Intercooler Frequently Asked Questions
Q: What is the purpose of an Intercooler?
A: The purpose of the intercooler is to cool the air that has been compressed by the turbo before sending the air into the intake manifold. As the air is cooled, it becomes denser, and denser air has more oxygen which creates a better combustion environment or (more power) and reducing the potential for engine knock. A FMIC takes advantage of the cooler air drawn in at the front of the vehicle will in operation and provides the best cooling capability in air to air setups..
Q: Will an intercooler help make more horsepower?
A: Yes, although it is only indirectly responsible for helping make more power, the intercooler increases the charge air density. An inter-cooled engine will typically make more power than a non-inter-cooled engine with the same setup by allowing more cooler (denser compressed air) into each cylinder.
Q: FMIC, TMIC, SMIC - what do they mean?
A: (Front Mounted Intercooler, Top Mounted Intercooler, Side Mounted Intercooler) terms which refer to the placement of the charge air cooler in the engine bay and in reference to the engine. A FMIC takes advantage of the cooler air drawn in at the front of the vehicle (in front of the radiator) in operation and provides the best cooling capability. SMICs and TMICs are commonly found on factory turbo cars. SMIC tend to be smaller and often have limited air supply due to their location (wheel well) TMICs are more prone to heat soak as they are placed over the engine directly in the path of the rising heat and very close to the hood. However, when a TMIC is used in conjunction with a hood scoop, they can provide adequate cooling.
Q: What is intercooler heat soak?
A: Heat soak is an intercooler can't cool the charge air by removing the heat from it, it loses its effectiveness. This explains why turbo cars tend to run slower or have slightly less power when the weather is warm. Cooler air can be achieved by removing any components in front of the intercooler allowing more air flow. You can add an intercooler sprayer (some people use windshield washer sprayers as comes equipped on some newer vehicles)
Q: What is the difference between air-to-air intercooler and air-to-water intercooler?
A: An Air-to-Air intercooler uses ambient air flowing over the fins to cool the charge air, while an Air-to-Water intercooler uses coolant (water) with a system similar to that of a radiator's cooling system. Traditionally, air-to-air intercoolers are used for street applications because of their lower cost and reduced complexity, while air-to-water intercoolers are used in race and packaging-constrained applications. They also tend to be more expensive.
Q: How do I select the proper intercooler core size?
A: A major limiting factor in choosing an intercooler size are space limitations in front of the radiator or inside the engine area. If there is not enough room for an intercooler with adequate flow, then often a water-to-air intercooler is used instead to maximize the cooling capability of the surface area of the core. You want to make sure that the intercooler you choose is large enough to effectively handle the air. Too small of a core, and you will restrict the potential of the turbo by not allowing the charge air to be cooled adequately. If it is too large you will have an inefficient setup with a great deal of lag. Ask yourself how much power do you want to make, then choose a turbo within that power range, and see how many CFMs it flows and go from there.
Q: Can a FMIC block air flow to my radiator?
A: Generally speaking no because the air passes through it, however, an intercooler that is too think may present that problem and cause cooling issues.
Q: What is intercooler effectiveness and how do I measure it?
A: If the turbo compresses the charge air to a temperature of 140° F, but after passing through the intercooler the air is 115° cooler (resulting in a 25° F charge air temperature), the efficiency would be: Effectiveness: 115/140 = 0.82 or 82% efficiency Typically, air-to-air intercoolers for normal street applications range between 60% and 70% efficiency. Often, liquid-to-air intercoolers have effectiveness ratings from 75% to 95%. One common method of improving the cooling of the charge air dramatically in an air-to-water intercooler is the inclusion of ice as a coolant.
Q: I want to turn up my boost, is a larger intercooler necessary?
A: If there is a significant change in boost levels, such as 40% or 50% increase you may want to consider upgrading to a larger intercooler.
Q: Is there a maximum amount of boost I can run on my intercooler?
A: There is a slight possibility that you can rupture the seams of the intercooler with higher boost levels.
Q: How significant is a leak in my intercooler?
A: For an air-to-air intercooler, a leak, as long as it is not a significantly large one, will not hinder performance at all. However, if an air-to-water intercooler develops a leak in the main core, it could lead to other more significant problems with the engine itself. Be sure to fix these problems as soon as they occur to prevent other damage.
Q: Can I paint or anodize my intercooler so it is not easily visible?
A:Yes! It is not uncommon at all for an intercooler and end tanks to be anodized black to keep attention away from the car and help it maintain a sleeper appearance. A very light coat of paint on the core and end tanks is also another option, usually much cheaper and easier than anodizing, with a negligible performance loss
Q: Is there any maintenance required for my intercooler?
A: In an air -to-water intercooler, check the water level often as this is crucial for the intercooler to operate properly. In cold weather, just like a car, it will need antifreeze in order to function effectively and properly. With an air-to-air intercooler, there really is no maintenance that needs to be done other than just the routine checking of hoses and clamps to make sure everything is tight. Additionally, the intercooler fins may be picked-out or de-smashed to ensure maximum cooling. Every 20,000 miles or so it is recommended that the intercooler core be inspected, and if necessary, flushed/washed out to remove any accumulated oil or buildup.
Q: How can I get more horsepower out of my intercooler.
A: The only way you can get more performance out of your intercooler is to cool the air. If normal air cooling is not sufficient you could try using Cryo2 cooling systems or perhaps an intercooler sprayer. These systems spray cool gases onto the intercooler chilling it briefly allowing the heat exchange to happen more rapidly and as a result creating more horsepower.