What Does an Intercooler Do?

Posted on April 23 2021

What Does an Intercooler Do?

You know you have a turbocharged vehicle and how turbochargers work, but what you might not know is what the individual components of turbochargers are. A turbocharger consists of three main components: the turbine, the compressor, and the bearing system. While these are some of the most important components of a turbocharger, they aren't the only ones. Turbos also have wastegates, blow-off valves, piping and manifolds, intercoolers, and more. In this article, we'll take a close look at intercoolers. You might be wondering: what does an intercooler do? Where is it located? We'll go over all that and more.

What Is an Intercooler?

An intercooler is a mechanical air intake cooling device that's commonly found on engines equipped with a forced induction (turbocharger or supercharger) system. Intercoolers can be placed anywhere between the turbo and the engine, but they tend to be more effective when mounted in an area with adequate airflow. Accordingly, most vehicles will have them located at the front of the vehicle directly behind the grille. When the engine layout prevents this advantageous positioning, they're often placed on top of the engine instead.

How Does It Work?

The turbocharger works by compressing air. This allows it to squeeze more air into each cylinder. Unfortunately, the compressing process generates a lot of heat. The heat that's generated increases the temperature of the air entering the engine, causing it to become less dense. This reduces the amount of oxygen available in each cylinder and negatively impacts engine performance.

So, what does an intercooler do? The role of the intercooler is to cool the compressed air, allowing more air to flow into the cylinders and improving combustion. It also makes the engine more reliable by regulating the temperature of the air and ensuring the air-to-fuel ratio in each cylinder is balanced.

The Different Types of Intercoolers

There are two different kinds of intercoolers: air-to-air and air-to-water.


The first type of intercooler is air-to-air. It works by passing the compressed air through a series of small tubes and cooling fins. After the cooled compressed air is passed through the intercooler, it travels to the intake manifold, then to the cylinders. This type of intercooler is the most popular choice for turbocharged vehicles, mainly due to its lightness, simplicity, and low cost.


The second type of intercooler is air-to-water, which uses water to lower the temperature of the compressed air. The water that's pumped through the unit extracts heat from the air as it passes through. The water, which is heated in the process, is pumped through either a radiator or cooling circuit to be cooled down before being returned to the intercooler. This type of intercooler is much smaller and conducts heat better than air-to-air intercoolers but is also heavier, more complex, and more expensive.

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