Tune your intercooler – for more power with cold air

The intercooler is a popular tool in tuning, allowing you to get more power out of your turbocharged engine. It ensures that the intake air is always nice and cool, thus increasing the engine’s efficiency. Nowadays, all turbocharged engines have an intercooler. However, for professional tuning and use on the racetrack, coolers that can withstand and support extreme performance are a must. In this article, you will find out everything you need to know about intercoolers in tuning.

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What is an intercooler and where is it located?

The intercooler is a heat exchanger. It lies between the turbocharger and engine, more precisely in the intake manifold between the compressor and the inlet valve of the engine. It cools the air compressed by the turbocharger to increase the efficiency and durability of the engine. This increases the performance.

What exactly does the intercooler do and what do you need it for?

Why the intake air has to be cooled

Your turbocharger compresses the intake air for your engine and thus conveys more air into the engine compartment. The more oxygen it gets, the more fuel it can burn and the higher the performance. However, this compression of the intake air has a considerable downside: the charge air heats up quickly to 200 °C. Cold air contains more oxygen than the same volume of warm air, thus the rise in temperature reduces oxygen content. As a result, not enough oxygen makes it into the engine, and it is not able to burn nearly as much fuel as necessary.

The consequences of excessively warm intake air

If the intake air is too hot, this not only takes a dramatic toll on performance. The thermal load of the pistons, valves and cylinder head also increases, and the engine starts knocking. This can even cause critical engine damage. The intercooler prevents this from happening by cooling down the intake air and thus allowing more oxygen to make it into the engine.

Two types of charge air cooling – water-cooled and air-cooled intercoolers

Air-cooled intercoolers

Air-cooled intercoolers usually consist of aluminium cooling networks with numerous little ducts and slats. This way, the intake air comes into contact with a large cooling surface area. At the same time, through the many ducts, a loss in pressure ensues that would reduce performance. Intercoolers for tuning are manufactured in a flow-optimised manner to cool as much air as possible without pressure loss and supply it to the engine. The cold air not only has the advantage of containing more oxygen. It also has a significantly lower volume, allowing more fuel to be injected. The positive effect on your engine performance is so great that the pressure loss is comparatively negligible.

Water-cooled intercoolers

Sometimes, simply no air-cooled intercoolers can be installed. This is the case, for example, with rear engines. Here, you would be best-advised to turn to water-cooled intercoolers. Although they are designed for use in a highly compact engine compartment, they consist of three individual parts:

  1. water cooler for the intake air (water is cooled down here only for the intercooler; separate cooling circuit system)
  2. circulating pump
  3. water-cooled intercooler
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In the front, a water cooler is installed that cools the intake air exclusively for the intercooler. The cooler leads to a water pump that is connected to the compact water-cooled intercooler. Just like with the other system, the cooler lies between the turbocharger and motor. The airflow cools down the water in the water cooler. The pump transports cold water through the slats of the water-cooled intercooler, where the air is cooled down. With this system, the paths for the charge air are extremely short, which reduces the turbo lag and significantly improves your engine’s response. Compared to the air-air system, you achieve greater cooling – of around 30 °C – and about ten percent more power with the same charge pressure.

How do you use the intercooler in tuning?

Car manufacturers build cars to be driven in virtually any climate, whether through areas blanketed with snow or hot deserts. Original intercoolers are designed to be as compact and reasonably priced as possible. They can cool the air down to around ten to twenty degrees beyond the outside temperature. Little tuning measures such as chip-tuning are often enough if you are on the go only in our latitudes and have not made any major changes to your hardware. As soon as you want to get ambitious about boosting your performance and decide on complex tuning, you need a larger intercooler. It must be able to adapt to the higher performance and extreme rises in temperature so that the yield of the remaining tuning measures does not immediately go up in smoke. The larger the intercooler, the cooler the air and the more power you get out of your car. For use on the racetrack, you need perfectly coordinated components available in our online shop.

Professional tuning of your intercooler

If you want to take a professional approach to your tuning, just get in touch with us. We will advise you as to which intercooler is right for you and our specialists will even install it on request. For the real performance freaks among you, we also build complete racing engines. Get in touch!

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