Know Your Car’s Intercooler
An Intercooler, in simple terminology, can be described as a mechanical device which cools liquids or gases by taking away excessive heat in a gas compressor. Also known as a heat exchanger, the Intercooler in a car is an intake air cooling device.
Intercoolers improve the volumetric efficiency of your vehicle’s internal combustion engine by increasing intake air charge density through constant pressure cooling. To give your car more power, an intercooler cools the air compressed by turbo or supercharged engines in order to reduce the temperature and increase the density of the air supplied to the vehicle’s engine.
Since the air compressed by the turbo or supercharger is very hot, the oxygen percentage in it keeps getting down as its temperature rises. To improve the combustion performance of your vehicle’s engine, the intercooler supplies a denser, more oxygen rich air to the engine so that more fuel can get burnt. As all of this happens the Intercooler makes sure that the air fuel ratio of the engine remains at a safe level by providing a more consistent temperature of intake air to the engine.
Intercoolers can either be mounted at the front of the vehicle or near the intake manifold to reduce turbo lag. Automobiles either use as an air-to-air or an air-to-liquid intercoolers for turbocharged or supercharged internal combustion engines, respectively. The air to air intercooler, which happens to be the most commonly used in the automobile sector, passes the compressed air through a network of tubes with cooling fins, and takes out the heat from it. It then transfers the heat to the tubes and then to the cooling fins. The cooling fins in turn transfer this heat to the relatively cool air coming from outside of the vehicle which is moving at high speed, and ultimately reduces the temperature of the compressed air.
While an air to air intercooler is lightweight, features a simple mechanism, and is also low on cost, the air to water intercoolers on the other hand transfer the heat more efficiently since they use water as a heat transfer agent. Being more stable, the air to water intercoolers can handle a wider range of temperatures. Their working involves cool water being pumped through the intercooler so that heat gets extracted from the compressed air as it passes through. As the water absorbs heat and become hot it is pumped through another cooling circuit such as a dedicated radiator, while the cooled compressed air is pushed into the engine. Air-to-water intercoolers are smaller in size than the air-to-air intercoolers, and are therefore ideal for use in applications which are short on space, airflow and intake length.
In order to get optimum performance from your car’s intercooler, you should ensure that it is always positioned in a location which provides it with the maximum airflow. Don’t just put the intercooler in the front of the vehicle in the direct path of air but also make sure to direct the maximum air flow through the intercooler. This can be easily achieved by building a ducting system around the intercooler. Size of the intercooler also plays a very important role in deciding its performance. A small/thin intercooler will not be ideal for use in an application which is likely to generate a lot of heat, as the intercooler will become heat-soaked fast in this case. This happens because a small intercooler will not have enough surface area to relieve itself of the heat and would most probably be soon operating at the same temperature as the air passing through it from your turbo or supercharger. Of course, along with the right size, the construction and flow design of the intercoolers too will have to be looked into before you get it installed in your vehicle.