How Does an Air to Air Intercooler Work?

An intercooler is a mechanical device installed in cars for cooling the air after compression process.

It cools the air compressed by the turbocharger or supercharger thereby reducing the temperature and increasing the density of the air being supplied to the car’s engine.

When the air is compressed by turbocharger/supercharger, it gets hot very quickly.

Due to a sudden and sharp rise in temperature, the oxygen density in the air decreases.

Hence, by cooling the air, an intercooler helps to restore or increase the oxygen density of the air flowing into the engine and improving the combustion in the process by burning more fuel.

An intercooler also improves the performance and reliability of the car as it provides a consistent temperature of intake air into the engine which helps to maintain the air-fuel ratio of the engine at safe levels.

An air to air intercooler extracts heat from the compressed air by passing it through network tubes and cooling fins. While the compressed air travels through the intercooler, it transfers the heat tot eh network tubes and cooling fins.

The cool air which is traveling from outside takes the heat from the cooling fins and thus reduces the temperature of the compressed air. Basically, air to air intercooler uses air to cool the compressed air.

The heat exchange occurs between the air which is charged in the charge pipes and the air that is flowing through the intercooler.

Air to air intercoolers is a more common form of intercooler used due to it being simple and cost-effective. They are also not very heavy as the water to air intercoolers.

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However, it must be noted that these intercoolers are only as efficient as the ambient airflow. Hence, proper placement of air to air intercoolers is very important in ensuring optimal efficiency.

How to Size an Air to Air Intercooler?

It is important to select a correct sized air to air intercooler for ensuring proper cooling and optimal performance. Intercooler inlet and outlet size play an important role and you should take care to match your piping with these inlets and outlet for ensuring smooth airflow.

Airflow volume and horsepower output are the two major factors which decide the size of your inlet and outlet. If the piping is too large, then it will require more flow to produce boost, which will result in performance lag.

On the other hand, piping too small will restrict airflow and limit power output. Ideally, you should try to use the smallest piping size without causing restrictions or performance issues on your car.

Core surface area of an air to air intercooler is also important before finalizing it.

Just like the inlet size discussed above, you should try to consider an adequately sized intercooler which will provide sufficient cooling without producing any impact on the boost lag.

Size 670x230x60mm Air To Air Intercooler For Ford ST225
Size 670x230x60mm Air To Air Intercooler For Ford ST225

The larger the core volume of intercooler, the more air is required to fill it.

You should first try to find out the core flow area (in square inches) and then divide it by 0.45 to determine the core charge-air surface area.

This can be further divided by core thickness to find out the internal flow area. Conversion charts can be used to determine the size of intercooler corresponding to a specific internal flow area.

It is recommended that you can choose a slightly bigger sized intercooler than the corresponding size you get from the chart.

It will not produce significant lag and will be helpful in the future if you decide to increase the power output or boost.

How Much is an Air to Air Intercooler?

Air to air intercoolers is cheaper than water to air intercoolers.

They can start from as low as $100-$150 for the basic models and can cost you more than $1000.

You should choose the intercooler which is best suited to your vehicle and driving needs and should not base your purchase decision solely on the price.

How to Install Air to Air Intercooler?

The installation process for air to air intercoolers can vary depending on the manufacturer and other technical differences. However, to start the installation for a typical air to air intercooler, you must first clean it.

You should run clean water through the intercooler to ensure that there are no foreign particles in it before installation.

After washing it, take out the water by shaking the intercooler. It is not mandatory for the air to air intercooler to be completely dry before installing it.

However, it is recommended to take out the excess water.

You can tape it off using masking tape or any other type of tape which can be easily removed and won’t leave any residue.

Air to air intercoolers is generally supported by two top brackets and one side bracket on the passenger side.

Bar and plate air to air intercooler core size 300*280*76mm 3″ Inlet & Outlet
Bar and plate air to air intercooler core size 300*280*76mm 3″ Inlet & Outlet

The power steering cooling tube can be modified for clearance around the intercooler. You should attach the two aluminum L-brackets using adequately sized bolts, washers, lock washers, and nuts.

Now you should attach the L-brackets to the bottom of the intercooler and tighten it. Once completed, you should pull the A/C condenser coil back towards the engine.

Starting from the bottom, you should insert and place the intercooler between the A/C evaporator coil and the front bumper. While doing this, you must ensure that you do not scratch the finishing of the car.

This is followed by mounting the intercooler in its position and tightening the upper bolts. The air to air intercooler should be aligned in a manner such that it is clear of the A/C dryer.

This should be followed by tightening of the bolts in the sub-frame. After completing this step, you will need to install the side bracket on the passenger side of the car.

Why Use Air to Air Intercooler?

Air to air intercooler is convenient to fit in vehicles as it is located in the front of the vehicle where it is subjected to constant cooling airflow.

Many experts believe and agree that air to air intercoolers are better and ensure more reliable cooling compared to water to air intercoolers for regular street use.

Air to air intercoolers makes use of a more effective one-step process of cooling the compressed air before it enters the engine.

Compressed air enters one side of the intercooler and goes through the bar and plate core where it is cooled by the air moving through the fins of the intercooler.

Bar and plate air to air intercooler core size 450*230*65mm 2.5″ Inlet & Outlet
Bar and plate air to air intercooler core size 450*230*65mm 2.5″ Inlet & Outlet

This cool and denser air is rich in oxygen and is then channeled into the engine where it improved the combustion and provides enhanced performance.

Due to their simple and non-complex design and working, air to air intercoolers are most commonly used in vehicles for street use.

These intercoolers are dependent on the airflow through the core for cooling which is why they are installed within the front bumper of the car.

Air to air intercoolers require lesser maintenance compared to water to air intercoolers and they are also less likely to have technical issues due to fewer parts and simpler design.

Air to air intercoolers are also less expensive than water to air intercoolers and provides the best value for money for customers looking to use their vehicles for regular street use.

Depending upon the type and quality of equipment used, a water to air intercooler can cost you up to 3 times of a regular air to air intercooler.

Air to air intercoolers is also much lighter than water to air intercoolers.

Which is Better: Air to Air Intercooler or Water to Air Intercooler?

Any decision for preferring one type of intercooler over the other should start with a thorough understanding of the type of intercoolers, their components, working principle, installation process, features, and benefits.

Your requirement and the nature of the use of your vehicle also decide the type of intercooler best suited for you.

As discussed already, air to air intercooler makes use of air to cool the airflow which is then directed to the engine.

They do not need any form of liquid for cooling the air and hence are not susceptible to any leakages. They are lightweight in comparison to water to air intercoolers and are much easier to install.

Unlike the water to air intercoolers which use an inefficient two-way process for cooling, air to air intercoolers use a single step process for cooling the air and are considered to be more efficient.

Air to air intercoolers is also more reliable and easier to manage than water to air intercoolers which use complex design and arrangement of many parts which can become unreliable over time and create technical issues.

Air to air intercoolers is also much cheaper than their water to air counterparts.

Air to air intercooler core size 450*300*76mm 2.5″ Inlet & Outlet
Air to air intercooler core size 450*300*76mm 2.5″ Inlet & Outlet

Not only do they cost lesser, they are easier to maintain and will also save you money towards maintenance expenses.

Though air to air intercoolers offer many benefits, they also have few drawbacks. They are efficient but do not provide cooling when the vehicle is not moving.

This can make them prone to heat soak when the vehicle is stationary. However, this is not a problem with front-mounted setups and intercooler units located in the engine bay can face overheating issues.

Choosing a particular type of intercooler also depends on your requirements and usage of the vehicle.

If you are not going to use the vehicle for drag racing and it will only be used for street use, then air to air intercooler is more than sufficient to meet your needs.

Water to air intercoolers is recommended only when you will be using the vehicle for racing and will be needing a sudden boost of energy frequently.

Where to Buy Air to Air Intercooler

There are many factors which you need to consider before buying an air to air intercooler. You should ideally purchase intercoolers only from reputed and authorized dealers.

This will ensure that you are getting authentic product and not some cheap rip off which will not serve you any purpose.

It will also help you to get covered under warranty and repairs and get good after-sales service in the future. Before making the purchase decision, you should do a proper check of the dealer and his credentials.

You should not purchase an intercooler just because it is cheap.

Quality comes at a price and you should always insist on buying an air to air intercooler which provides sufficient cooling and meets your needs.

There is no single intercooler model which is best for all the vehicles. You should do background research and select the intercooler which is best suited for your vehicle.

You can also consider the modifications which you will be likely to make to your vehicle in the near term and select the type of intercooler accordingly.

Size of an intercooler is another factor where most buyers falter. The general notion of bigger is better does not apply to the air to air intercoolers.

Air to air intercooler core size 550*180*65mm 2.5″ Inlet & Outlet
Air to air intercooler core size 550*180*65mm 2.5″ Inlet & Outlet

If you do not plan to buy a stage-2 turbo then it is recommended that you should not purchase intercoolers which are designed for stage-2 applications.

You should purchase the air to air intercooler which meets your needs and if it is beyond your budget, then it is better to wait till you can buy it instead of compromising and buying a cheaper but unsuitable intercooler.

How to Hook up Air to Air Intercooler?

Air to air intercoolers can be top mounted, side-mounted, or front-mounted.

The top mounted intercoolers are mounted on top of the engine and gets its supply of airflow from ducting on the front grille.

This model protects the intercooler from debris. In this model, the intercooler is located close to the turbocharger so the piping will be very short, allowing for shorter airflow route and lesser boost lag.

The major problem with top mounted intercoolers is heat soaking.

Side-mounted intercoolers are rare these days where the intercooler is placed towards the front of the vehicle on one of the side inlets of the bumper. This is not a very efficient mounting system as the piping length is more which causes boost lag.

Front mounted intercoolers also provide excellent performance. Though it produces the lowest intake temperatures among all other mounting arrangements, it will also cause the highest boost lag.

The intercooler in this arrangement sits on the front bumper for achieving optimal airflow through the core. You should consider that this arrangement can affect coolant temperatures.

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How to Maintain Water to Air Intercooler?

Air to air intercoolers requires lesser maintenance compared to water to air intercoolers.

They should be regularly inspected for any problems.

Some of the most common technical faults which you can expect to come across while using intercoolers include leaking boost hoses, impact damage, oil contamination, etc.

You should clean your intercooler regularly for improving its performance.

Generally, intercoolers need to be replaced after every 10,000-15,000 Kms.

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