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Bigger Intercooler: Should You Get One? (Benefits & Drawbacks)

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Last Updated on: 16th November 2023, 01:45 am

An intercooler is nearly always found on turbocharged engines. It’s main job is to reduce the temperature of the hot compressed air from the turbo.

When tuning a vehicle and increasing turbo boost pressure, upgrading to a bigger intercooler is a good way of reducing intake air temperatures, increasing power, and reducing the risk of engine damage.

In this article, we will see if you should upgrade your vehicles intercooler to a larger one in hopes of improving performance.

Benefits

There are four major advantages of installing a bigger intercooler, as listed below.

  1. Cooler and denser intake air
  2. Less risk of engine knock
  3. Reduced heat soak
  4. More aggressive aesthetics
  5. Allows more aggressive tuning
intercooler on front of car

1. Cooler & Denser Intake Air

As a result of installing a larger intercooler, you can have more intake air cooling.

This extra cooling will increase the density of the intake air, increasing the amount of oxygen for the same volume of air.

More oxygen means more combustion in the cylinder, meaning more power. Reducing intake air temperature has a direct effect on power.

2. Less Risk of Engine Knock

Another major advantage of installing a bigger intercooler is that it reduces the risk of all types of engine knocking (not including rod knock though).

Reducing the risk of engine knock means you can run a more aggressive tune and higher boost pressures.

This reduced risk of knock is due to decreased intake and cylinder temperatures.

Installing a bigger intercooler is not the only way to prevent engine knocking, you can also install a water/methanol injection system along with various other ways.

> Click here to see ways of preventing engine knock.

3. Reduced Heat Soak

Heat soak is where the entire intercoolers temperature increases, sometimes to a point where it cannot cool down the intake air temperature until it has cooled down itself.

This heat soak can happen after hard driving, such as on a track, or where the ambient temperature is hot, such as in hot weather.

Usually, driving calmly (not on boost) for a few minutes can bring back down the intake and intercooler temperature.

Installing a larger intercooler is a great way to prevent heat soak from happening.

There’s also an inexpensive modification called an intercooler water sprayer which can also further reduce intake temperature.

Reducing heat soak can help you drive on boost for longer, increasing track times and power.

4. More Aggressive Aesthetics

If you’re a modified car enthusiast then you know a tuned car when you see one.

Usually, the first signs of a tuned and modified car is a big intercooler showing through the bumper.

Most enthusiasts would say that a big intercooler showing through looks good, but it’s personal preference.

Though, it usually makes a car look more aggressive.

5. Allows for More Aggressive Tuning

Because a larger intercooler reduces boost air temperature it reduces the risk of engine knocking, this has several benefits.

One of these benefits is allowing for more aggressive tuning, such as the following.

  • Increasing boost pressure
  • Advancing ignition and spark timing
  • Leaner air/fuel ratio

This can increase power output separately from just increasing turbo boost.

Does a Bigger Intercooler Make More Power?

A larger intercooler has multiple benefits, but does it increase power output?

Yes, a bigger intercooler can increase engine power by reducing intake air temperature, allowing for increased turbo boost pressure, reducing engine knock, and more aggressive tuning.

Should You Get a Larger One?

Modifying your car is a personal choice, but if you’re after a better performing and more powerful car then getting a bigger intercooler should be on your modification list.

The optimal intercooler for most people would have the following features.

  • Front-mounted
  • Bar and plate
  • Cast and flow-optimised end tanks
  • High-density internal fins and low-density external fins
  • Offset-style internal fins and straight louvered-style external fins
  • Powder-coated

In summary, getting a bigger intercooler will provide much better intake air cooling, increase power and prevent engine knock.

  • Andy Lewin

    Andy Lewin is a senior mechanic, ASE qualified master technician, and an experienced automotive engineer. He's passionate about serving the automotive community with the highest-quality and trustworthy information on all things automotive. He loves to write about car repairs, maintenance, car modifications and tuning, faults, and much more.

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