How Does a Car Intercooler Increase Power?
From a mechanical standpoint, keeping the car cool seems like a simple process. Add some pipes to the car radiator and top up with water, as long as the thermometer stays low enough, all is well. But there's plenty of thermodynamic shenanigans behind the scenes to keep the car within its safe operating temperature threshold. However, the heat exchanger can also be used in another way. When properly designed and placed, the correct heat exchanger can significantly improve engine performance. Intercoolers do just that, and can be used in several different combinations.
1. The automative intercooler is a so-called cross-flow heat exchanger
Because the cooling fluid (air) carrying heat away moves to the warming fluid (air, water or oil) at a 90 degree angle. The interaction of these fluids is achieved through the use of tubes and fins within the intercooler. Hollow tubes run the length of the heat exchanger and serve as pathways for hot fluid from the inlet through the intercooler and then to the outlet when sufficiently cooled.
However, the actual cooling is achieved through the use of fins that cover the surface area of the intercooler. They are arranged in a corrugated pattern to maximize the surface area of the heat exchanger to dissipate heat to the surrounding environment as efficiently as possible. Simply put, an automative intercooler draws hot air into the engine and cools it through heat exchange. The laws of thermodynamics state that the greater the temperature difference between the intake air passing through the intake manifold and the combustion temperature in the cylinder, the more energy is converted by combustion. So a cooler intake means a bigger temperature difference and therefore more power.
2. The car needs to install an automative intercooler
The most efficient use for an automotive intercooler happens to be when it is installed on a turbocharged or supercharged vehicle, and if you don't, the turbocharger or supercharger windup can make the intake air temperature too high. Using more thermodynamic principles, if the pressure of a fluid increases, the temperature of that fluid also increases. Therefore, the boost pressure of the turbocharger can suddenly increase the intake pressure and temperature, which, if not cooled, will cause the engine to be inefficient.
To remedy this, an automative intercooler is placed between the turbocharger and the engine intake so that the air is cooled enough in time for it to enter the cylinders and interact with the incoming fuel. Without an intercooler to do the job, warm air from something like a supercharger creates a breeding ground for pre-ignition. This means that the fuel is combusted prematurely in the engine cycle, reducing the efficiency and power of the engine and possibly causing damage. Most intercoolers need to be placed in areas with fast, smooth and cool airflow. It's not good to slap a heat exchanger deep in the engine bay where the ambient temperature is too high for any real heat exchange to occur. This is why front-mounted intercoolers are the most popular placement method.
Whether located in front of the radiator or in the side grilles of the front end, an automotive intercooler should always receive cool, undisturbed air to maximize the temperature difference between the hot and cold fluids. If space is at a premium, manufacturers often make large air intakes on the hood so that the intercooler can be placed anywhere in the engine bay and still have an adequate air supply.