What is the improvement of upgrading intercooler?

  • Author: SPELAB Mechanical Engineer (focusing on car modification for 10 years)

To understand the significance of intercooler upgrades, we need to know what is an intercooler and what is its function? Intercooler is a simple heat exchanger which works similar to the radiator of the vehicle and is used in turbocharged and supercharged vehicles to cool the compressed air and provide it to engine for burning the fuel. As, the process is directly linked with burning the fuel, and we all know that engine creates power by burning the fuel, therefore, one can easily understand that intercoolers directly affect the burning process and eventually the power output. If the burning of fuel is made efficient then it’s obvious that your engine is working up to the mark or otherwise there will be power which go wasted to the environment in form of unburnt fuel/ emissions.

The basics

Following are some keywords for the process

  • Cool air – dense air - more oxygen
  • More air – efficient burning and more power
  • Cool air – less chance of pre-ignition

As oxygen plays a crucial role in the combustion process, therefore, providing quality and quantity oxygen to the engine is an integral point in combustion process and therefore is deeply focused. We all know that, for fuel to burn completely, one must ensure the following

  1. Sufficient amount of air to completely burn the fuel
  2. Availability of denser air (cold air)

From school education we all know that:

Cool air is denser, which means it has greater concentration of Oxygen as compared to hot air. The ability of the engine to burn the fuel completely, increases with the amount of oxygen supplied to the combustion chamber. What is the improvement of upgrading intercooler?

However, if limited amount of oxygen is available in the chamber at the time of combustion, then it is obvious that all the fuel won’t be burnt. The unburnt fuel is considered a waste and consequently with improper burning we will lose power and it will also contribute towards environmental emissions. Therefore, we need to provide sufficient quantity of oxygen to the engine for proper burning and eventually for better performance from the engine. The intercooler is a heat exchanger which cools the hot air and provide engine with cool dense air so that we can have better combustion.

Improvement by upgrading intercooler

Following points are considered before upgrading an intercooler

  1. Unleashing hidden horsepower

Intercooler does not add horsepower to the engine, but unleash the hidden horsepower from the engine by improving the combustion process. As we know that the provision of cold dense air improves the combustion process, therefore, by using a big aftermarket intercooler we feed our engine with cooler and denser air that improves air fuel ratio of the engine, thus improving its fuel efficiency. And, we experience a considerable gain in power.

  1. Engine safety and performance

An aftermarket intercooler has a greater capacity for cooling air as compared to the OEM intercooler. From the basics, we know that cool air being denser has more oxygen in the same volume of the air. Availability of more oxygen to your engine has the best results on combustion and performance, because it improves the burning capability of the engine. In addition, the lower temperature of the air can avoid problems like pre-ignition or knocking which are normally caused by hot air. Moreover, ensuring proper burning decreases the environmental emissions as well.

  1. Engine tuning and outlook

To have the best results from your intercooler you have to consider engine tuning. An ECU remap is recommended to have the best gain after upgrading your vehicle with the intercooler. Without the remap, the intercooler won’t unleash the power to its capacity despite providing the cool air. Moreover, with a bigger aftermarket intercooler our vehicle looks stylish and aggressive. What is the improvement of upgrading intercooler?

Types of Intercoolers

Depending on the requirement of a particular person, there are two types of intercoolers which are explained below

  1. Air to air cooled intercooler

This intercooler works similar to the radiator of the engine. Air cooled intercoolers works by directing compressed air past a number of cooling fins and via a maze of tiny tubes. These cooling fins absorb heat from the hot compressed air, which is then quickly cooled by air coming from outside the driving vehicle.

The air after it is cooled is fed to the intake manifold of the engine. Many turbocharged vehicles use air-to-air intercoolers, because due to their simplicity, light weight, and low price.

  1. Air to water cooled intercooler

As the name suggests, this intercooler cools the compressed air with the help of water. Cool water is pumped through the unit from one side and air from another side. After the water extracts the heat from the air, air is ready to be fed to the intake manifold, whereas, that water has to be cooled now. For cooling this heated water, it passes either through the radiator or some cooling circuit before it enters again the intercooler. For even better cooling characteristics, one can change the water with some other liquid which has better heat absorbing capabilities like the coolants we have in our radiators.

These intercoolers are smaller in size because of the fact that water conducts heat better than air and is therefore suitable for a variety of temperatures. However, the increased complexity, cost and weight makes them less favorable for vehicles. What is the improvement of upgrading intercooler?


In conclusion, when we are dealing with turbocharged and supercharged vehicles and we want the best output from our engines, we need to care for the requirement of our engine and having a quality intercooler is one of the most important point because it provides quality food to engine, which is the oxygen. Therefore, in the world of upgrades intercooler are highly recommended.

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