The intercooler is fitted between the turbocharger and engine, and between two turbochargers in twin-turbo systems. The intercooler located near the engine is often called an aftercooler. Be it an intercooler or aftercooler, the function remains the same: to lower the temperature of the compressed air that is generated by the turbocharger. Intercoolers are also employed in vehicles with superchargers. The intercooler is included in turbocharged vehicles for two reasons: the compressed air carries a lot of heat which can affect the engine parts by causing detonation in the cylinders, thereby lowering boost. The intercooler reduces the temperature of the air and protects the engine components. Secondly, compressed air when cooled becomes denser, which can, in turn, burn more fuel with it. This results in an additional increase in the power output of the engine. This article explains the various symptoms of defective intercoolers.
Causes of Intercooler Failure
Generally, the connecting lines/hoses between the intercooler and the engine may leak, causing a drop in the pressure of the compressed air. Any extraneous substances in the air from the turbo can also damage the intercooler parts.
Symptoms of a Damaged Intercooler
A leak in the intercooler lines will fail to supply the required amount of air under the optimal pressure, thereby affecting the air-fuel ratio of the engine. This will either cause the engine to run rich or lean. If the engine runs under a rich condition, the excess fuel will be expelled with the exhaust gases. This results in a combustion of the left-over fuel in the exhaust system, which results in the emission a cloud of black smoke. This brings down the fuel economy and performance of the vehicle.
Turbo control systems can use a number of approaches to help compensate for a boost leak. In minor leak cases, there will be a lag in acceleration and an extra turbo whine. Major leaks will cause the computer to automatically default to “home mode”. This will result in a drop in the power and restricted RPM, making driving near impossible.
Air-to-water intercoolers rely on the engine coolant and can often develop clogs due to mineral deposits. Clogged intercoolers will cause an increase in the temperature of the air flowing into the engine, thereby reducing its efficiency. Engine overheating eventually results in engine knocking.
In case of a damaged intercooler, the turbocharger spins faster than usual to make up for the loss in pressure caused by the intercooler. However, the level of boost will be less than optimal.
A defective intercooler should be checked right away and replaced, if needed. Changing the intercooler hoses is easier than replacing the entire cooler itself. If you are well aware of the ins and outs of your turbo system, you can replace the intercooler on your own.
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Our automotive experts have written a buyer's guide on intercoolers. Please look through the guide to get a clear picture on purchasing the right intercooler for your vehicle. To read buyer's guides for other parts, please refer to this section: buyer's guide.
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