An intercooler is a mechanical device, used to cool fluid between stages of a multi-stage heating process. Intercoolers help increase the efficiency of the induction system by increasing the ability for more combustion. An intercooler is used to cool air that has been compressed by a supercharger or a turbocharger. The intercooler is placed between the turbo/supercharger and the motor to ensure that only cold air makes it to the engine. This cooler air will increase the engines performance.
Intercoolers cool the air using fins, louvers, bars, and plates which all increase the surface area that the heat has to expand. This extended surface area also provides more space in which the cold air can flow over. Intercoolers operate and look much like a radiator. Intercoolers are placed in an area that has a high flow, of fresh cool air, such as the front of a vehicle. As the air goes through the intercooler and is cooled, it becomes denser which creates more oxygen which will increase combustion. The decrease in temperature also allows the vehicle to handle more boost, on a given octane of fuel before detonation in the engine occurs.
There is also an air-to-liquid intercooler which uses a jacket of liquid coolant, placed between the external and internal walls of the intercooler. Water is typically used as this coolant because it can transfer large amounts of energy without heating up much. The heated liquid is cooled using a separate radiator were it is then recycled through the system.
Intercoolers have seen an increase in popularity over the years because of its many benefits. The most significant advantage is that it increases the detonation threshold. This means that the vehicle can be ran on an earlier ignition advance for increased performance, or ran on lower octane fuel before experiencing detonation. This makes intercoolers extremely desirable for people who want the most out of a vehicle that can still run on pump gasoline. Another benefit of an intercooler, is that it helps cool the engine, which decreases the chances of overheating.
An intercooler is not something that can just be bolted onto a vehicle that already has a turbocharger, or supercharger for increased power gains. Intercoolers create internal drag which causes a reduction in boost. An intercooler can also cause the engine to run lean, due to the denser air change. These problems are normal and can be fixed by adding new parts such as a larger fuel injector to enrich the engines mixture, or by adding a smaller supercharger pulley which will increase boost.
Intercoolers are not necessary on all vehicles with a turbo or supercharger. Superchargers with less than 8-9 psi of boost are not required to have an intercooler, because they don’t heat up the air enough to decrease engine performance. Intercoolers will only produce a large increase in performance when running at peak boost for the octane fuel being used.
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