People often get confused between intercooler and radiator thinking that both these come with a similar purpose. Well, that’s true to some extent. You can’t ignore the fact that both of these are designed to reduce the temperature of something.
But there are significant differences too that have separated intercoolers from radiators. In this article, we’ll talk about intercooler vs radiator and several other topics associated with the issue. So, if you think that both are the same or can’t differentiate much between these two, you should keep reading.
Here I’ve tried to clear the confusion and create a visible difference between intercoolers and radiators. Before directly jumping into the differentiation, let’s talk a bit about both.
What is Intercooler?
An intercooler is the part of your vehicle that focuses on decreasing the temperature of the air near the combustion chamber. This is a very common system in turbo engines, supercharges, and turbochargers.
The process in which your engine works creates a lot of heat around it. This increases the temperature of the air around. Hot air has less density and contains a lower amount of oxygen. This situation doesn’t allow the engine to deliver the best of it.
The intercooler cools down the hot air by reducing the temperature. As a result, air density gets improved and so does the density of oxygen in the air. As a result, the engine can burn more oxygen and perform better when this air enters it.
This is the basic of what the intercooler does. It is designed to reduce the temperature of the air near the combustion chamber.
What is Radiator?
Radiator comes with a similar purpose yet different reason. It is there to reduce the temperature of the coolants. Now you should know what coolant is.
While working, the engine produces a huge amount of heat. If it remains hot at the time of working, it can’t perform much. Again, continuous production of heat can damage the engine heavily if the heat is not reduced using something.
This is the situation where coolant comes. This is a liquid carried to the engine to consume temperature from the engine and keep it cool.
The task of a radiator is to work with the coolants and reduce their temperature. Coolant is taken to the engine to absorb heat. Then it flows towards the radiator.
The radiator decreases the temperature of the coolant and then sends it to the engine again to absorb more temperature. This is the basic of what a radiator does.
Intercooler vs Radiator: A Comparison to Destroy Confusion
So, let’s start talking about the issue for which you’re here. I guess you already know the basic difference between these two. Let me make it clearer through a head-to-head comparison.
The task of a radiator is to reduce the temperature of the coolant so that it can go toward the engine and collect heat again to keep the engine cool. On the other hand, the main task of an intercooler is to keep the compressed air cool for the combustion chamber.
You can see a clear difference here.
These two come with different purposes too.
The main purpose of a radiator is to keep the engine cool so that it can continuously perform for a long time without being damaged by the heat. On the other hand, the purpose of an intercooler is to help the combustion chamber to work efficiently by keeping the air colder and denser.
The Heat Transfer
The method of heat transfer in a radiator is water-to-air. In this system, heat is transported from the coolant (water or anything else) to the air inside the radiator.
On the other hand, intercooler uses the air-to-air or air-to-water method. In the intercoolers that use the air-to-air method, direct cool air is sent under the hood to get the job done. Some intercoolers come with a design where the hot air is brought to a water or coolant source for cooling.
Radiators are most common and come with almost all sorts of automobiles. The need for keeping the engine cold has made radiators must for all types of vehicles.
On the other hand, the use case of an intercooler is limited. Only turbo engines, superchargers, and turbochargers require intercoolers. However, in these machines, the radiator is also a necessary part.
So, it clearly shows that a vehicle that has a radiator doesn’t necessarily need an intercooler. On the other hand, if your vehicle has an intercooler, still it requires a radiator. These two are not related to each other in any way, except for a slight similarity in the task they do. It all is depending on the way your vehicle works.
These are the common differences between intercoolers and radiators depending on the purposes they serve. You’ll find many other differences if you look at the design, tricks used, materials, types, etc.
Difference Between Intercooler Vs. Cold Air Intake
From the discussion above, you may think that intercoolers and cold air intakes are the same. Things are not like that. There are several differences between these two though both works for a similar purpose.
I know this is not a relevant topic here. Still, allow me to clear your confusion.
Though the purpose of cold air intake and intercooler is similar, delivering cold air to the combustion chamber, the process is different.
Intercoolers focus on cooling down the compressed air from the turbo and sending it to the combustion chamber. On the other hand, cold air intakes receive air from the outside, cool and clean it, and send it to the combustion chamber.
Cold air intake ensures a good gain in horsepower. However, in the case of an intercooler, things are a bit complex. Some people think that intercoolers can improve horsepower. Some believe that intercoolers improve horsepower when it is installed along with a turbo.
Installing a CAI is a lot more comfortable than fitting an intercooler. In the case of an intercooler, the process is a bit lengthy and costs more if you go to a mechanic. Sometimes, it requires some modifications too.
Typically, tuning is not mandatory after installing a cold air intake. But when you get an intercooler installed, you need to tune the vehicle to make sure that it is going to work properly. Without tuning, you may face some serious issues.
You can understand that there are some dissimilarities between an intercooler and a cold air intake. So, don’t mix these two only because the purpose is almost similar.
Review of My Top Choice Best Radiator
Mishimoto MMRAD-E36-92 Aluminum Radiator
Mishimoto radiators are my favorite for several reasons. From this brand, this radiator is my favorite because of the build quality and the magnetic drain plug feature.
To keep it strong yet light, Mishimoto has used aircraft-quality aluminum for each part of the radiator. Even the core is made from light aluminum and brazed for low stress so that it can deliver better performance. The end tank is TIG-welded which ensures superior durability and strength.
It comes with magnetic drain plugs that draw small metal particles from the coolant. As a result, your engine stays protected from damage. This small yet tricky safety feature has blown my mind. I love the innovative idea.
When we talk about any aftermarket part, installation is a big concern. In the case of this one, you don’t need to be bothered at all. Mishimoto has designed this radiator model to be the exact fit for your vehicle. Even the inlets and outlets are made to fit the stock components properly. Just pick the one made for your vehicle model and make. It would sit in the place of the stock one without causing any hassle.
Sitting in the place of the stock radiator, it offers superior performance than that. It reduces the temperature of the coolant effectively to keep your engine cool. So, my suggestion is to get it for your vehicle.
Review of My Top Choice Best Intercoolers
Mishimoto MMTMIC-WRX-15XSL Intercooler
Don’t get surprised seeing that the intercooler is from Mishimoto too. I wouldn’t talk about it if it was not good enough.
Just like the radiator, it is also made to fit the space used by the stock one. So, you won’t have to bring changes to your vehicle to get it installed. Pretty comfortable, right?
The thing I love most about this intercooler is the performance. Compared to the stock one, it is proven to ensure around 12% more airflow. Also, it offers a big 34F drop in temperature. Thus it helps your combustion chamber to work more effectively.
This awesome performance has become possible because of two reasons- design and build quality. It comes with a huge increase in the core size and more bumps in the external fin surface area. Besides, it is constructed using quality cast aluminum. The core construction is a bar-and-plate design that ensures superior performance.
You have a scope for picking one from three color choices- black, silver, and golden.
The overall performance of this intercooler is truly satisfactory. Being made of quality material and long-lasting welding, it can serve you for a long time. So, you can depend on it.
FAQs About Radiator and Intercooler
Is a turbo a must for using an intercooler?
You can set an intercooler without a turbo installed, but you won’t get the expected performance from the intercooler if you do so. Even it can be a major drawback for you.
The main task of an intercooler is to cool the turbo as it gets hot while pressurizing the air. If there is no turbo, the intercooler has nothing to do. It can’t help you at any point for improving the performance of your vehicle.
Instead, it would restrict the path of airflow and interrupt the regular flow of air to your engine. Thus, an intercooler without a turbo is nothing but a problem for your vehicle.
If you don’t want to use a turbo, you can go for cold air intakes to improve engine performance.
Is a radiator a must-have for a vehicle?
Yes, a radiator is a must in a vehicle because it is the main way of keeping the engine cool. It receives heat from the coolant so that the coolant can keep the engine safe from overheating. Overheating may cause several issues including engine failure. Also, if overheating is not handled properly, it gradually damages the engine.
So, having a radiator is a must. Otherwise, the vehicle can’t run for a long time. A radiator that is not working may cost you way more bucks than the amount needed to replace or repair it.
When do I have to replace the radiator?
Having a perfectly working radiator in your vehicle is a must. So, if you see any sign of a damaged radiator, you should replace it. Frequent overheating of the engine is one of the most frequent signs of a damaged radiator. Also, if you see any sign of coolant leakage under the radiator, you should check it.
The typical life expectancy for a radiator is around 8-10 years. But there is a chance that replacement will be required any time after 6 -7 years.
Also, there is another time to replace the radiator- if you want to get better performance from an aftermarket one.
Which is better- top mount intercooler or front mount intercooler?
There is no exact answer to the question because both come with some advantages over another.
The top mount intercooler comes with less piping. So it offers faster performance over the front mount one. Also, it takes less space.
The front mount intercooler is less prone to heat soaking compared to the top mount one. Also, it doesn’t need huge modifications in most cases.
A general assumption is that- the front mount intercooler is perfect for city drive while the top mount intercooler supports better on tracks. So, study a bit about both, know about them in detail, and then pick the best one for your purpose.
How Intercooler and Radiator Works
Having a distinctive idea about the differences between intercoolers and radiators is good because you have to make several decisions related to these. In this intercooler vs radiator article, I’ve tried to clearly show you the differences between these two. I guess it is going to help you in the future.
Also, I’ve talked about my favorites and answered some commonly asked questions about these two. If you have any other questions, you can ask us. We’ll try to clear your confusion about anything related to these.