vehicles:

Tuning Difficulty

Properly calibrating the ECU and drivetrain for a turbo auto is tricky. If not done thoroughly, issues like torque converter failure, transmission slippage, or boost spike pitfalls can arise.

Transient Turbo Response

Turbos inherently have some lag as boost builds at lower RPMs. This can result in sluggish initial response while accelerating until the turbo kicks in. Some drivers dislike this sensation.

More Expensive

Between the turbo kit, supporting mods, upgraded transmission parts, and ECU tuning, turbocharging an auto is more involved and costlier than a manual transmission car.

Increased Drivetrain Stress

Even with upgrades, the automatic transmission and other driveline components endure higher levels of stress under the greater torque loads from turbocharging. This can shorten the service life of some components.

When executed properly, however, the benefits greatly outweigh the downsides for drivers desiring turbo performance with automatic convenience.


Turbocharging an automatic car opens up tremendous performance potential while retaining the ease of an auto gearbox. With the right supporting mods and tuning, turbocharged power can work excellently in harmony with an automatic transmission.

While historically associated mostly with manual gearboxes, modern sophistication in auto transmission durability and engine management systems mean turbos can now endow automatic cars with awe-inspiring acceleration.

Performance-demanding drivers seeking turbo thrust without a clutch pedal can rejoice. As this article outlines, adding a turbo to an automatic car is entirely achievable. With sound engineering and proper installation, the performance rewards are well worth the effort.

So for those that assumed only manual cars can reap the benefits of forced induction – think again. The combination of turbocharged force and automatic gear changing is very much within reach

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