Beginners Guide To Car Modification: Does an Intercooler Use Horsepower?

If you want to remodel your car to amp up its performance, then you’ve probably already considered getting an intercooler. You’ve probably also already asked yourself whether or not an intercooler raises the horsepower needed to run your car.

In this article, we’ll be exploring this particular issue to discover whether or not we can get a final answer. What are the different kinds of intercoolers available on the market? Which ones are right for your car? Keep reading to find out!

What is an intercooler?

An intercooler is a cooling car modification designed to decrease the temperature of air streamed into the car’s engine. It’s often used in supercharged cars because their engines get too hot too fast.

By helping the compressed air cool before it gets to the engine, the intercooler lowers the engine’s detonation risk. It also raises the cool air’s density, causing richer air-to-fuel ratios in the engine’s main cylinders. This then results in better power and performance.

So technically, yes, an intercooler does help your car’s horsepower increase–but naturally, there are exceptions. If your car’s engine is naturally aspirated, there’s absolutely no need for an intercooler. Aspirated engines already cool the air as it’s fed into the engine by the radiator ducts. The temperature is already low to begin with and any extra cooling by the intercooler isn’t significant.

How Much Horsepower Does An Intercooler Bring To The Table?

So now that we know intercoolers definitely raise your car’s horsepower, the question is by how much? There are several factors to consider when looking for this particular answer.

Most intercooler makers shoot for at least 70% efficiency when it comes to cooling down compressed air from a turbocharger. However, all of this is very much dependent on the intercooler’s design and piping as well as its size and how you decide to mount it around your car’s engine.

Given all of these parameters, an aftermarket intercooler is usually worth around 5-10% more in power gains than a regular OEM intercooler.

What Are The Types Of Intercoolers?

OEM Intercoolers vs. Aftermarket Intercoolers

Most supercharged cars already come with built-in stock intercoolers. Car manufacturers usually install small, spartan intercoolers that will suffice but are by no means premium quality.

These are called OEM intercoolers and while they might do well during regular driving scenarios, they definitely won’t be effective during racing, dirt driving, or any driving situation that requires you to rev the engine aggressively.

If you’re buying a car specifically for the performance and to really race or ride as opposed to just drive in it, then you definitely would do well to get a larger, more powerful intercooler.

If you’re planning to get body kits or other mods, these add an extra layer of insulation to your car body, making the engine heat up faster. In this case, you should definitely look into installing an aftermarket intercooler to keep your engine running well.

Air-to-Air Intercoolers

Most intercoolers are air-to-air types. They’re more affordable, more intuitive to install, and a lot easier to maintain than other types of intercoolers. They need to be exposed to outside airflow to get cool because they rely specifically on that airflow.

They’re designed to have an inlet that sucks hot air in from the turbocharger and an outlet that connects to the engine’s intake manifold. Air-to-air intercoolers are of two kinds: top-mount intercoolers and front-mount intercoolers.

Top-Mount Intercoolers

These intercoolers are installed on the top side of the engine. Most cars which utilize this type of intercooler have a hood-scoop that feeds the intercooler fresh air while the car is in motion. The piping on these cars is much shorter, getting water to the intercooler a lot faster, reducing the turbo lag.

Front-Mount Intercoolers

These intercoolers are mounted on the front of the car radiator. They’re a lot more exposed to airflow and are larger because they have a bigger surface area to work with. This is ideal for city driving but it doesn’t work very well for sports cars because it takes a longer time for the compressed air to cool.

Although the answer to whether an intercooler increases horsepower is definitely a yes, there are a lot of factors to take into account. It all depends on the car, what you’re using it for, and the type of intercooler you decide to install.

Another big factor is the shop and the quality of the technician’s capabilities. Make sure that you choose a shop where the people know what they’re doing. Keep the factors in this article in mind and don’t be afraid to ask your technician questions–car mods definitely aren’t cheap so make sure you get the bang for your buck.

Head on over to well-equipped experts so you get quality installation and more information about your specific vehicle. Crank your engines and put your intercooler in high gear!

Matt O’Rourke is an expert from AusBody Works. His friends call him the ‘Mad Scientist’ because of his love for ripping apart anything with a motor and putting it back together. He’s always looking for that next ‘part’ that will take his car’s performance to a new level. You can find him on Facebook or you can follow him on Twitter @MattOrourke18.

Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author.

Photo attribution: ‘orion’ licensed under Creative Commons ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0). 

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