Turbo Without Intercooler: Is It Required? Expert Weighs In

By August 14, 2021Turbocharger

Yes, an intercooler is required to install a turbocharged engine because an intercooler cools down compressed air coming from the turbo significantly – preventing them from prematurely detonating at an incorrect time.

In this article, I will go into everything you want to know about the impact on turbocharged cars without intercoolers. This includes:

  1. Functions of an Intercooler
  2. Why is an Intercooler required to install turbo?
  3. Running Turbo without Intercooler
  4. Boost gain without Intercooler
  5. Cost of an Intercooler
  6. Impacts of a damaged Intercooler

What Does Intercooler Do?

Intercoolers reduce the temperature of compressed air from turbo and optimize combustion necessary for increased engine performance. 

Intercoolers also reduce fuel consumption, increase engine power, and improve efficiency. 

An intercooler can lower the temperature of compressed air from 130° C to 60°C. An intercooler does this by having many air openings – allowing the hot air to dissipate heat into the environment.

Turbocharged engines produce a great amount of heat as they compress air to get the most out of it.

A turbocharger compresses air – which may get very hot and less dense with lower oxygen content – this is where the intercooler dives in!

An intercooler cools the compressed intake air from the turbochargers before injecting into the engine. The reduced temperature allows more oxygen to be dissolved in the charge. 

This improves combustion and reduces heat in each power stroke while also saving you gas money on your vehicle’s fuel efficiency statistics for every mile you drive after installation.

A turbocharged or supercharged engine’s intercooler is designed to protect components from the excessive heat and preventing premature detonation during combustion.

image of intercooler

Intercooler cools compressed air down as they pass through.

Why Intercool Is Required to Install Turbo

Intercooler cools down compressed air coming from the turbocharger. This is important because hot air reduces horsepower and may detonate early in the combustion process.

Turbochargers work by compressing air from the environment into a higher pressure air ball. This is packed with air but is extremely hot. An intercooler is required to cool down the air before usage.

Compressed air can get up to over 205 degrees Celsius when conditions are extreme. For this reason, an intercooler is required for turbocharged engines. Especially for high performance track cars.

Aside from being required, here are the benefits of an intercooler:

  1. Intercooler keeps the intake as cool as possible. This means more horsepower because cooler air is more dense and contains maximum oxygen for a big combustion
  2. Intercooler keeps consistent ignition timing. Intercooler ensures air intake does not get too hot and detonates prematurely. This is great to reduce wear and tear damages – and also boost engine power. 
  3. Intercoolers may act as a passive wastegate. Thus, it’s able to flatten the boost curve at higher RPMs and dial in more boost at lower RPM ranges for further gains.
  4. Intercooler helps you with increasing boost level safely. Intercooler keeps the intake air cool, allowing your turbo to work even harder for more power and boost.

If you are still not convinced, let me tell you again. Intercooler is absolutely required for a turbocharged vehicle. Not only is it required, it also gives you plenty of benefits.

Related Article: Which Is Better: Supercharger Or Turbocharger?

Image of turbocharger

A turbo increases horsepower by sucking more air and compress them into high pressure ball of air. Compressed air is too hot for combustion. Intercooler is required to first cool them down.

What Happens If You Run a Turbo Without an Intercooler?

Running a turbo without an intercooler will cause hot air to enter the combustion chamber and prematurely detonate. This can cause wear and tear damages at the least and major engine damage at worst.

Normally, detonation happens when a piston moves up and comes closer to the sparks plug. The detonation will then push the piston down – which allows your car to move.

With a turbocharger, air in the engine is significantly hotter. It may detonate before the piston has moved up completely – this is known as premature detonation.

Running a turbo without an intercooler will cause extremely hot air to enter the engine – because there’s no intercooler that cools them down before entering the engine. This will definitely cause premature detonation. 

Aside from engine damages, running a turbo without an intercooler can also cause you to lose horsepower. This is more significant when running at higher RPM over long distance. 

Can you imagine installing a turbo and losing horsepower?

How Much Boost Can You Safely Gain Without an Intercooler?

5psi is about all you can do safely without an intercooler because intake air temperature gets too high. The air will be too hot above 5psi and it can lead to internal engine damage. 

The intercooler is a question about intake air temperature, rather than boost. The hotter the air, the more likely your engine will suffer from detonation which means you’re going to have to pull out timing in order to avoid damage.

It’s best to stay at 4-5 psi and ensure that you’re using water/meth for protection. Including an IC in your setup will minimize the risk of damage to your vehicle.

An Intercooler won’t cost you much. So, why take the risk?

Cost Of Intercooler 

The price of an intercooler varies depending on the make, year and model of car. For most cars it will cost between $100-500 dollars, but for higher end models it could cost over $1000.

The best thing to do is to ask a certified mechanic how much your specific car will need in order to find out the exact pricing totals involved.

Intercoolers are coupled with supercharged or turbocharged cars and act as a radiator to exchange heat. They are used to cool the air that is compressed by the engine.

For an efficient engine, it’s crucial to have a high-quality intercooler. Make sure to install a well-functioning intercooler on your turbocharger for maximum performance.

I have put together a guide on intercoolers to help you out choosing the right one. There are two main types of intercoolers: air-to-air and liquid-to-air.

Air-To-Air Intercooler

The air-to-air intercooler is one of the most often discussed, as it is easily visible to many people. The air-to-air intercooler works by moving the airflow through its core to cool temperatures. The air flow goes on and off so there will not be a noticeable difference in sound.

When an air-to-air intercooler is installed, the cooling system relies on airflow from vehicle speed to either cool the engine or boost its efficiency.

The most popular intercooler type is the air-to-air variety and offers the best cost.

air to air intercooler

Air To Air Intercooler.

Liquid-To-Air Intercooler

A liquid-to-air intercooler is a radiator used to transfer air temperature from the hot side of the engine to the passenger compartment of a vehicle.

However, due to the more complex design of an air-to-liquid intercooler, it’s better suited for high power thermal applications.

The air and coolant do not make contact in this design. The coolant is pumped through channels and tubes attached to the fins on the heat exchanger, and the air flows over them – this helps with transferring heat between air and the liquid.

One downside to this design is the complexity of the setup. It needs tubing and fittings, a coolant pump, and a radiator.

liquid to air intercooler

Liquid to air intercooler has more components and is more complex.

Expensive Intercooler Vs Cheap Intercooler

Name brand intercoolers are usually better.

The two types of intercoolers are bar plate and tube fin. Almost all the cheap eBay intercoolers use bar plates because they’re cheaper to produce, heavier, and less efficient than a tube fin with fins arranged in neat rows like an air conditioner. 

The best name brands use a new design that uses tubes with fins running lengthwise like blades on an electric fan. These designs are more efficient than the eBay ones.

If you have problems with the intercooler design, it can cause hot air to enter straight into the engine.

Intercoolers on eBay have piping that’s too thin to handle T-Bolt tightening. If you want a good kit with strong resilience, I recommend buying the well-known brands.

There are many factors that will lead to a different amount of an intercooler cost. The make and model of your car, the brand you choose, and who you buy it from can change the repair cost for an intercooler.

What Happens If You Have A Damaged Intercooler?

If the intercooler fails or is damaged in any way, proper combustion won’t happen. The condition of your car’s intercooler can directly affect emissions, fuel efficiency and horsepower.

Intercoolers are fragile and vulnerable to external damage that may cause premature failure. Damaged hoses may lead to abnormally high pressure that strains or ruptures the intercooler.

Installing a turbocharger can cause the intercooler to clog and result in damage.

A damaged intercooler can cause the car’s engine to overheat. A leaking intercooler will produce hotter air in the engine, leading it to heat up more quickly and possibly boil coolant.

Damage to the intercooler will make it difficult for your engine to cool down, leading to noticeable impacts on its stability.

What exactly happens? Nothing good happens.

An intercooler activates the turbo and cools air coming out of the exhaust.

If the leak is severe, it could cause your air compression to go down and by default, that means you’ll have less horsepower.

If the intercooler is blocked, and the compressed air cannot flow through it, the engine will simply stop.

When the intercooler doesn’t cool due to dirt accumulation, then it is like there isn’t an intercooler and the heated compressed air goes all the way through. The engine will still run, but without an intercooler, less power is generated by the cooled dense air.

As soon as you notice any form of damage to the intercooler, such as a broken hose, take prompt action.

In order to repair an intercooler, it takes about three hours of time. This is the case for most cars, but some trucks may have different access points and need more time invested into them.

Labor times differ by the make and model of your car, but averages will allow you to estimate how long it could take for your vehicle’s intercooler to be repaired.

Ifandi L.

Ifandi L.

Passionate about everything mechanical. Ifandi has been involved with motorcycles and cars since the old days - in his family's auto parts shop. Want to keep in touch? Scream "STRAIGHT PIPEEEEE" at the top of your lungs and Ifandi will show up.

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