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Why Performance Intercoolers Are So Important Even On a Stock Car!

Updated: Jul 27, 2023

Most enthusiasts in the performance car world know what an intercooler is and what it does. Still, quite often they consider it purely a performance device, especially in the aftermarket ar

But there is so much more to it!

What do intercoolers do?

Heat is a by-product of forced induction, whether it's a turbo or supercharger. The core purpose of an intercooler is to manage air charge temperatures to not superheat the air as it enters the combustion chamber. This is to prevent pre-detonation and/or melting of the engine's internal components. True, this has a by-product of making more power since a cooler intake charge can supply more air given the same amount of space in the cylinder, and this affords a host of benefits for tuning. The ability to advance timing, run more boost or even just use less than good fuel--now all become more possible with upgrade units!

Types of intercooler systems:

There are really only two readily available types of intercooler systems: air-to-air, and water-to-air. We will dig into that subject in another article. Yes, there are ice boxes and halo rings but that's outside the scope of this topic.

So how about intercooler upgrades for people that are not concerned with performance?

If you’re not a performance-minded person and just have you point A to B car or an auto connoisseur but are not interested in performance or tuning, listen up! One of the real benefits of an upgraded intercooler over a factory unit is stress relief! Yes, by lowering your charge air temperature, you take a tremendous amount of stress and wear off of your car or truck’s engine. Now if you live in Alaska or the north where the max temp you may see is the 90s, you’re probably fine with your car’s OEM intercooler. However, in extreme climates like the southwest--especially Arizona where the temps can reach 110-115+ degrees, those temps are brutal on your engine’s internal components, more specifically cylinder combustion components. Now, yes, it is true that most modern cars will monitor the air intake temperatures and reduce boost and timing as well as enrichen fuel mixture to protect your engine, those functions act as a countermeasure after temps have triggered safety limits. All this does not mean that the temps are not still rising to harsh levels. By installing an upgraded, larger, and more efficient intercooler on a bone stock car, the owner can reduce engine stress, prevent safety systems from having to reduce power and gain back optimal fuel efficiency. So, it’s a no-brainer; if you love your car, and you want to do something that will make it last longer, get a better intercooler!

If an intercooler is so important, then why is my car’s OEM intercooler so inefficient?

You have to remember your car is made to a world standard--especially non-US made cars--and the manufacturer is going to make the car to the absolute minimum cost-effective standards necessary for it to perform for most people in most places, without creating a warranty problem. With modern technology, it is much cheaper and easier for them to just reprogram the ECU to cut power and implement safety strategies to save the motor from damage over the expense of a larger more efficient intercooler. And with a warranty of only 3-5 years, in most cases if extra stress can make it just that long without expensive failure, then in the manufacturer’s eyes that is all that is necessary.

For that matter, if you lease your car or trade it in every couple of years, this article should not concern you. But if you care about your car and plan to own it for a long time, then this message should be of great importance to you.

My car is new! What about the warranty?

While only the manufacturer of your specific car can make direct policy on their specific warranty, most recognize that an upgraded intercooler system is a benefit to them and not an item that would void their warranty. It is in their best interest to support an upgraded intercooler system as it can prevent premature wear and possibly even drive-train failures that they would have to cover monetarily, so most manufacturers will welcome this customer-supplied upgrade.

More questions on intercoolers, sometimes called eat exchanges, or any other cooling component that may make your car last longer and perform better, call us or drop us a line!

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