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Universal Intercoolers

Universal Intercoolers

The intercooler works by cooling the air, and an intercooler provides a denser, more oxygen-rich air to the engine, thus improving the combustion by allowing more fuel to be burned. It also increases reliability as it allows for a more consistent temperature of intake air to the engine, which helps the air-fuel ratio of the engine to remain at a safe level. Air is forced into your engine by the turbocharger is naturally going to be very hot from the turbocharger being hot, and the air is compressed. The intercooler is designed to cool this hot compressed air down to a more reasonable temperature before it enters the engine.

Turbochargers work by compressing air, increasing its density before it reaches the cylinders of the engine. By squeezing more air into each cylinder, the engine can burn proportionally more fuel, creating more power with each explosion. This compressing process generates a lot of heat and increases the temperature of the air entering the engine. Unfortunately, as the air gets hotter, it also becomes less dense, reducing the amount of oxygen available in each cylinder and can be detrimental to performance.

To counter this process, the intercooler cools down the compressed air and supplies more oxygen for the engine and improves combustion in each cylinder. It also increases the reliability of the engine by regulating the air temperature by ensuring a safe level of the air-to-fuel ratio in each cylinder.

Intercoolers work like radiators, using fins to extract heat from the core of the intercooler. Airflow through the fins is needed for this to function effectively, which is one of the downsides of air-to-air intercoolers. However, this problem is usually so minor that it’s negligible.

Air-to-air Intercooler

The first version is the air-to-air intercooler, which operates through a series of cooling fins by moving the compressed air through a network of tiny tubes. The heat moves from the hot compressed air into these cooling fins which are kept cool by the rapid airflow from outside the moving vehicle in effect.

After passing through the intercooler, the cooled compressed air is then fed through the engine intake manifold and into the cylinders. In most turbocharged vehicles, the simplicity, lightweight and low cost of air-to-air intercoolers make them the most popular option.

Air-to-water Intercooler

Air-to-water intercoolers use water to cool down compressed air temperature. Coldwater is pumped through the unit, and heat is removed from the air as it moves through the unit. It is then pumped through a radiator or cooling circuit as this water heats up, before re-entering the intercooler until it cools.

Air-to-water intercoolers tend to be smaller than air-to-air intercoolers, making them ideal for engine bays with space at a minimum. Since water absorbs heat better than air, they are ideal for a wider temperature range.

This system requires the added complexity, weight and cost of a radiator, a pump, water and transfer lines. Typical applications for these are industrial machinery, marine and custom installs that don’t allow the easy fitment of an air-to-air, such as a rear-engine vehicle.

What are the benefits of installing an aftermarket intercooler?

To keep production costs down often, the OEM intercooler is relatively small. It will typically get the job done, but as soon as you start increasing boost pressure or adding bolt-on modifications, the OEM intercooler can hold you back.

The real magic of installing an aftermarket intercooler is the ability to run a more aggressive tune without running into detonation. A larger intercooler is also less susceptible to heat soaking, which means you can stay out on the drag strip or race track longer without losing power.

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