An air-to-air intercooler system is a comparatively basic system. It makes use of air flowing through it for the elimination of heat from the air that is charged. There is transfer of heat to the air or atmosphere from the charge or air. This is the reason why it is referred to as an “Air-to-air” system.

How Does It Work?

In this type of system, there is an inflow of air via the air intake, via the compressor, the front section of the car via the heat exchanger and finally to the intake manifold. This is a simpler system as compared to the air-to-water system. There is no need for you to be concerned about the leakage of fluid. You will not have the fluid plumbing and the extra heat exchanger. An air to air system is also less heavy.

These intercoolers appear to be quite basic in form, and make use of a colder airflow for the purpose of cooling a warm turbocharged air flow before it gets an entry into the cylinders, and gets combined with fuel. The air makes use of channels which pass across the intercooler horizontally, and through the turbo outlet to the inlet of the intercooler, where an external airflow cools it down. The cooling airflow mixes with the heat exchanger fins and drives away heat to the surroundings from the induction airflow.

What these intercoolers actually do is make the air getting into the cylinders denser. It helps create more power, given that there are a higher number of air molecules for the engine for working with and getting powered by. Just like there is a minor gain in power when the external temperature is cold, an intercooler actually resembles the colder surrounding temperature of the air that is coming in while maintaining the high pressure that is possible due to the forced induction.

There is no requirement for any pump in air-to-air intercoolers. Thus, these do not consume any energy from car components or the engine.

What are the Benefits of Air-To-Air Intercoolers?

These come with:

Ease of installation

Air-to-air intercoolers, in most cases, can be set up at almost any spot on a car – provided there s sufficiently strong flow of air at the site of installation and through the whole area of the core of the intercooler. In any case, these units happen to be “spliced” into the tract of the inlet with the help of some extra duct. Such units can be set up quite easily, and generally yield measurable increases in power although there might not always be maximum flow of air through the core.

This type of system does not need any power for working and can therefore be installed easily. There is no need for any liquid for the operations, unlike air-to-water intercoolers, and thus there are no risks for leaks. Also, as long as there is good flow of air, there are no risks of any heat-soak.

Highly reliable

In case the intercooler is built well and insulated properly against too much vibration, these are mainly free of issues and need to last more than the car. But the air-to-air intercooler cores have to be debugged time and again, so as to maintain a proper flow of air via the core.   

Quite cost effective

You can find a lot of companies that supply air-to-air intercoolers available off-the-shelf, which have many intercoolers which are designed particularly for street usage. As the flow and volume features and specifications as well as extra ducting have a major part to play in determining how efficient the intercoolers are, buying a readymade intercooler for a particular application removes all the guessing game from the equation.

What are the Disadvantages of Using Air-to-air intercoolers?

The biggest disadvantage of using these systems is the fact that the efficiency of the units is based on a vehicle’s speed on the road as well as the surrounding temperature, in case the flow of air through the core of the intercooler is not helped by a fan. It is important to note that you cannot mount this type of system just about anywhere, as you have to mount it in a proper spot to observe airflow.

Such types of issues generally never pose as major problems in cold weather. However, in countries like Australia, where the surrounding temperatures are generally quite high, the blend of low road speeds and high surrounding temperatures makes these systems especially vulnerable to the sharp increase of intake air temperatures at high engine speeds as well as heat soak.

It is also a fact that most of the factory-installed air-to-air intercoolers are little more than showpieces. When there is low road speed, too much heat soak and high surrounding temperature, some of the air-to-air intercoolers can be highly inefficient. These may actually reduce airflow through these systems.