What is an intercooler and what does it do for a car

Intercooler in the car: the principle of the device and repair methods with their own hands

Many cars with powerful turbine engines contain in their design not quite the usual detail – the intercooler. What is it in the car, how the part is designed and works and how to cope with the repair yourself – these are the questions that are increasingly asked by the owners of modern cars.

The intercooler is a technically unique part of the turbocharged engine, thanks to which the car gets an additional 15-20 horsepower without dangerous consequences. If there are problems, the repair should be done immediately, otherwise the engine turbine will begin to lose power, and over time the power unit will fail.

Why do you need an intercooler in your vehicle?

Intercooler is an intermediate element of the air supply system into the cylinders of a gasoline or diesel engine. It is designed for one function – cooling. The task of the device is to lower the air temperature by increasing its density. As a result the air pressure in the cylinders increases and the fuel mixture in the cylinders becomes more enriched. Equipping the engine with an intercooler increases the engine power by 15 percent on average.

Schematic of the part and its location in the engine

Externally, the intercooler resembles a radiator, consisting of plates and spigots. For the purpose of additional air cooling, copper or aluminum plates are welded to the tubes.


Externally, the intercooler is not much different from the radiator

In the engine, the part is mounted between the intake manifold and the turbine compressor. It is mounted at the front of the engine below the radiator, or above the engine. In some models of cars, the intercooler is located in the fenders.

The principle of operation of the intercooler and its effect on the engine power

The power increase is due to the intercooler’s ability to reduce the air temperature to 55-60 degrees. The quality of the air flowing into the turbocharger is thereby improved, which contributes to a better filling of the cylinders and increased engine performance.

The technology pays for itself 100%, because a drop in air temperature of just 10 degrees gives the engine three to five percent more horsepower. If there is no intercooler, or if it doesn’t work, the intake air of the turbine heats up to 200 degrees too much. This in turn reduces the power of the engine, and subsequently may lead to its failure.

The operation of the intercooler affects fuel consumption. The combustible mixture burns more efficiently, which means that the required amount of gasoline is also reduced. The effectiveness of the part is measured by the reduction in engine temperature compared to the ambient air temperature. Additionally, the intercooler reduces boost pressure due to the resistance created by this part. For a good intercooler, a pressure drop of 1-2 psi may be considered acceptable.

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Types of intercoolers

Depending on the design and operating principles, intercoolers are divided into two types:


The intercooler of simple design is a series of tubes connected by rows of plates. In fact, the purpose of the part is to allow the air coming from outside to pass through the tubes. The plates allow to increase the heat transfer area, so that the air has time to cool down before it enters the turbine.

The air intercooler allows reducing the temperature of the air supplied to the turbine by 40-50 degrees, which gives 12 to 15% increase in engine power. The effectiveness of the part can only be evaluated at speeds above 30-40 km/h.

Air intercooler

In the air intercooler, also known as “air-to-air”, the overhead air flow acts as a cooler

Air models are installed in three places:

  1. Under the hood, directly above the engine.
  2. Behind the front bumper.
  3. In the side fender spaces.

The second and third installation options are more feasible and more common, as they provide intensive airflow. The air intercooler is most often installed on SUVs and trucks.

The disadvantages of air models are their large weight and impressive size.

Water .

The coolant in it is water, which copes with the task much more effectively. The water intercooler is more compact and does not take up much space under the hood of the car. Although when installing it, you have to find space for the pump and temperature sensor. But the efficiency of this type of part is several times higher.

On average, a water intercooler lowers the temperature by 60-70 degrees. In the more advanced and expensive models, the coolant is a coolant: antifreeze, antifreeze, liquid nitrogen. Due to the features of such coolants the heat output is doubled comparing to the models operating on water.

Water cooler

The liquid absorbs heat much more intensively, therefore water-air intercoolers are much more efficient than their air counterparts.

However, this type of part has some disadvantages as well. The water model has a more complicated design. The work of the part is regulated by a water pump, temperature sensor and control unit. This leads to higher construction cost and complexity of repair in case of breakdown. Therefore, the lower price range models use mostly air intercoolers. In addition, this device requires systematic monitoring of the coolant.

This is interesting! Domestic car models are mainly equipped with intercoolers costing about 10 thousand, on imported models – from 50 thousand rubles. There are more advanced models, the price of which is counted in hundreds of thousands of rubles. On sports cars, manufactured on special projects, install a special kind of intercooler – custom, in which cooling is done with the help of ice and a special liquid.

Can I Remove the Part

Intercooler is an additional part of the engine, without which the engine may well function. Abandoning it relieves the car by a couple of tens of kilograms and allows you to free up space under the hood. However, experts do not recommend giving up the intercooler, if it is provided by the design of the motor.

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The refusal of the intercooler will lead to the premature engine wear due to the high temperatures. The power of the engine will immediately decrease. Removing the part from turbocharged models of cars is strongly not recommended.

Selection criteria for self-installation

Tuning your own car involves the replacement or independent installation of the intercooler. If the car owner has the idea to change the part to a more advanced model, you should consider the following selection criteria:

  1. The area of the heat exchanger. The size of the tubes and plates directly affects the efficiency of its work part. On sale there are very compact models, the size of a book. However, the expediency of their installation is rather questionable, and can hardly provide an optimal increase in the motor power. Before buying, you need to calculate the installation location of the part, so that it will fit exactly on the seat.
  2. The size of the inner section of the tubes. The design must ensure the free passage of air through it.
  3. The thickness of the heat exchanger plates. Operation is affected by the area of the part, but not the thickness of the walls. Chasing thick metal will only add weight to the part, but will have no effect on its efficiency.
  4. The shape of the tubes. The optimal choice – segments of conical shape with the largest possible radius of curves.
  5. High-quality connection of the spigots. It is especially important when choosing a water intercooler, as poor-quality connection of parts will lead to coolant leakage.

Features of operation and the main causes of breakdowns

Modern models of intercoolers for a long time do not require special care. However, periodic inspection and timely diagnosis of failure is necessary. The following breakdowns can be found in the part:

  1. Rupture of the spigot or heat exchanger due to excessive pressure. This breakdown is indicated by a sharp drop in car power and increased fuel consumption. There is no sense in repairing ruptured branch pipes, as they will fail again at once under air pressure. In this case only replacement of a branch pipe will help to restore serviceability.
  2. Oil getting into the internal space. Normally a small amount of oil gets into the intercooler during turbine operation. Permissible figures are 0.7-1 liters per 10000 km. If the figures are higher, you should think about repairing the part.
  3. Cracks on tubes and plates. The intercooler, installed in the fenders or under the front bumper, is subjected to increased mechanical impact.
  4. Tube clogging. This occurs especially intensively in winter.Therefore, in winter, cleaning the part from chemicals and sand should be carried out as often as possible.
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Repair of the intercooler with your own hands

Repair of the part begins with its disassembly. It is inexpedient to describe the specific steps for removal, because it all depends on the place and method of installation of the part in the car. For example, if the part is installed above the engine, it is simply “pulled off” by loosening the clamps. When the intercooler is installed in one unit with radiators (main radiator, automatic transmission, air conditioner), you will have to exert some effort.

It is important! The intercooler can be removed only when the engine is completely cooled and the ignition system is off.

Intercooler cooler.

For a complete repair it is necessary to dismantle the part

After removing the part, the following steps are taken:

  1. Cleaning. In terms of time, this procedure can take about 2-3 hours. It is especially difficult to get rid of oil drips. But it is necessary to remove all contaminants: the quality of the performed work will depend on the operation of the intercooler in the future. For cleaning remove all parts and disconnect spigots. The outer surface and ducts are thoroughly washed with a special auto chemical, and for better removal of oil soak for a few hours. Do not use gasoline or other oil solvents: they can damage the material from which the part is made.
  2. Fill cracks. Remove the cracked element from the part body, file the damaged area and solder a platinum insert onto it. The material of the insert must match the material of the removed tube.
  3. Pressure testing in a water bath or with a smoke machine. Before installing the repaired part in place, it is not superfluous to check the quality of repair. This will save the motorist from having to remove it again in case of a poorly done job. The real test of the part is to drive at a sufficient speed. If the engine runs with the former power, and during “shifts” no extraneous whistling is heard, then the operability of the part is restored.

It is important! The most serious breakdown is the violation of the vented crankcase, which occurs due to the excess of the oil level in the part. Local repair in this case will not solve the problem. It will be necessary to overhaul the motor and replace the intercooler.

To cope with minor repairs and maintenance of the intercooler is quite feasible for any car owner. In the case of a serious breakdown or if it is necessary to replace the model with a more advanced one, it is worth contacting specialists at an auto repair shop.

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Intercooler: what it is and why it is needed

All modern turbocharged car engines need to cool the charge air somehow. This problem is solved by the intercooler – a heat exchanger in which the air compressed by the turbocharger is cooled by air or fluid.

A turbocharger – or simply a turbine – is needed to increase engine performance and efficiency. Here’s how it all works:

1. The potential energy of the exhaust gases, which are generated after the combustion of the air-fuel mixture in the engine cylinders, starts the turbine wheel of the turbocharger (8). 2. Its rotation drives the compressor wheel (2) mounted on the same shaft. 3. The compressor wheel takes air through the air filter (1) and compresses it to a higher pressure and then blows it toward the intake manifold. 4. The intercooler (3) is designed to cool the compressed and hot air before it enters the intake manifold, from where it enters the cylinders (4).

The lower the temperature of the charge air, the higher its density. Consequently, more air can be fed into the cylinder combustion chambers, resulting in more efficient combustion of the air/fuel mixture, which means more power and torque. This results in higher engine efficiency, lower fuel consumption and lower emissions.

Air-cooled intercoolers

Air-cooled charge air intercoolers are air-to-air intercoolers. These are typically located at the front of the vehicle, such as in front of the main radiator or in the area of the underbody liner. It is also possible to locate the intercooler horizontally, in which case they are installed above the engine. Intercoolers can be made entirely of aluminum or have plastic tanks.

On the inlet and outlet sides are plastic or aluminum tanks, and between them is a brazed core that consists of tubes and cooling cells. To maximize the internal cooling surface, and therefore performance, the tubes have internal separating walls or fins.

Liquid-cooled intercoolers

Some vehicles have liquid-cooled intercoolers, including the use of a separate low-temperature radiator. They sit next to the main engine cooling radiator. Since this heat exchanger is very compact, it can be placed almost anywhere and even as a single unit with the intake module. Even if a low-temperature radiator is used, it is much smaller than a conventional intercooler and therefore takes up less space. There is also no longer a need for large pipes and hoses for charge air.

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In addition to increased cooling efficiency, another requirement may be placed on charge air cooling: controlling the combustion temperature of the air-fuel mixture in the engine cylinders by controlling charge air cooling. Temperature control is necessary due to the ever-increasing requirements for exhaust emissions (EURO 6 standards). The water pump will operate on the basis of data from the electronic control unit: sensors transmit readings to it which influence the intensity of charge air cooling.

Thus, the use of liquid-cooled intercoolers in vehicles offers great advantages. Cooling performance is higher, and charge air pressure drop is lower.

Intercooler Failures

There are typical damages to intercoolers that reduce their performance or render them inoperable:

– Consequences of traffic accidents – Rocks that fly into heat exchangers – Corrosion due to dirt, chemical buildup and salt – High-temperature loads

Leaks in the intercooler cause reduced engine performance. Leaks in the intercooler are mainly characterized by a whistling sound caused by escaping compressed air.

In the event of a mechanical breakdown of the turbine, the intercooler and the connected pipes or hoses must be carefully checked for contamination by metal parts and oil. Metal shavings, for example, can cause clogging of the tubes and internal ducts and reduce performance. In the worst case, it will go through the intercooler, enter the cylinders and cause serious engine damage. If metal shavings are found, the intercooler must be replaced or cleaned immediately, and the tubes and hoses washed with special products, or replaced. To prevent engine damage, always check the engine intake manifold for any debris before installing a new intercooler.

NRF’s range of intercoolers

NRF offers more than 600 quality intercoolers to meet your high expectations and requirements. For more information contact your local supplier or visit www.nrf.eu, webshop.nrf.eu

Benefits of NRF intercoolers:

1. they undergo many in-house tests and are manufactured in NRF factories: the option of contract manufacturing is eliminated. 2. They provide superior cooling capacity due to their high performance aluminum core. 3. Some models are available as Easy Fit, i.e. with all the necessary washers, gaskets and other fasteners. 4. They are available not only for cars and light commercial vehicles, but also for trucks and buses.

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