Benefits of intercoolers with performance gains (2023)

"Keeping your cool"

If you don't have a turbocharger or supercharger you don't need an intercooler.

The intake air temps on a NA (naturally aspirated) engine are as low as they can realistically get so you'd just be adding drag to the airflow.

One problem with a Turbo is the close proximity of the cold intake charge with the hot exhaust temperatures withinthe turbo.

Don't forget thata big air intake heat rise comes from the actual compression of air so even supercharged engine will benefit from an intercooler.

If you have ever felt the nozzle on a tyre pump you will realise that when air is compressed it gains heat.

We know from our chemistry and physics lessons that the colder air is the more oxygen it carries.

Why is this important? To burn fuel you need oxygen and, the more oxygen you have, the more fuel you can burn, which increases the power output of the car. See the article on air intakes for more information.

What is an intercooler and what does it do?

An intercooler is effectively a radiator which allows the intake air charge to be cooled before it gets into the engine.

You would ideally mount an intercooler in front of the radiator so that it benefits from all that nice cold air hitting it.

Benefits of intercoolers with performance gains (1)

(Video) Intercoolers, and expected power gains [Measured results]

It would be plumbed in after the air intake filter and after the turbo or supercharger where most of the heat is added.

Most cars have front mounted intercoolers which sit in front of the radiator and as a result they tend to offer superior air cooling over top mounted intercoolers.

You need to take into account the fact that the air reaching the radiator is reduced so you may in extreme cases need to uprate your cars radiator to maintain low on track temperatures.

Power benefits from an intercooler

An intercooler will not add power it is one of those mods that frees up power, so it removes a restriction. It will address the engines ability to pull air in as efficiently as possible and provide as much cooling for as long as possible.

An efficient intercooler design can give the benefit of 5% to 10% more power and resist heat soak for longer!

Please watch our video which covers the benefits of adding an intercooler to your car. Be sure to keep up with our latest YouTube content and subscribe.

Front mounted or top mounted?

Top mounted intercoolers

  • Pros - shorter path from the compressor to the engine so better air flow and lighter
  • Cons - less cooling as air will need be forced down and hot air rises from the engine bay so will be more prone to get warm quicklly

Front mounted intercoolers

  • Pros - Provides the best cooling as it's facing the air coming into the engine, you generally have more space for a FMIC and they are easier to fit as most OEM intercoolers are at the front or side of the engine bay.
  • Cons - Longer intake path from the compressor to the engine, adds weight to the car

Some cars have from the factory a top mounted intercoolers which suck air in through the bonnet, this may mean that when the car is stationary it is actually being hit by warm air coming from the engine bay.

This can actually improve economy as you are able to burn less fuel because the air is warmer and you certainly don't want to be pulling big power figures whilst ticking over in traffic.

The Subaru Impreza springs to mind as a car with a top mounted intercooler. A top mounted intercooler offers a substantially shorter air flow route into the engine but will need an air scoop on the top to channel air through it potentially causing drag.

All turbo cars will benefit from an intercooler and improvements can be made on the standard factory fit intercoolers. You need to remember that you want to suck as much air into the engine as possible, so if the intercooler internal core hinders airflow you will actually lose some power.

Designing an intercooler

The 2 factors which make an intercooler work are the internal flow characteristics and the cooling fins.

Ideally, the fins will have the largest surface area and the internal core will benefit from a low number of tapered bends and no internal welds to cause turbulence.

Benefits of intercoolers with performance gains (2)

Some argue that all intercoolers restrict the airflow, but considering the benefits gained by having a good quality one fitted and the minimal loss of airflow inherent in a well designed intercooler the argument does not stack up.

(Video) Should you upgrade your intercooler?

As a rule of thumb you would typically use 3 liters of intercooler capacity for each 100bhp. This is clunky but it seems to work well for most cars between 150 and 400bhp!

In reality using an intercooler which is too large can hinder airflow so there is an important case of getting the correct size for the application (this is something which can be discussed in more detail in our forum.) Bigger is not always better!

For a boost level of 15PSi,we at TorqueCars would expect a pressure drop of .5 to .9 psi with some applications losing 1.3psi in the worst case scenario. (Just as increasing pressure increases temperature so decreasing pressure is theresult from lowering the air temperature so don't blame the intercooler design for the entireloss of pressure.

Weight is always an issue in performance cars and many after market intercoolers are both lighter than their factory equivalents and offer substantially better performance gains.

As a general rule of thumba slightly bigger intercoolerwill havebetter cooling properties although it usually creates more drag.

This extra drag needs be carefully weighed up against the cooling offered. The longer the air is inside the intercooler the better the cooling effect will be.

Some cars have a spray nozzle to spray the intercooler with water or nitrous,therefore reducing the intake temperature further as the liquidevaporates using heat from the air flowing through the intercooler.

The actual power gain from an efficient intercooler design over OEM is typically between 5% and 10% with a temperature drop of 35C-40C and this will obviously depend on the ambient temperature - the bigger the difference between intake temp and ambient temp the better the cooling effect.

Eventually even large efficient intercoolers will suffer from heat soak. This is where the intercooler itself starts to warm up typically after longer periods of high boost driving.

Generally speaking the larger the intercooler the longer it resists heat soak for. So if you are looking for the maximum benefits from an intercooler you need to obtain the optimum size.

Please join us in our friendly forum to catch up with the latest trends in tuning and car modification for your car.

Please Check out my YouTube channel, we're regularly adding new content...

Benefits of intercoolers with performance gains (3)Click to accept YouTube Cookies & Play.

(Video) Do Turbo Cars REALLY Need an Upgraded Intercooler? (F30 BMW Performance Mods)

Please share this page with your friends on :

PLEASE HELP: I NEED YOUR DONATIONS TO COVER THE COSTS OF RUNNING THIS SITE AND KEEP IT RUNNING. I do not charge you to access this website and it saves most TorqueCars readers $100's each year - but we are NON PROFIT and not even covering our costs. To keep us running PLEASE Donate here

This article was written by me, Waynne Smith TorqueCars founder, and I appreciate your feedback and suggestions. This entry was filed under Forced Induction, Tuning. You can leave a response below or join our forum to discuss this article and car modification in detail with our members.

If you liked this page please share it with your friends, drop a link to it in your favourite forum or use the bookmarking options to save it to your social media profile.

Feedback - What do You Think?

Please use our forums if you wish to ask a tuning question, and please note we do not sell parts or services, we are just an online magazine.

Help us improve, leave a suggestion or tip

Please watch this video and subscribe to my YouTube channel.

More articles in:Tuning

  • Anti lag systems
  • Boost controllers and remaps
  • Benefits and drawbacks of engine water injection systems
  • Wastegate and Blow off valves
  • Benefits of an intercooler
  • Turbos Explained
  • Adding a supercharger

Forced Induction, Tuning

3 Responses to “Benefits of an intercooler”

  1. Muhammad says:

    November 15, 2011 at 7:04 pm

    Compressed air becomes cooler, but you wrote it gains heat.. I don’t understand.. please help.

  2. says:

    June 12, 2012 at 10:45 pm

    Compressing air gains heat (as stated).

    Pressure is proportional to Temperature > Increasing Pressure implies increasing Temperature

  3. Juann says:

    (Video) How Intercoolers Work and Why you Would Upgrade

    March 28, 2013 at 11:44 am

    Compressing air makes it hotter, but colder air is more dense to begin with.

(Video) Intercoolers: why you should upgrade yours


What are the benefits of a performance intercooler? ›

Without efficient cooling methods (such as an upgraded radiator or intercooler), you can run into problems. This is where a performance intercooler comes in, which helps absorb and remove that excess heat. This in turn allows the engine to produce more power.

How much HP does a performance intercooler add? ›

Intercoolers perform this exact function, cooling down the heated air and sending the cooler air to the engine. As explained earlier, this produces more power, and in turn, much more horsepower. If we look at the numbers, every 10 degrees drop in temperature boosts your car's horsepower by 1 percent.

Does a intercooler give you more HP? ›

It also makes the compressed air denser as it enters the intake manifold, which causes a richer air-to-fuel mix in the engine's cylinders. The result is increased power output. So, the answer to the question is yes! An intercooler does help to increase horsepower.

Is it worth upgrading your intercooler? ›

' and unfortunately, no, a turbo intercooler does not add horsepower to your car. That said, however, it does give you better and more responsive performance as your car has more access to oxygen and it can mean that you can tune your car more aggressively without risking damage to your engine.

What effect does an intercooler have on a high performance engine? ›

This cooling airflow interacts with fins of the heat exchanger to dissipate heat away from the induction airflow to the surroundings. These intercoolers essentially increase the density of the air entering the cylinders, creating more power as the engine has more air molecules to work with and combust.

What do you gain from a bigger intercooler? ›

As a general rule of thumb a slightly bigger intercooler will have better cooling properties although it usually creates more drag. This extra drag needs be carefully weighed up against the cooling offered. The longer the air is inside the intercooler the better the cooling effect will be.

Does intercooler increase torque? ›

The torque increase delivered by fitting a Intercooler Kit to a turbocharged diesel 4WD can be substantial. The engine generates greater output due to the gains in efficiency derived from the reduced ambient temperature of the inducted air, and increased airflow.

How much HP does an upgraded turbo add? ›

In general, adding a turbocharger to an engine will add anywhere from 40 hp to 300 hp, but in some cases, much more. In my eyes, a healthy boost of power would be around 50%. For instance, if your engine has 200 hp, you can push it to 300 hp without many reliability issues.

What are the disadvantages of intercooler? ›

Disadvantages of air-to-air intercoolers

The single greatest disadvantage of these intercoolers is that their efficiency depends on both the ambient temperature and the road speed of the vehicle if the airflow through the intercooler's core is not fan-assisted.

Do I need a tune after intercooler? ›

Senior Member. Intercooler definitely doesn't need a tune. A lot of intakes don't either to my knowledge (though those are more of a mixed bag). You can get more out of the parts if you tune though.

Does an intercooler feed the turbo? ›

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

What intercooler is best? ›

Overall, the air-to-air intercooler is the most popular intercooler style and provides the best bang-for-buck.

Does an intercooler improve mpg? ›

Intercoolers usually do improve the general efficiency on a Diesel, plus they contribute to keep the NOx emissions at a lower level due to the colder air flow.

Is a thicker intercooler better? ›

The bottom line is bigger is not always better when it comes to intercooler core size. A properly sized intercooler will deliver efficient cooling without impacting boost lag.

Does intercooler change pressure? ›

Pressure loss, or pressure drop, refers to the change in pressure when comparing the air entering the intercooler with the exiting air. This change is mostly affected by the internal flow area of the intercooler.

Do intercoolers cause turbo lag? ›

The stock intercooler is actually very efficient. It's an expensive lightweight tube & fin design that has very little turbo lag because it has quick flow across the cooler which prevents the intake pressure drop that causes turbo lag.

Is a front mount intercooler better? ›

In a nutshell, a front mount intercooler is a better option for those who want to keep their engine as cool as possible, even in higher temperature weather. It's also an efficient way of cooling your car down because air can reach all three dimensions without losing too much energy in the process.

Why does a turbo perform better with 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.

How can I add 200 hp to my car? ›

Install a Turbo Kit or Supercharger

A turbo kit will help your engine become more responsive. You will find turbocharger kits that increase your truck up to an additional 200-horsepower. The downside is that they aren't low-cost. Some kits can cost a few thousand dollars.

What parts add the most horsepower? ›

Supercharger or turbocharger

Also known as forced induction parts, both of these components force air into your car's engine which improves horsepower and torque. A turbocharger works with the exhaust system and can potentially give you gains of 70-150 horsepower.

How much HP does headers add? ›

Depending on your vehicle type and how much you've upgraded your exhaust system, installing aftermarket headers can result in a five percent increase in horsepower.

Does a better intercooler increase mpg? ›

Intercoolers usually do improve the general efficiency on a Diesel, plus they contribute to keep the NOx emissions at a lower level due to the colder air flow.

Does a bigger intercooler reduce engine temperature? ›

A bigger intercooler reduces the temp of the air going into the engine, which means more power, which means the engine will run hotter.

How much difference does an intercooler make? ›

The density charge affects power and density is related to temperature. This means the intercooler made a 54.9% increase in density over the non intercooled charge. Some of the power increase this denser air causes is negated by pressure drop. Flow restrictions in the core and piping do play a role as well.

What difference does an upgraded intercooler make? ›

Upgrading the intercooler on your turbocharged car means more horsepower, consistent performance, and safer operating temperatures.


1. See Thru Intercooler In Slow Motion - (Dyno Run High Boost)
(Warped Perception)
2. Why You Need a Bigger Intercooler | Forge | Demon Tweeks
(Demon Tweeks)
3. When Should You Upgrade Your Intercooler?
(Vivid Racing UTV)
4. Is an intercooler upgrade really worth it? Let’s find out.
(Boosted Sagas)
6. What Intercooler Type is BEST? | Air to Air VS Air to Water
(AMS Performance)


Top Articles
Latest Posts
Article information

Author: Corie Satterfield

Last Updated: 15/09/2023

Views: 6622

Rating: 4.1 / 5 (62 voted)

Reviews: 93% of readers found this page helpful

Author information

Name: Corie Satterfield

Birthday: 1992-08-19

Address: 850 Benjamin Bridge, Dickinsonchester, CO 68572-0542

Phone: +26813599986666

Job: Sales Manager

Hobby: Table tennis, Soapmaking, Flower arranging, amateur radio, Rock climbing, scrapbook, Horseback riding

Introduction: My name is Corie Satterfield, I am a fancy, perfect, spotless, quaint, fantastic, funny, lucky person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.