What to Look for When Building a Turbo Honda or Acura

Updated on January 20, 2019
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The staff at Redline Motive shares its expertise on modding cars.

How to Build a Turbo Honda or Acura

Homemade turbo kits are some of the best and least expensive ways to turbo your Honda or Acura.

1990 B18B Turbo Honda Civic
1990 B18B Turbo Honda Civic | Source

What a Turbo Does for a Honda or Acura

The Honda engine is a perfect example of a super-efficient modern day engine that is designed for superior intake and exhaust flow. Nothing takes better advantage of this than a turbo.

The basics of a turbo is that it uses your exhaust gasses to spin a wheel inside a turbine. This turbine in turn spins and builds up air pressure that gets pushed into your throttle body and intake manifold, ultimately into your cylinder head.

Honda engines absolutely love to breathe, but they also love a little help. Honda's efficient motors are perfect for turbos and the Redline Motive team is going to take some time to help you understand how the system works, what you need to build your own turbo kit, and what to look out for when buying a prebuilt turbo kit. We will also talk about superchargers, and why we do not recommend superchargers for the 4-cylinder Honda engines (we are not going to be discussing V6 Honda engines in this article).

How Does a Turbo Work on a Honda Motor and a Honda ECU?

Since a Honda from the factory is not designed to be used with a turbo, certain things need to be done to prepare the car to accept boost. Honda motors are very stout, and can take a good amount of horsepower absolutely stock. The trick is all in the tune. We absolutely recommend a good tune, and a good ECU to help regulate every system in the car. We are not going to go into any specific ECUs, piggybacks, or stand alone's here, but we do not recommend the piggyback. The basic things that an ECU should do are regulate timing and ensure you have enough fuel.

How Much Timing is Best?

Every car and setup is going to be different. The amount of timing that you are going to start with, and end up with at peak boost, is going to depend on the size of your turbo, the type of Honda engine you have, how much boost you are running, what octane gas you have, outside temperature, and various other variables. We recommend that once your car is tuned, you have a warning system, so that in overboost conditions, your timing will yank. Take precautions with timing, it's very important for longevity of your engine. Wouldn't you rather lose a little horsepower, but have the ability to torture your engine day in and day out and not worry that it will blow up?

What Kind of Fuel System Do I Need?

Just like timing, the fuel system for a turbo Honda is really dependent on the flow characteristics of your motor, the amount of boost you are running, the size and efficiency of your turbo, and so on. We recommend a high-pressure fuel pump, properly-sized fuel injectors, adequate methods to ensure and control fuel pressure, and always having enough fuel to never have an instance or possibility to run lean (take into account overboost conditions).

Do I Need a Knock Sensor?

This is a subject that can be debated all day long. I say, if your engine comes with one, use it. If not, then as long as you ensure your engine is properly tuned, you should not have any worries. But why not be safe than sorry? For hardcore enthusiasts with expensive motors, we recommend aftermarket knock sensors like the J&S knock sensor, where you can tune the sensitivity, and have it pull timing if it detects something went haywire.

No Piggybacks

You're going to spend a few thousand dollars on your turbo kit, and then you're going to cheap out with the management? Only if you are itching for an engine rebuild or like to have rods fly through your block. If you are serious about performance AND reliability, don't skimp on the management. Hardly any piggyback does a good job of controlling timing, fuel management, and boost at the same time. And it definitely won't have a good overboost protection system in place.

Ok, I Want a Turbo. What's the Best Engine for Me?

Just about any 4-cylinder Honda engine is going to give you great performance with a turbo. We're not non-VTEC haters, but if you have the ability to run a VTEC head, why not do it? It flows more, gives you a better idle with aftermarket cams (although stock cams are typically just fine), and is really not much more expensive. In the long run, you will be glad you went VTEC. We have had great success with both the D series and B Series engines as the most popular Honda engines to turbo.

Honda D Series Turbo

For all of you D Series lovers out there, we feel you. What a great little engine that can produce impressive horsepower, be cheap to replace, and overall be much easier to work with. The D16Z6 and the D16Y8 are the most popular D series engines to turbo, and 300 horsepower at the wheels on a stock engine with a good tune is very possible, and in a lightweight Civic, CRX or Del Sol, VERY fun! Build the motor, get a little more serious, and 400+ horsepower will keep you grinning all day long.

Honda B Series Turbo

The ultimate setup is a B Series Turbo (B18C1 GSR or B16A2 Si motor work well). The B16 is a little smaller at 1.6 liters, but can produce almost as much power for less cost over a B18. The B16 will rev higher, and produce less torque than the B18. The B18 would be our pick as the best Honda motor to turbocharge.

Which Honda Engine Should I Run?

It depends on your horsepower desires. For those people who want to go as inexpensive as possible, and run about 250 horsepower to 300 horsepower safely, we recommend a D Series. For those who want to run more than 300, we would recommend going with a B Series. Can you run more than 300 with a D Series? Sure. But after about 300, it just gets to be more expensive than with a B Series, and typically less reliable.

What Should I Look Out for When Buying a Turbo Kit?

If you are going to buy a turbo kit, we recommend one that does not come with any fuel management, as it's just a waste of money. Unless if it's something like Crome or Hondata or AEM EMS, then you are probably going to end up junking it anyway.

Buy a turbo kit that comes with a turbo that is sized for the horsepower you want. We recommend getting a turbo that is a little bit bigger, so the turbo is always running in its efficient range. Research the kit, and make sure that others say the kit fits without any trimming, modification or problems. However, for a FMIC (Front Mount Intercooler), you will generally always need to trim your bumper.

What is Turbo Lag?

Turbo lag is the amount of time it takes for your turbo to start building boost after you first punch the throttle. We never recommend giving it full throttle until you are in a high RPM range, as you do not want to lug your engine. Lugging your engine can cause premature stress, wear and tear, and engine failure. If you want 300 horsepower, find a turbo that is efficient to say 350 horsepower. That way you can run 300 horsepower, and know your turbo is not overworking, not just blowing hot air, and is as efficient as possible. This will also keep your turbo lag to a minimum. For those people who run huge turbos at low boost, we just don't understand why.

Will I Pass a Smog Test? What Do I Do About CARB?

GReddy turbo kits are smog legal, but they are basic, do not flow very well, and are designed to be low-boosting, low-power, and CARB legal. On most Hondas, the GReddy turbo kit is only smog legal without the intercooler. This already limits the amount of boost you can run, horsepower levels, and reliability. If you live in an area where you need to pass visual inspection, this might be the only turbo kit for you. Homemade turbo kits, and most other bolt-on turbo kits, are not CARB or smog legal. This is strange to us, because with a good tune, they can be just as enviromentally friendly as a stock Honda. Oh well.

What Parts Do I Need for a Turbo Kit?

  1. Turbo
  2. Turbo manifold
  3. Intercooler
  4. Wastegate
  5. Blow-off valve
  6. Intercooler piping
  7. Silicone coupling
  8. T-Bolt clamps
  9. 2- or 3-bar MAP sensor (for more than 10-11psi)
  10. Air filter
  11. Oil feed line
  12. Oil return line
  13. All gaskets

Do I Need an Intercooler?

Absolutely. We recommend an intercooler with every turbo setup, no matter how much boost you plan to run. The intercooler cools down the air from the turbo, so you can run most boost safely, or have an added margin of safety at your present boost. The cooler air also produces more horsepower at the same boost level.

What Size Intercooler Is Best?

The intercooler size completely depends on your setup, and how much boost you are running. The larger the intercooler, the more pressure loss you will have across it. Find an intercooler that fills your bumper, flows the required CFM for your setup, and is made with aluminum endtanks.

Do I Get an Internal or External Wastegate?

A wastegate's job is to regulate boost. When you run a certain amount of boost, the wastegate opens to release exhaust gas pressure so that you do not create more boost. If the wastegate can flow enough, then you will be able to control your boost properly. Typically, an external wastegate can outflow an internal wastegate. However, depending on the amount of boost you run, an internal wastegate might work fine. In addition, only internal wastegates are CARB and SMOG legal in CA.

What Size Wastegate Do I Run?

The size of the wastegate is also dependent on how much boost you are going to run. A 35 or 38mm wastegate is good for most cars that run under 20-25 psi of boost, and a larger wastegate might be needed if you do not get proper boost control with the smaller wastegate.

Do I Need a Boost Controller?

Many people do not need a boost controller because they run the boost set by the wastegate spring. If you do not want to add another variable to your turbo setup, we recommend just running the wastegate spring, and if you want more boost to replace the spring.

Should I Use an Electronic or Manual Boost Controller?

We have found that a manual boost controller controls boost just as well as an electronic boost controller for much less money. However, an electronic boost controller has several features that you might like, like being able to raise boost from inside of the car, being able to lower boost from inside the car, and boost scramble which allows you to run a higher level of boost for a set amount of time.

What Kind of Intercooler Piping Do I Need?

We recommend aluminum piping, and do not recommend plastic, steel, or any other material. Aluminum doesn’t get as hot, and keeps the air from heating up as much, plus it’s rather light. Typically, you would need:

  • From the turbo to the intercooler inlet: 3 90-degree bends.
  • From the turbo outlet to the intake manifold: 45-degree, and a 90-degree that points into the throttle body.You will need some straight pieces between some of these bends. We recommend 2.25″ intercooler piping for the inlet side, and 2.5″ intercooler piping for the outlet side. For higher boost levels, increase these sizes (boost more than 10psi, get a 2.5″ inlet pipe, and 2.5″ outlet pipe).

Do I Need a New MAP Sensor?

Honda map sensors can handle up to about 10 or 11psi without throwing a check engine light. Over that, we recommend a GM 3 bar map sensor. You will need a converter to wire it up, but it’s rather simple.

What Does a Blow-Off Valve Do?

A blow-off valve releases extra pressure in your intake tract. When you are building boost, if you let go off the gas, you close the throttle plate. The pressurized air hits this plate. It needs a place to go, so during this condition, the blow off valve should open, and release the air. If your blow-off valve is weak, or leaks, then you could have problems building boost, or you could lose boost pressure. We recommend to get a good quality blow-off valve that is rated up to the amount of horsepower you are going to run. We *highly* recommend AGAINST eBay blow-off valves.

Intercooler Clamps, Intercooler Pipe Blow-Offs

We recommend strong T-bolt intercooler clamps. Make sure your intercooler piping is beaded as well. With beaded intercooler pipes, and T-bolt clamps, you should not have any problems with your intercooler piping blowing off. Because of the MAP sensor in the Honda, the car should still run fine, and can limp home, but it’s definitely not fun to have an intercooler pipe blow off.

What’s the Best Air Filter?

We recommend an air filter that has an internal shell so that the air filter doesn’t collapse on itself due to the intense sucking of the turbo.

What’s the Best Type of Exhaust Manifold?

We recommend a manifold that is cast iron, or tubular made with thick steel so it will not crack. Make sure the manifold has a lifetime warranty.

What Is the Best Exhaust Size?

Turbos love to breathe. We recommend 3″ exhausts with all turbo setups. You can have a 2.5″ downpipe, a 2.5″ catalytic converter or testpipe (off-road only), and a 3″ catback for a good street combination. Get a good 3″ straight-through muffler.

Where Is the Best Place to Pipe the Oil Return and Oil Feed Lines?

We recommend piping the oil return line into your oil pan at a place that is above the oil level in the pan. If you don’t do this, you can burn oil through your exhaust.

A great place to put the oil feed line is on the back of the block above the oil filter. Make sure you run a restrictor so you don’t put too much oil pressure in your turbo, which can make you leak oil between your turbo seals, or through your exhaust.

Where Is the Best Place to Tee for Boost Pressure Readings?

We recommend finding a FREE source off the intake manifold. Do not tee it off the fuel pressure line. While this would be a good place to read boost, teeing into this line lowers fuel pressure, which you don't want.

What Gauges Do I Need?

We recommend two gauges. We recommend a boost gauge, and an EGT gauge. The boost gauge, for obvious reasons. The EGT gauge, or Exhaust Gas Temperature gauges, to monitor engine conditions. A high EGT temperature means you are running lean. We recommend to keep the EGT Temperature under 900 c or 1650 F.

Startup Checklist

Woohoo! Ready to fire that baby up?

  • Make sure you pressurize the system with oil before you start it.
  • Pull your ECU plug and crank the motor, so the oil can circulate through the engine, and fill in the turbo. Make sure everything is plugged in, all RTV has dried, and all connections are tight.
  • Plug the ECU back in and fire it up. Do not rev the engine, let it idle, and let the ECU adjust to the bigger fuel injectors, strange air characteristics, and everything else.

Your engine is going to steam, and burn off oil, fingerprints, dirt, and all kinds of gunk. It will stink for a few days. Don’t worry about it.

Enjoy your new turbo Honda!!

Turbo Honda Video

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

Questions & Answers

    Add a comment about Turbo Honda or Turbo Acura

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      • profile image

        Lance 

        8 weeks ago

        There's so many things wrong information in this article.

        1. Not recomending a piggy back? But yet not saying anything about building a motor to actually justify a standalone.. A Hondata s300v2 or v3 or netpune rtp off a demon chip will be more than enough for these hp baby numbers. If you buy a standalone for 300whp you're smoking dust.

        2. Why would you buy a GM Map sensor when there are Hondata, Omni Power, and other types of Map sensors that plug into the stock harness and port without any modification??

        3. Theres no mention about what type of fuel system to actually use for the type of power range or fuel you decide to use. For 300-400whp on 93 you wont need anything more than a 255lph, 750-1000cc injectors and you can even use the stock regulator. For e85 you need at least 1000cc injectors and an e85 compatable pump, the smallest you would want to go is a 320lph.

        4. Ebay Blow off valves work fine, but ebay wastegates do not, I'm not sure if they confused the two.

        5. I've literally never met anyone who has a street car build who uses an EGT and thats on any car. The gauges you should be running are Boost, Wideband, and Oil Pressure. fuel pressure and oil temp as well if you want to be extra careful. I don't understand why they don't say anything about a wideband but recommend using a standalone?? You need a wideband to run data logs log

        Anyone who's a beginner reading this do yourself a favor and just go on hondatech and zealautowerks and use the forums for year uppon years of wisdom from trial, error and roasting.

      • profile image

        Brian garner 

        7 months ago

        What about H series Motors

      • profile image

        Tom 

        8 months ago

        You don’t recommend a wideband o2 or AFR gauge? Just wondering...

      • profile image

        Christian 

        8 months ago

        just starting up my 97 cd5 accord turbo build. wish me luck! f22b1 with full dc sport exhaust system and an h23 intake mani.

      • profile image

        Mark 

        8 months ago

        Just finishing up turbo b16 crx

      • profile image

        Gary 

        10 months ago

        Awesome post! Thank you! On my way to a sick b16 crx!!

      • ChrisCampbell05 profile image

        Chris 

        3 years ago from Tampa, FL

        A while back I had an 89 prelude with a sleeved 2.0L turbo motor. Car was ugly as heck but it would move.

      • AustinCole LM profile image

        AustinCole LM 

        6 years ago

        You should link to my website www.turbolabofamerica.com

      • profile image

        boostgear 

        8 years ago

        Pretty good page! Keep up the good work.

      • profile image

        penellan 

        8 years ago

        I recently bought a Honda CRX from certified Hondas and installed a Peakboost turbo - this lens was super helpful, thanks much!

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