Car parts

How Does My Car’s Turbo Work?

Car with built-in intercooler

Engines have always been a source of joy and pain. Especially if you are just starting out and not a seasoned enthusiast, many things can still be gray and confusing. Fortunately, however, there really is a remedy for everything and we are here to help you. Today we want to consider an element of the engine that you may not know much about: the intercooler.

Whether you’re looking to improve your engine’s performance or horsepower, or just want to make sure you don’t have expensive arguments with an unscrupulous mechanic if things go wrong, being informed is the best way to go.

In this post, we look at the intercooler, focusing on what it is, what it does and how it works, as well as exploring some additional information about the different types of intercoolers available. Let’s go!

What is an intercooler and what does it do?

An intercooler is a mechanical device used to cool the air drawn in by engines equipped with a forced induction system (a turbocharger or supercharger). The job of the intercooler is to cool the air after it is compressed by the turbo or supercharger, but before it enters the engine.

Intercooler
Air-to-air intercoolers can be placed anywhere between the turbo and the engine

It will seem like a trivial function and perhaps, before understanding the mechanics of the system better, even not too useful. Wrong! What is the intercooler used for in layman’s terms? To go faster without creating problems to the other functions of the engine.  Let’s go into detail and see how an intercooler works in a car and along with other car parts.

How Does an Intercooler Work?

Turbochargers work by compressing the air and increasing its density before it reaches the engine cylinders. By squeezing more air into each cylinder, the engine is able to proportionally burn more fuel, creating more power with each explosion.

Intercooler
The task of the intercooler is to cool the air

This compression process generates a lot of heat and increases the temperature of the air entering the engine. Unfortunately, as the air gets warmer, it also becomes less dense, reducing the amount of oxygen available in each cylinder and affecting the performance of the entire vehicle.

The intercooler works to counter this process by cooling the compressed air to deliver more oxygen to the engine and improving combustion in each cylinder. In addition, by adjusting the air temperature, the reliability of the engine also increases, ensuring that the air / fuel ratio in each cylinder is maintained at a safety level appropriate for the safety of the driver and passengers.

Different Types of Intercoolers

Although there are many alternatives and many articles about different types of intercoolers, know that the main macro-categories, the main types of intercoolers, which work in different ways are only two: air-to-air and air-to-water.

The first variant is the air-to-air intercooler, which works by passing compressed air through a network of tubes, as well as a series of cooling fins. Heat moves from the hot compressed air to these cooling fins, which in turn, are kept cool by the rapid flow of air from outside the moving vehicle.

Turbo Your Car – Choosing an Intercooler

Once the cooled compressed air has passed through the intercooler, it is then sent to the engine’s intake manifold and into the cylinders. The simplicity, light weight, and low cost of air-to-air intercoolers make them the most popular choice for most turbocharged vehicles.

The second type is the air-water one. As the name suggests, air-to-water intercoolers use water to lower the temperature of the compressed air. Cold water is pumped through the unit, drawing heat from the air as it passes through the unit. As this water heats, it is pumped through a radiator or cooling circuit before re-entering the intercooler once it has cooled.

Air-to-water intercoolers tend to be smaller than air-to-air intercoolers, which makes them suitable for engines where space is at a premium and because water conducts heat better than air, it is suitable for a range of temperatures wider. However, the greater complexity, cost and weight associated with air-to-water intercoolers do not make this type the most desirable to be fitted to large-scale retail vehicles.

Positioning of The Intercoolers

As a last feature, let’s see where we can find the intercooler located in the engine. While in theory, air-to-air intercoolers can be placed anywhere between the turbo and the engine, they are most effective where there is better airflow and therefore are usually placed in front of the vehicle, behind the grille.

In some vehicles, the engine layout prevents this and the intercooler is positioned above the engine, but the airflow is typically lower in this case and the operation of the intercooler can be affected by the heat of the engine itself. In these cases, additional air ducts or vents in the hood are usually added to improve airflow.