Intercooler vs. Heat Exchanger [Archive] - Forum


View Full Version : Intercooler vs. Heat Exchanger

04-11-2010, 03:09 PM
Ok. I Googled what the difference was and got this answer, so I'm trying to find out if it's correct and to help folks in the future w/ the same question.

Well, technically an intercooler is a heat exchanger too. The basic wording used in the hot rodding industry doesn't always have much technical merit, but people are quick to challenge any mis-labeling of their parts, so be it.

If you talk about air-to-air intercoolers, you are looking at a "heat exchanger" that uses air from the atmosphere, flowing over and around a lot of finned tubes to remove heat from the intake air charge (reduce the temperature of the air that has been pressurized by the supercharger/turbocharger that is going through the tubes). Most boosted cars use a huge air-to-air intercooler below their front bumper to catch fresh, cool air, to maximize the cooling effect. Others have it at a spot in the engine compartment that is fed by a scoop, or uses a mini-fan to ram air into the finned tubes. Air-to-air is not the best way to cool off the intake air, but it works well and it doesn't require much additional weight or complexity, beyond routing the piping to it and returning from it. It also allows the use of a Nitrous Oxide spray bar to enhance it's cooling capabilities.

The Cobra and Lightning air-to-water intercooler (mounted under the blower) is still a heat exchanger (heat is transfered from the compressed engine air charge to the water/coolant flowing through the finned tubes) and is still called an intercooler. The part that causes confusion is when the water (that has now been heated up) has to be cooled, it flows through hoses to another "heat exchanger" that is a water-to-air heat exchanger. The purpose of this unit is similar to your engine's radiator, and is usually mounted in front of the radiator (to allow cooler air to pass through it's finned tubes) to cool off the water/coolant inside the tubes. This cooler water is then pumped (by an actual pump) back to the air-to-water intercooler again. This setup is heavy, because water/coolant, hoses, reservoir, pump and a second heat exchanger are required, but it has a much greater heat exchanging capacity than most air-to-air intercoolers (allowing lower inlet air temps, thus allowing higher boost to be run safely). To eliminate any confusion, Ford calls the unit at the radiator the "heat exchanger" and the unit under the blower the "intercooler". However, they are both "heat exchangers," but only the one under the blower is an intercooler, since it is the only one that DIRECTLY cools the intake charge.

If this is correct, then the lower priced Vibrant air to air that Mark sells will be what I need when I put my SC in, correct?

04-11-2010, 06:12 PM
What kind of supercharger do you have? Usually centrifugal superchargers use intercoolers while Roots style blowers use heat exchangers.

04-12-2010, 12:29 AM
Eaton SC

04-12-2010, 05:52 AM
If you email me before you buy I would be happy to cut you a deal on one ;)

04-12-2010, 02:06 PM
Sounds like a plan Mark