Intercooler Buyer's Guide
- The intercooler is an intake air-cooler that is commonly found on turbocharged or supercharged vehicles.
- The intercooler brings down the temperature of the air coming from the forced induction system before it gets passed to the engine.
- The difference between a radiator and an intercooler is that the radiator keeps your engine cool and running while the intercooler supplies the engine with cold, denser air.
- The two main types of intercooler are air-to-air and air-to-water.
- Due to its location, the intercooler is prone to external damage caused by road debris, large insects, and dried mud build-up.
- OE intercooler replacements on CarParts.com cost roughly from $60 to $1,800.
- Replacement labor could cost you around $100 to $200.
Your engine needs proper cooling for it to maintain its optimum performance. To help it cool down, your car is fitted with a cooling system. This system consists of pipes, heat exchanger devices, fans, a coolant reservoir, a heater core, and many more. The cooling system keeps your engine from overheating through heat transfer. It uses a special fluid known as coolant, which absorbs heat in the engine and passes it to the atmosphere with the help of the main heat exchanger, the radiator.
Heat exchangers can also be used to perform a different task aside from directly cooling the engine. For example, most turbocharged and supercharged cars boast a secondary heat exchanger known as the intercooler. But what is an intercooler, and how does it differ from the radiator?
What is an intercooler?
The intercooler is an intake air-cooler that is commonly found on turbocharged or supercharged vehicles. It is the radiator-like device that you can often find sticking out from the lower grille opening on performance cars. Aside from featuring horizontal slats with fins like the radiator, the intercooler is connected to the intake manifold and your car’s forced induction unit via tubes or pipes.
What does an intercooler do?
Keep in mind that the intercooler does not cool the turbo or supercharger. What it does is bring down the temperature of the air coming from the forced induction system before it gets passed to the engine. If installed properly, the intercooler can give your engine some boost, as dense air allows the engine to run more efficiently.
Intercooler vs Radiator
The intercooler and radiator are both heat exchangers. However, they are two different components designed to do two different tasks. The radiator uses a fluid called coolant to absorb heat from the engine and releases it to the atmosphere as cold air blows through its fins. The intercooler, on the other hand, takes heat away from the intake air coming from the turbocharger. In essence, the radiator keeps your engine cool and running while the intercooler supplies the engine with cold, denser air and adds power.
How does an intercooler work?
Forced induction systems feed the engine with denser air for a richer air-fuel mixture. Unlike the cold air intake, forced induction systems compress air and deliver it straight to the intake manifold and into the engine. The compression process causes the temperature of the air to rise. Hot air contains less oxygen, which leads to a poor air-fuel mixture and inefficient combustion. Enter the intercooler.
There are different mounting locations for the intercooler in the engine bay. Some intercoolers are mounted below the radiator while others are mounted horizontally above the engine. A tube or pipe connects the inlet side of the intercooler to the forced induction device. This tube directs the hot compressed air into the intercooler core where it gets cooled off. The air enters the finned tubes of the intercooler core and gets cooled off through a process known as heat transfer.
Heat transfer happens when the high-flow air blows through the thermal fins and cools down the compressed air inside the intercooler core. The cooled air then travels through the outlet tube leading straight to the intake manifold.
Types of intercooler
Intercoolers differ based on the mechanism they use to function. There are two main types of intercooler in the market: air-to-air and air-to-water. For a clearer understanding of the intercooler, here’s a closer look at the two different types.
Air-to-air intercoolers are the simplest types of heat exchangers, aside from being the cheapest and most accessible. This type of intercooler uses high-flow air flowing through the thermal fins of the intercooler to cool the compressed air inside the core. Think of it as the radiator without the coolant, water pump, and reservoir.
Air-to-water intercoolers are more complicated in structure and process compared to the air-to-air type. These heat exchangers feature a separate cooling system that transfers the heat from the compressed air to an intermediate liquid. It also has its own fluid reservoir and water pump, which makes this type heavier than air-to-air intercoolers. Since air-to-liquid intercoolers don’t use outside air to cool the charged air off, they can be mounted in different locations inside the engine bay.
Symptoms of a bad intercooler
Due to its location, the intercooler is prone to external damage caused by road debris, large insects, and dried mud build-up. These factors can cause your intercooler to experience premature wear leading to abnormal increases in pressure. Improper installation can also introduce untimely issues not only to your intercooler but to the entire cooling system and engine. To help you identify a problem in the early stages, here are some symptoms of a failing intercooler:
- Reduced or restricted airflow
- Noticeable decline in engine power
- Poor fuel economy
- An excessive amount of smoke coming from the tailpipe
- Turbocharger or supercharger failure
- Engine overheating
- Weird engine noises (knocking)
Don’t ignore these symptoms as driving with a failing intercooler can compromise your engine’s power output, fuel efficiency, and emission levels. All of these could lead to engine failure, which is obviously more costly than having to replace your intercooler. If you notice that your intercooler is starting to show these signs, schedule a trip to a certified mechanic immediately and get your cooling and forced induction systems checked.
How much will it cost to replace your intercooler?
If you’re looking for great deals on intercoolers, CarParts.com com has just the right parts for you. OE intercooler replacements on CarParts.com cost roughly from $60 to $1,800. You could either buy a solo piece or have it as part of a kit. To ensure proper fit, have a certified mechanic install the part for you. Replacement labor could cost you around $100 to $200.
Finding the right fit
Shopping at CarParts.com gives you the convenience of finding the right product with less effort. You may refine your search by selecting from the categories listed on the left section of the intercooler product page. You may select the inlet size you need, material, color finish, and series of the replacement part you want to buy. To make it even easier for you, you can narrow down your search by indicating the year, make, and model of your vehicle on the filter tab under the search menu.
Looking for the Right Intercooler
Intercoolers are not difficult to find; however, getting the right intercooler may be tricky. There are a lot of brands in the market, but you can't sacrifice your cash by spending it on one that's not guaranteed to work correctly. There are a lot of things to consider if you're thinking about buying a new intercooler, and here's a guide to help you out.
What is an intercooler?
Before going to the store to buy an intercooler, you have to know what it is and its purpose. The car intercooler is the mechanical device that is used to cool air that's compressed inside the combustion engine. It's basically a heat exchanger that's used to draw heat from the turbo. A major role it plays is to help decrease the chances of engine damage.
Measure the intercooler
As they say,
One man's trash is another person's treasure, but in this case, the only treasure you get from your old intercooler is the measurements. Before you ditch your old one, take its dimensions because these are very helpful when you're going to search for a replacement. Height, width, and thickness are the things to keep in mind. Also, it's good to know the make and model of your vehicle, the brake horsepower (BHP), and the make of the engine.
Is it liquid or air?
You have to find out which intercooler needs to be replaced especially since there are two kinds: air-to-air and air-to-liquid. The air-to-air intercooler is the one responsible for transferring heat through the tubes and fins and essentially transforming the heat into air. Whereas the air-to-liquid intercooler basically does the same, but it only shifts hot air in the charge pipe to cool water. This kind of intercooler comes with a reservoir that holds the water that is being pumped in through the system.
Where can you find the right intercooler?
Since there are a lot of auto stores in the industry, you can surely find a new intercooler at these places. It's also a good idea to be able to actually see and touch them to check for defects. However, a drawback can be when it's not readily available. The Internet comes into the picture in this kind of situation. There are loads of online automotive retailers wherein you can find intercoolers that come straight from the factory. You can also read reviews about them online to help you with the decision. However, be careful not to rummage in old salvage yards. You threw out your old piece, why look in even older stuff?
These are just some tips for you to remember before you hunt for your replacement intercooler. Explore and good luck!
Install the Intercooler in an Instant
Admit it; you can't stand having to sit around all day all sweaty and without any means to keep you cool. Well, just like the car, it won't be able to give its best performance if the intercooler is not working correctly. If this is damaged, then it might be about time to get it repaired. So here are steps on how to restore your good old intercooler.
Difficulty level: hard
Tools you'll need:
- Flathead screwdriver
- Test equipment (3-inch plumbing test cap, 3-inch plumbing cap, OEM air compressor, and water)
- Allen wrench
Step 1: Get your car to go up the ramp. This way your vehicle will be slightly elevated and you won't have a hard time repairing the intercooler. If you can, turn the wheels while on the ramp so that you'd be able to gain access to the side bolts that hold the bumper.
Step 2: In the bumper, look for the three bolts that hold it in place and take them out.
Step 3: Remove the fog grille in place. Also take note that one bolt on each side holds the main bumper support. Using an Allen wrench, loosen the two main bumper support bolts.
Step 4: Carefully unclip the sides of the bumper to remove the plastic cover screws. And then, push the bumper to try to find the connectors for the fog light and horn. If you found them, unclip them as well.
Step 5: Remove everything that's attached to the intercooler. Take out the three screws that hold the headlights in place and carefully take it off.
Step 6: Get rid of the lower side bolts of the intercooler. Next, slowly remove the old intercooler using the flat screwdriver. Keep in mind that aluminum is really easy to bend so be careful not to punch a hole.
Step7: Using the test equipment, check out the performance of the intercooler. Remember that you cannot go higher than one bar. Next, remove the headlight by taking the bolts out. Unplug all the connectors so that you won't be able to experience any complications.
Step 8: Remove the two hex bolts from the stock intercooler mounting bracket. Going to the driver's side wheel, undo the screws that hold the fender liner in place.
Step 9: Using a rotary tool, trim off the excess mount of the power steering cooler. Insert the power stirring cooler back to its mounting hole and rotate it to an upright position against the A/C condenser. Remove the two top torx screws from the condenser. Next, loosely mount the intercooler support brackets on both sides but don't lock them tightly.
Step 10: Slide the supplied lock washers into the bolts and attach the intercooler to the support brackets. Mount the new pipes carefully. You might want to ask someone to help you out with this. After, mount all the other parts you took off and you're done!