Aftermarket Intercoolers: Here’s Why You Need One

Automotive enthusiasts and performance-oriented drivers constantly seek ways to maximize their vehicle’s potential. One key component in this quest for enhanced engine efficiency and power is the aftermarket intercoolers.

These vital additions play a crucial role in cooling compressed intake air, ultimately boosting engine performance. In this article, we will delve into what aftermarket intercoolers are, how they work, their types, benefits, drawbacks, and when it makes sense to consider upgrading them.

So, buckle up as we explore the world of aftermarket intercoolers and their impact on your driving experience.


what are aftermarket intercoolers?

Aftermarket intercoolers are performance-enhancing components typically installed in vehicles to cool the compressed air from the turbocharger, increasing engine efficiency and power output. Aftermarket intercoolers are not factory-installed but are added or replaced by vehicle enthusiasts to optimize engine performance and reduce the risk of overheating during high-performance driving.

What is the purpose of aftermarket intercoolers?

Aftermarket intercoolers improve engine performance by cooling down the warm compressed air from the turbocharger, which increases the density of the air entering the engine.

Denser air contains more oxygen, allowing for better combustion and more power output, while also reducing the risk of overheating the engine with hot air during high-performance driving.

How do aftermarket intercoolers work?

An intercooler, also known as a charge air cooler, is a very essential component in turbocharged or supercharged internal combustion engines.

Its primary function is to cool down the intake air before it enters the engine’s combustion chamber. In these forced-induction systems, air is compressed before reaching the engine, generating a significant amount of heat.

The hot, compressed air is directed through the intercooler, a heat exchanger positioned between the turbocharger (or supercharger) and the engine’s intake manifold.

Ambient air (Air-to-Air intercooler) or water (Air-to-Water intercooler), which is cooler than the hot compressed intake air, flows over or through the intercooler’s fins or tubes, absorbing heat from the intake air and causing it to cool down. This cooling process increases the density of the intake air, as denser air contains more oxygen molecules per unit volume.

Consequently, the engine benefits from improved combustion, leading to increased power and efficiency. Additionally, the lower intake air temperature reduces the risk of engine knocking or detonation, ensuring smoother and safer engine operation.

The different types of aftermarket intercoolers

Air-to-Air aftermarket Intercoolers

How they Work

An air-to-air aftermarket intercooler is a heat exchanger that uses ambient air to cool the hot, compressed intake air from a turbocharger or supercharger. It is typically positioned in the vehicle’s front grille or in a location where it can receive a direct flow of outside air.

As the hot intake air passes through the intercooler’s fins or tubes, the incoming ambient air, which is cooler, flows over or through these elements. Heat is transferred from the hot air to the cooler air, causing the intake air to cool down and increase in density. This denser air is then delivered to the engine’s intake manifold.


  1. Simplicity: Air-to-air aftermarket intercoolers are relatively simple and have fewer components, making them more affordable and easier to maintain.
  2. Reliability: They have a lower risk of component failure since they do not have an additional water circulation system.
  3. Lightweight: Air-to-air intercoolers are typically lighter than air-to-water intercoolers, which can be advantageous for weight-conscious applications.


  1. Less Cooling Efficiency: They may not provide as efficient cooling as air-to-water intercoolers, especially in high-boost or high-horsepower applications.
  2. Limited by Ambient Temperature: Their effectiveness is influenced by external ambient temperatures. Hot weather conditions can reduce their cooling efficiency.

Air-to-Water aftermarket Intercoolers

How they Work

An air-to-water aftermarket intercooler, also known as a liquid-to-air intercooler, uses a separate coolant circuit to cool the intake air. Hot, compressed intake air passes through the intercooler, where it transfers heat to a liquid coolant, usually water or a water-glycol mixture.

The heated coolant is then pumped to a separate heat exchanger, where it dissipates heat to the outside air. This process cools the intake air effectively, and the cooled air is then delivered to the engine’s intake manifold.


  1. Efficient Cooling: Air-to-water aftermarket intercoolers can provide more efficient cooling, making them suitable for high-boost and high-horsepower applications.
  2. Consistent Performance: They are less affected by external ambient temperatures, ensuring consistent cooling performance in various weather conditions.
  3. Flexibility: Air-to-water intercoolers can be installed in various locations within the vehicle, as they are not dependent on a direct airflow like air-to-air intercoolers.


  1. Complexity: They are more complex due to the additional coolant circulation system, which can increase installation complexity and maintenance requirements.
  2. Weight: Air-to-water aftermarket intercoolers tend to be heavier than air-to-air intercoolers, which can be a consideration in certain applications.

In summary, the choice between air-to-air and air-to-water intercoolers depends on the specific application, power goals, and packaging constraints. The decision should be based on the priorities and requirements of the particular vehicle or engine setup.

Do aftermarket intercoolers add horsepower?

The real answer is not necessarily. While aftermarket intercoolers can have a positive impact on engine performance by improving cooling efficiency and reducing heat soak, the increase in horsepower is often not substantial on its own.

The actual horsepower gains from an aftermarket intercooler may not be very significant when considered in isolation, since the real power boost comes from the turbo. These gains may become more noticeable when combined with other performance modifications and tuning adjustments.

In summary, while aftermarket intercoolers can contribute to improved engine performance by cooling down the compressed air, they may not dramatically increase horsepower on their own, and the extent of the improvement will depend on various factors.

Aftermarket intercooler benefits

Aftermarket intercoolers offer several advantages for performance-oriented vehicles and enthusiasts. Here are some of the pros of using aftermarket intercoolers:

  1. Improved Cooling Efficiency: One of the primary advantages of aftermarket intercoolers is their ability to cool the intake air more effectively than stock intercoolers.
  2. Increased Performance: The improved cooling efficiency of an aftermarket intercooler allows for more aggressive tuning and higher boost levels.
  3. Reduced Heat Soak: Aftermarket intercoolers are designed to handle higher heat loads and are less prone to heat soak during spirited driving or repeated pulls.
  4. Consistent Performance: Aftermarket intercoolers provide consistent cooling performance across a wide range of operating conditions.
  5. Customization Options: Many aftermarket intercoolers offer customization options, allowing you to choose the size, design, and materials that best suit your specific vehicle and performance goals.
  6. Durability: High-quality intercoolers are often built to withstand the rigors of performance driving.
  7. Compatibility with Other Mods: These intercoolers complement other performance modifications, such as turbocharger upgrades, exhaust systems, and engine management tuning.
  8. Enhanced Aesthetics: Some aftermarket intercooler comes with polished or visually appealing designs that can enhance the engine bay’s aesthetics, making them a popular choice among automotive enthusiasts.

Aftermarket intercooler Drawbacks

here are some potential disadvantages or drawbacks associated with aftermarket intercoolers:

  1. Cost: High-quality aftermarket intercoolers can be relatively expensive, especially when considering top-of-the-line options.
  2. Installation Complexity: Installing an aftermarket intercooler can be more complex and time-consuming than swapping out some other performance parts.
  3. Compatibility Issues: Not all aftermarket intercoolers are universal, and finding one that fits your specific make and model can be challenging.
  4. Weight: Some aftermarket options, especially larger ones, can add weight to the front of the vehicle.
  5. Turbo Lag: In certain cases, upgrading to a larger intercooler can lead to increased turbo lag, especially if the intercooler is oversized for the engine or not properly matched to the turbocharger

Reason to upgrade your intercooler

Here are some common reasons why or when you might consider upgrading your intercooler:

  1. Increased Power Goals: If you plan to increase the power output of your car significantly, either through engine modifications or higher boost levels in a forced-induction system (turbocharging or supercharging), upgrading the intercooler can be necessary.
  2. Reduced Heat Soak: In situations where you frequently engage in spirited driving, track days, or multiple back-to-back pulls, the intercooler may experience heat soak. Upgrading to a better intercooler can mitigate this issue and maintain consistent performance.
  3. Performance Tuning: If you are planning to optimize your engine’s performance through aftermarket tuning, a larger or more efficient intercooler can complement these modifications.
  4. Hot Climate or High Ambient Temperatures: In regions with hot climates or during the summer months, ambient air temperatures can be exceptionally high. Upgrading your intercooler can help counteract the heat and maintain performance, as extreme heat can reduce an intercooler’s effectiveness.
  5. Reduced Turbo Lag: Some vehicles may experience turbo lag due to restrictive stock intercoolers. Upgrading to a larger, less restrictive intercooler can reduce turbo lag, providing more immediate power delivery when you accelerate.
  6. Improved Reliability: High-performance intercoolers are often more robustly built and better able to withstand the rigors of aggressive driving or racing. If durability and reliability are priorities, upgrading the intercooler can be a sensible choice.
  7. Customization: Enthusiasts may want to fine-tune their vehicle’s performance characteristics or appearance. Aftermarket intercoolers offer customization options in terms of size, design, and materials, allowing you to tailor the intercooler to your specific needs and preferences.


Can I install an aftermarket intercooler on a naturally aspirated engine?

Aftermarket intercoolers are primarily designed for turbocharged or supercharged engines. While it’s technically possible to install one on a naturally aspirated engine, it won’t provide significant benefits because there is no forced induction to cool.

How do I ensure proper airflow to the intercooler for maximum efficiency?

Adequate airflow is essential for intercooler performance. Ensure that your vehicle’s front grille or openings are not obstructed, and consider adding additional ducting or vents to direct airflow to the intercooler.

Do aftermarket intercoolers require a tune or ECU remapping?

To maximize the benefits of an aftermarket intercooler, it’s advisable to have your vehicle’s engine control unit (ECU) tuned or remapped to accommodate the changes in airflow and performance. This helps ensure safe and optimal operation.

Can I reuse my factory intercooler piping with aftermarket intercoolers?

It’s often recommended to upgrade the intercooler piping along with the intercooler for optimal performance. Factory piping may not be designed to handle the increased airflow and cooling requirements of aftermarket intercoolers.

What is the difference between front-mount and top-mount intercoolers?

Front-mount intercoolers are mounted in the front of the vehicle, usually behind the grille, and offer excellent cooling efficiency but may require modifications for installation. Top-mount intercoolers are installed on top of the engine and are more compact but may have slightly lower cooling capacity.


In conclusion, aftermarket intercoolers are essential components for turbocharged or supercharged vehicles, cooling compressed air and enhancing engine efficiency and power. They offer advantages like improved cooling, reduced heat soak, and customization options, but come with costs and potential installation complexities.

While they may not significantly boost horsepower alone, their impact becomes more pronounced when combined with other modifications. Upgrading your intercooler is advisable for those with increased power goals, heat management needs, performance tuning, or specific environmental conditions. Proper airflow, ECU tuning, and upgraded piping are also important considerations.

In essence, aftermarket intercoolers are valuable for performance-oriented drivers but should be chosen wisely to align with individual goals and vehicle needs.