Roots Superchargers

a modified Roots supercharger
Photo courtesy HowStuffWorks Shopper
The Eaton supercharger, a modified Roots supercharger.

There are three types of superchargers: Roots, twin-screw and centrifugal. The main difference is how they move air to the intake manifold of the engine. Roots and twin-screw superchargers use different types of meshing lobes, and a centrifugal supercharger uses an impeller, which draws air in. Although all of these designs provide a boost, they differ considerably in their efficiency. Each type of supercharger is available in different sizes, depending on whether you just want to give your car a boost or compete in a race.

The Roots supercharger is the oldest design. Philander and Francis Roots patented the design in 1860 as a machine that would help ventilate mine shafts. In 1900, Gottleib Daimler included a Roots supercharger in a car engine.

illustration of Roots supercharger
Roots supercharger

As the meshing lobes spin, air trapped in the pockets between the lobes is carried between the fill side and the discharge side. Large quantities of air move into the intake manifold and "stack up" to create positive pressure. For this reason, Roots superchargers are really nothing more than air blowers, and the term "blower" is still often used to describe all superchargers.

1940s Ford pickup with protruding Roots supercharger
Photo courtesy Sport Truck
A 1940s Ford pickup with a Roots supercharger.

Roots superchargers are usually large and sit on top of the engine. They are popular in muscle cars and hot rods because they stick out of the hood of the car. However, they are the least efficient supercharger for two reasons: They add more weight to the vehicle and they move air in discrete bursts instead of in a smooth and continuous flow.