How Does An Intercooler Work? • Turbosmart
October 19, 2021 News

How Does An Intercooler Work?

Turbosmart Intercooler

What is An Intercooler?

An intercooler is a device that helps to cool air as it passes through the engine of a car or truck. By cooling the air, the intercooler helps improve the engine’s performance and prevent overheating. There are two main types of intercoolers: air-to-air and air-to-water. Air-to-air intercoolers use air to cool the air passing through the engine, while air-to-water intercoolers use water to cool the air.

Intercoolers are often used in high-performance cars and trucks with turbocharged or supercharged engines. By cooling the air before it enters the engine, the intercooler helps to increase the amount of air the engine can take in. This, in turn, helps improve the engine’s power and performance. Intercoolers are also sometimes used in diesel engines.

What is the Purpose of An Intercooler?

The primary purpose of an intercooler is to cool the air that the turbocharger or supercharger has compressed before it enters the engine. By cooling the air, the intercooler reduces the chances of knocking and allows for more air to be forced into the engine, which can increase power output. Additionally, cooling the air can also help reduce emissions.

An intercooler can be used on both turbocharged and supercharged engines. When used on a turbocharged engine, the intercooler is located between the turbocharger and the engine. On a supercharged engine, the intercooler is typically located between the supercharger and the engine. Intercoolers can be air-to-air or air-to-liquid. Air-to-air intercoolers use ambient air to cool the compressed air from the turbocharger or supercharger. Air-to-liquid intercoolers use a liquid coolant to cool the compressed air from the turbocharger or supercharger.

How Does An Intercooler Work?

An intercooler uses a series of fins and plates to dissipate heat. The air or fluid is forced through the intercooler, and the fins help to transfer the heat from the air or fluid to the surrounding atmosphere. This process helps to keep the air or fluid cool, so the engine or system can run more efficiently. Additionally, an intercooler can prolong the life of an engine or system by preventing overheating.

When the air is compressed by a turbo/supercharger, it gets hot very quickly. Therefore, its temperature climbs and its oxygen content (density) drops. When the air is cool, an intercooler provides a denser, more oxygen-rich air to the engine. Therefore, improving the combustion by allowing more fuel to be burned. 

It also increases reliability as it provides a more consistent temperature of air intake to the engine. This allows the air-fuel ratio of the engine to remain at a safe level.

The Two Type of Intercoolers

1. Air-to-Air Intercooler

An air-to-air intercooler is a device used to cool the air compressed by a turbocharger or supercharger. Intercoolers are a vital part of forced induction systems, as they help reduce the engine’s intake temperatures, which in turn helps to increase power and efficiency. There are two main types of air-to-air intercoolers: front mount and top mount. Front-mount intercoolers are usually more extensive and effective than top-mount intercoolers, but they can be more challenging to install. Top-mount intercoolers are easier to install, but they may not be as effective at cooling the air.

Air-to-air intercoolers work by passing the compressed air from the turbocharger or supercharger through a series of fins or coils. These fins or coils help dissipate the heat from the air, which helps to cool it down. The cooler air then flows into the engine, where it can help to increase power and efficiency. Intercoolers can be made from various materials, but aluminium is often used because it is lightweight and has good thermal conductivity.

If you want to add an air-to-air intercooler to your forced induction system, there are a few things to consider. First, you need to make sure that the intercooler will fit in the space that you have available. Second, you must decide whether you want a front-mount or top-mount intercooler. Finally, you need to choose a material that will be durable and effective at cooling the air.


  • Simplicity
  • Lower cost 
  • Less weight

This also makes it by far the most common form of intercooling.


  • Longer intake length due to having to get the intercooler to the front of the car
  • More variation in temperature than air to water.

The best placement for an air-to-air intercooler is at the front of the vehicle. The “front-mount” is considered to be the most effective placement.
When the engine layout or type of the vehicle do not permit the “front-mount” placement, the intercooler can be mounted on top of the engine or even on its side. These placements will often require additional air ducts or scoops to route the air directly into the intercooler. However, these are not considered practical. This is because the airflow is not as effective. Thus, the intercooler can suffer from heat soak from the engine when the external airflow drops.

2. Air-to-Water Intercooler

An air-to-water intercooler is a type of intercooler that uses water to cool the air charge coming from the turbocharger or supercharger.

The main advantage of an air-to-water intercooler over a traditional air-to-air intercooler is that it can provide a much denser charge of air to the engine. This results in more power being produced by the engine, as well as increased fuel efficiency.

There are several disadvantages to using an air-to-water intercooler, however. One is that they are generally more expensive than traditional air-to-air intercoolers. Another disadvantage is that they require a constant supply of water, which can be difficult to maintain in some climates. Finally, air-to-water intercoolers can be more difficult to install than traditional air-to-air intercoolers.


  • This makes them well suited to complex installations where space, airflow and intake length are an issue. Water is more efficient at heat transfer than air. Thus, it has more stability to be able to handle a broader range of temps.


  • However, this system requires the added complexity, weight and cost of a radiator, a pump, water, and transfer lines. Typical applications for these are industrial machinery, marine and custom installs that don’t allow the easy fitment of an air to air, such as a rear-engined
  • vehicle.

The air to water can be mounted anywhere in the engine bay as long as the radiator is mounted in a position with good airflow or a Thermo fan attached to it.

Here is a handy self-help guide to helping you with your Turbosmart install and answers to some of the most frequently asked questions we get here. Turbosmart recommends that you get your products fitted and tuned by a qualified technician. If you choose to install the product yourself, ensure you have all the necessary tools and technical knowledge to perform this task.

Thank you for picking up the latest Turbosmart catalogue. As we look back on 25 fantastic years of innovation and growth, we continue to look towards the future as we release some revolutionary new products that will cement our reputation as innovators and market leaders.

Please contact us here and fill out a quick form so that our team can efficiently help you!

Custom setup and need advice?

Try our Product Advisor! This tool is designed to help you choose the right product for your project & help you choose the right Wastegate, Blow off Valve and fuel Pressure Regulator.

Find products to suit your car

Contact Turbosmart to see if we have products to suit your car on the way or other solutions to help! If you have a new car we don't cover, you can also request a new product.
Nearly 30 years ago, I embarked on this incredible journey of founding Turbosmart, and as we step into 2024, I've never been more proud of the Turbosmart team. We are on the verge of our most exciting chapter yet, as we unveil a monumental achievement—our new line of cutting-edge Turbochargers. Turbosmart is more than just a business; it's a community of enthusiasts dedicated to constant innovation in our products, support, and service. Thank you for being so supportive, and here's to another year of innovation and achievement with Turbosmart! #Engineered to Win!

Intercooler Explained in Under 10 Minutes

Engineered to Win!

About Turbosmart

From our humble beginnings to establishing ourselves as a global brand, Turbosmart is well on track to lead the future in turbo technology.

Our engineers build and track-test all products in-house. Therefore, we ensure we continuously produce the highest-quality, highest-performance Turbochargers, blow-off valves, wastegates, boost controllers, fuel pressure regulators, oil pressure regulators and more. Furthermore, our products are designed and built for track and street applications.

Turbosmart Boost Control Range

Engineered to Win!

Turbosmart prides itself in providing customers with the absolute pinnacle in boost control management. Whether it be for your street or race application, Turbosmart has a range of boost controllers to help you service your needs.

Turbosmart Manual Boost Control

Turbosmart Blow-off Valve Range

Engineered to Win!

Turbosmart has manufactured the Blow-off Valve (BOV) Range focusing on performance and reliability. Blow-off valves (also known as diverter valves, recirc valves, DV’s etc.) are proudly Australian-made.

Turbosmart Spares & Accessories Blow-off Valves

Follow Us On Instagram!

Please, Share Post Here!

Related Articles