Is It Legal To Add A Turbocharger Or Supercharger To Your Car?

The word "turbo" is synonymous with fast cars and street racing. While the latter isn't legal, movies like Fast And The Furious have, in a way, glamourised the activity and driven the popularity of turbocharged and supercharged cars. These types of high performance cars aren't illegal to purchase; they're just pricey. There is an option to DIY it. But if you're looking to turbocharge or supercharge your own vehicle, the legalities around that are not so clear cut. Here's what you need to know.

Fast car image from Shutterstock

Last week, we looked at whether it's legal to lower or raise your car. This week, we're exploring performance enhancing modifications for petrol cars.

For the uninitiated, both a turbocharger and a supercharger serve to give your vehicle a performance boost so you get more power when they're installed in the engine. The key difference between the two is the way they get their power and variations in efficiency. If you want to know the technical details around the two technologies, How Stuff Works has a detailed guide on that.

Bear in mind that these modifications have the potential to increase emissions, fuel consumption and can reduce the lifespan of your car's engine.

Cars that are turbocharged or supercharged aren't exclusive to racing; there are plenty of road cars on the market today that feature this performance boosting feature so don't automatically assume a car with those modifications are exclusively reserved for street hooligans.

If you currently have a car and you're looking to add a turbo or supercharger to it, that's where the laws become a bit tricky.

As with many road-related legal issues, the laws around adding turbochargers and superchargers to cars differs from state to state. But first and foremost, any modifications you do to your vehicle must comply with Australian Design Rules (ARDs), which is a national standard. In most states, you can add turbochargers or supercharges to your cars if you comply with certain conditions.

In NSW, Victoria and South Australia, generally, you’re allowed to fit a turbocharger or supercharger onto your car provided it's identical to the one produced by the manufacturer for that specific car — that is if that model of car had an option for that kind of additional feature in the first place. If you're looking to put an aftermarket turbo or supercharger into your vehicle, there are certain criteria you need to meet which are different in each state and you'll need certification from your relevant roads authority.

For example, in NSW, if you're fitting a turbocharger or supercharger that was "not originally offered by the engine or vehicle manufacturer, or increasing the original power output by 20 per cent" you'll need to get it certified.

In Victoria:

"[F]itting of turbo chargers or superchargers other than those fitted by the original manufacturer must be certified by a VASS (Vehicle Assessment Signatory Scheme) Signatory as complying with VSB (Vehicle Standards Bulletin) 14 Modification Code LA3."

In Queensland, you'll need to get approvals through the Queensland Approved Person Scheme for turbocharge and supercharger installation even if they're ones that were made by the car or engine manufacturer. For aftermarket ones, you'll need to get individual approval through Queensland's Department of Transport and Main Roads.

For Western Australia, Northern Territory, ACT and Tasmaina, you'll need to apply for approval for any engine and fuel systems modifications through the states' respective Department of Transport and may require inspection.

You do need to remember that for those who are looking to get their turbocharge or supercharge modifications approved, you'll need to keep things in moderation. If you whack a modification on that increases the power significantly then it's likely you won't make it past approvals. It's best to check with your relevant traffic authority to get the details on what is acceptable and what's not in terms of boosting the performance of your car through modifications.

Did you just catch yourself wondering if something was legal or not? Let us know and we may be able to answer it in our next Is It Legal? feature.


    Regardless of legality, it's not worth it.

    Turbo engines need lots of modifications vs NA ones. These include changes to engine mapping and compression ratios. And most importantly, stronger components to tolerate the increased pressures.

    Simply strapping a turbo to a NA engine will either make it run poorly due to incorrect fuel:air mixtures. Or crack piston rings or worse due to inability to tolerate the higher pressures.

    There are plenty of other, cheaper ways to make a car go faster.

      Bit of a big call to outright claim its not worth it. Some people enjoy doing the modifications. Some people enjoy the extra performance for their track days. Some people like making an affordable and powerful car. Some cars are really made for it.
      I'm not really aware of any easier ways to get anywhere near as much of a performance upgrade for a car with an engine that will happily take forced induction. My Toyota 86 with its sister of a WRX engine is a match made in heaven for some forced induction, and there are plenty of quite affordable supercharger kits that aren't a huge install job along with ECU mod and some tuning.

    My tip? Roll cage, suspension, big brakes, and then a thorough skid pan and emissions test. Not cheap, but then do whatever the hell you want. 10 years, no cop ever wanted to actually go over the engineers booklet, for one, they're not actually qualified, and for two, they could book 3-4 cars in the amount of time it would take them to work out they couldn't book me anyway.

    Literally had cops rubbing their hands together and telling me I'll be towing it home pulling me over, only to go bright red and tell me to take it home when presented with the certificate because it made their job too hard and me too likely to be able to contest.

    Last edited 27/06/16 11:46 pm

    The biggest engines to gain from adding turbos are Diesel engines.
    They don't suffer from the issues Rickinoz was talking about, they will generally gain about a 50% increase in power and torque.

    Word of advice - check with your insurance company what adding a turbo will do to your premium.

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