What Are Intercoolers? What Are The Types And Functions?

In this edition of Automobile Technology content, we bring to you, another very interesting topic, which you all must have heard about from somewhere. The theme for today is Intercoolers. A lot of people must have seen the intercoolers placed on the front end of a car behind the openings in the bumpers. That metallic component visible from the front is generally where the intercoolers are placed. There are other places to mount the Intercoolers as well, for instance, just behind the engine area where the air is supplied from the top hood that is present on the bonnet of some cars. Then there are other types of classification of the types of Intercoolers as well, which we will discuss in detail later. So, without any further delay, let us dive into the technicalities of an Intercooler.

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Purpose of an Intercooler

There are plenty of good reasons to use an intercooler with an engine. Generally, performance cars use intercoolers and there are tons of benefits associated with it. So, let us, first of all, get into the chemistry of it a bit. Hot air is less dense as compared to cold air. That is a simple property of the air. Now, less dense air means, there will be less content of Oxygen in it. This means that the hot air carries fewer Oxygen molecules. The Oxygen molecules in the air are what is actually needed to burn the fuel inside the cylinder of the engine. The more the air (oxygen), the more fuel can be injected into the cylinder and more power could be produced. That is also the reason why Turbochargers are used in modern vehicles.

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It is a great way of generating more power across a wide range of engine RPM. Turbochargers, essentially, pull in more air into the cylinder by compressing the fresh air. When air is compressed, the volume of the air decreases and we can pack in more air in the cylinder. With more air, more amounts of fuel can be injected into the cylinder. This is what causes the engine to produce more power. The problem, however, is that when the turbocharger compresses the air, the temperature of the air increases. That means it becomes hot and less dense. That is where the intercooler comes into play. The air is sent into the intercooler after being compressed by the turbocharger.

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This means that the turbocharger pulls in more air from the atmosphere and the intercooler doesn’t let the temperature of that fresh air get high. This, in turn, results in more fresh and cooled air into the cylinder. By spraying more fuel into the cylinder, we are able to observe a bump in the power output of an engine. Another aspect is that the catalytic converters also don’t want very hot air coming into them after the combustion process. Higher combustion temperatures cause high levels of exhaust gas emissions, which are illegal everywhere in the world now. Therefore, the intercoolers ensure that the temperature of the exhaust gases is not too high and the emission system functions adequately even in extreme conditions.

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Classification and Working of an Intercooler

The working of an intercooler is not very complex. There are generally two types of intercoolers, Air-to-Air and Air-to-Water. We shall try to look at the working of both of these now.

Air-to-Air Intercooler

The Air-to-Air Intercooler consists of a metallic component with tubes all over it. These tubes help the flow of the air through the Intercooler. There are other connections within the body of the Intercooler to increase the surface area. The hot air enters the Intercooler from the outlet of the turbocharger and flows through these tubes. The atmospheric air cools these tubes from the outside and the hot air inside the Intercooler gets cooled. This heat is released into the atmosphere and the outlet of the Intercooler leads the cooled air directly into the intake manifold of the engine. Hence, the temperature of the air after the compression process is reduced and this causes the air to become dense and the concentration of the Oxygen molecules in the dense air increases. This can be mixed with more fuel now and higher power output can be generated. Also, the catalytic converter works efficiently when the temperature of the exhaust gases is not too high.

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Advantages and Disadvantages

The advantages of the Air-to-Air Intercooler are many including a simpler construction, fewer components, less weight and no need for a hydraulic setup as is the case with Air-ot-Water Intercooler.

One of the disadvantages of having this system is that since it is air-cooled, it has to be placed at the front of the car. This means that the piping required to connect the components and the route taken by the air from the turbocharger to the intercooler and then to the engine is a bit longer. This might actually affect the responses of the engine.

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Air-to-Water Intercooler

This type of Intercooler is generally used in high-end performance cars because of the need for faster responses and not too many restrictions due to the budget. It is a bit complicated than the Air-to-Air Intercooler because this involves the introduction of a coolant, pump and reservoir. An entire hydraulic system needs to be integrated into the engine. There is an additional heat exchanger placed at the front of the engine. The actual Intercooler is placed inside the intake manifold or anywhere closer to the engine. This results in a shorter route for the air to flow and increases the responses from the engine.

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Advantages and Disadvantages

Advantages include faster response times from the engine which is of utmost importance when you are focused on getting the maximum performance out of your car. The placement also is nearer to the engine bay. The disadvantages are a complex system involving many components like the heat-exchanger, pump, reservoir and much more. There is also the danger of leaks of the coolant.

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We hope that the topic of the Intercoolers is clear and it was not difficult for you to understand. As always, do go through our other interesting technological articles where we concentrate on explaining the complex technical aspects of Automobile Technology in simple terms. The aim of these articles is to make you more aware of the working of the engines of your car without having to study everything on your own. Check out other easy-to-understand topics on Automobile Technology on Car Blog India.

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Image Credit: Turbosmart