What is a Charge-Air Cooler?

An intercooler, or "Charge-Air Cooler", is an air-to-air or air-to-liquid heat exchange device used on turbocharged and supercharged (forced induction) internal combustion engines to improve their volumetric efficiency by increasing intake air charge density through isochoric cooling. A decrease in air intake temperature provides a denser intake charge to the engine and allows more air and fuel to be combusted per engine cycle, increasing the output of the engine.

The inter prefix in the device name originates from historic compressor designs. In the past, aircraft engines were built with Charge-Air Coolers that were installed between multiple stages of supercharging, thus the designation of inter. Modern automobile designs are technically designated aftercoolers because of their placement at the end of supercharging chain. This term is now considered archaic in modern automobile terminology since most forced induction vehicles have single-stage superchargers or turbochargers. In a vehicle fitted with two-stage turbocharging, it is possible to have both an intercooler (between the two turbocharger units) and an aftercooler (between the second-stage turbo and the engine). In general, an intercooler or aftercooler is said to be a Charge-Air Cooler.

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