Intercooler vs Radiator What Are the Differences They Have?

“Intercooler vs radiator what are the differences between them?” is a common question that beginner car owners find themselves asking. This is is such a prevalent query because they are both heat exchangers that lower the temperature of any fluid that flows through them.

Intercooler vs Radiator

Both devices play an essential role in ensuring that your engine is running smoothly, but it’s important to know how they differ. In this guide, we cover all you need to know about the intercooler and radiator.

Features Intercooler Radiator
What it cools Cools compressed air Cool the coolant 
Type of exchanger Air-to-air heat exchanger  Water-to-air heat exchanger 
Where is it found On forced induction vehicles On every vehicle 
Design Exists with a radiator Exists alone 
Price Expensive Cheap


What Is the Main Difference Between a Radiator and an Intercooler?

The main difference between a radiator and an intercooler is what the car part cools, as the intercooler cools down compressed air while the radiator cools the water or coolant that becomes hot when absorbing heat from the car’s engine cylinder.

The intercooler decreases the temperature of the air that is compressed by the supercharger or turbocharger of your car so that the combustion has access to cool air. It is an air-to-air heat exchanger. On the other hand, a radiator stops the engine from overheating by using air to reduce the temperature of the coolant and works as a liquid-to-air heat exchanger.

Both the radiator and intercooler are designed to make sure that the engine runs efficiently and is cool. They are both heat exchangers but with different roles. The intercooler and radiator exist in turbo engines, but for a non-turbo vehicle, you get only a radiator.

– Comparative List

There are different aspects in which the intercooler and radiator are different.

Here are some of the important differences between a radiator and an intercooler:

  • The intercooler is in the car engine to cool down hot compressed air, while the radiator cools down the water or coolant in the engine as it becomes hot since it absorbs the heat from the engine cylinder.
  • The radiator emits the heat from your engine coolant, maintaining the coolness of the engine at an average temperature. As for the intercooler, it removes heat from the post-turbo air in the engine. This causes the air that goes into the combustion chamber to get colder and denser.
  • The intercooler is only used for turbo engines and has to work with the radiator. Turbo engines have a combo of radiators and intercoolers, but the radiator fits almost all kinds of engines in automobiles.
  • Engine radiators work by converting water or liquid to air. On the other hand, there are air-to-air and air-to-water intercoolers.
  • The intercooler is made to cool the air charge compressed through the turbo that goes to the engine. But, the radiator is made to lower the temperature of the coolant flowing through the engine block. Sometimes, it does not reach the turbocharger.
  • You can use a radiator without installing an intercooler in the engine bay. For fast cars, the radiator and intercooler need to be installed in the engine system.

Exploring the Intercooler and How It Works

An intercooler is a device that is found in cars with a forced induction system. The main function of the intercooler is to cool the compressed air from the supercharger or turbocharger, making it rich in oxygen. It improves overall efficiency. There are two main types of intercoolers.

The two types include air-to-air and liquid-to-air heat exchangers, which are present in small, high-power engines because of their small size. But the intercooler is complimented with a radiator in most cars.

The air-to-air intercooler is more common and works with airflow and fins to dissipate heat. But, the liquid-to-air intercooler makes use of pumps and water jackets to circulate coolant through the system. Both types of intercoolers work in similar ways.

– How It Works

The main work of an intercooler is to lower the hot air temperature in a car after the air has been compressed by our turbo or supercharger. This happens just because the air goes into the engine. When a turbocharger functions in your car, it compresses the air and increases its density before it goes into your engine cylinders.

Characteristics and Specifications of Intercooler

The engine will burn fuel effectively as air is squeezed into the various cylinders, and this increases the power of the machine. This entire process releases a lot of heat, and this intercooler increases the air temperature going into the engine, affecting the performance of the engine. The intercooler is needed to cool the compressed air so that your engine has enough oxygen.

The air-to-air model functions by transporting the compressed air through cooling fins and small tubes. The heat caused by the turbocharger is transferred to the cooling fins, and these are kept cool because of the rapid airflow outside your car. This system is very simple, and this makes it a good choice for turbocharged cars.

The air-to-water intercooler makes use of water to cool the compressed air. Water is pumped through a unit to reduce the heat from the air, and as the water increases in temperature, it goes through the radiator or cooling circuit before going into the intercooler. These intercoolers are smaller in size, so they are mostly used in engines with limited space.

– Benefits

The benefit of an intercooler is in its main function, as it provides cooler air to the engine and increases power. When an intercooler is working properly, it reduces the chances of an engine knock and detonation. It also prevents overheating, and this prolongs the life of your engine.

– Downsides

The downside of an intercooler is the weight, as they make your car heavier. Intercoolers are also quite expensive and require regular maintenance. If they are not maintained properly, it will adversely affect the performance of your car.

– Checking If Your Car Has an Intercooler

The best way to check whether or not your car has an intercooler is to check if it has a turbocharger or a supercharger. If a car is fitted with this engine type, it would most likely have an intercooler. It is located in front of the vehicle to give you maximum air flow.

If you open the hood of your car, you will see the intercooler under it. It is a large metal device that is designed with different tubes running through it. You can also check the car’s user manual or ask a mechanic if you are not sure whether your car has an intercooler or not.

– Selecting an Intercooler for Your Car

When looking at how to select an intercooler for your car, you should consider the amount of power you need and the size of your engine. You also need to choose between the two types, whether you want an air-to-water or an air-to-air type. If you’re not sure about the intercooler you should choose, you can ask the mechanic or read through the car’s manual.

– Maintaining an Intercooler

To maintain an intercooler, it is important to inspect it for leaks and clean it often. You will need to check the recommendations from the manufacturer or the car’s manual on how to maintain it. When your car undergoes maintenance, you can ask the mechanic to check the intercooler and make sure there is nothing wrong with it.

– Does an Intercooler Need Fluid?

Yes, an intercooler needs fluid if it is an air-to-liquid system. The air-to-liquid system works by using a liquid coolant to cool down the compressed air from the supercharger or turbocharger. This is different from an air-to-air type, which uses ambient air to cool the compressed air from the turbo.

What Are the Key Differences Between Intercoolers and Radiators?

Intercoolers and radiators serve distinct roles in a vehicle’s cooling system. While radiators regulate the engine’s temperature, intercoolers cool down the compressed air before it reaches the engine. The ruthenium and iridium spark plug comparison is unrelated to these parts, as spark plugs are integral to ignition systems, ensuring efficient combustion. Understanding the key differences between intercoolers and radiators is crucial for maintaining optimal engine performance.

Exploring the Radiator and How It Works

A radiator is a car’s heat exchanger that is found in the cooling system of the engine. The function of a radiator is to cool down the coolant and prevent overheating in the internal combustion engine. It makes sure that the engine is at working temperature.

The radiator will transfer heat from one fluid to another, and in an engine, it transfers heat from the hot coolant into the air. It can be identified by the series of metal tubes that are pieced together by the fins. The heat transfer is improved by the increase in the surface area of the radiator caused by the fins.

You can locate the radiator at the front of the vehicle so that you get maximum airflow from the movement of the car.

– How It Works

A radiator functions by driving the coolant through thin metal fins, which will transport heat from your car to the atmosphere. If your car has a fan instead, the fan will blow air on your radiator and support it in getting rid of hot air.

Engines produce a lot of heat during operation, and the cooling system of the vehicle will pump coolant into the engine. The coolant transports the heat from the engine away from the block and to the radiator. The radiator will cool it down by blowing air across the liquid and exchanging the heat with the atmosphere.

Specifications and Features of Radiator

The radiator consists of a pressure cap, outlet, core, and inlet tank. New cars are made with copper or aluminum radiators. The heat that the radiator absorbs and dissipates is based on the temperature difference between the air around the radiator fins and the engine coolant.
On a radiator, there are mounted tubes that the coolant travels through, going from the inlet to the outlet tanks. The tubes come with a tabulator, and this increases the turbulence of the coolant flowing through the tubes.

– Do All Vehicles Have a Radiator?

No, not all vehicles have a radiator because air-cooled cars do not have one. In an engine, a radiator transfers heat to the air from the hot coolant. You can identify the radiator by raising the hood and looking for the radiator cap.

Radiators can affect the function of the engine when they become clogged or faulty. Take note that you cannot use a radiator as an intercooler. The intercooler and radiator feature different flow characteristics and systems.

– Upgrading Your Radiator

You need to upgrade your radiator when you are adding an aftermarket intercooler to your car. The new intercooler will add some extra heat to the coolant, and you need a stronger radiator to handle the increased heat load.

It’s important to consider some factors when getting a new radiator. You should check the size of the engine and how much power you want the radiator to generate. You can also ask the mechanic or car specialist to make sure that the radiator is ideal for your car.

– Is a Radiator the Same as a Cooling System?

No, a radiator is not the same as a cooling system, as the former is used to eliminate excess heat from the engine. The radiator is part of the entire cooling system. As for the cooling system, it consists of a radiator, thermostat, fan, and hoses to circulate the coolant.


With our complete guide, you now know the main differences between the intercooler and the radiator.

Here’s a complete summary of what we covered in this article:

  • Intercoolers and radiators are heat exchangers that reduce the temperature of a vehicle’s engine.
  • The intercooler uses air or liquid to reduce the temperature that is compressed by the turbocharger or supercharger.
  • A radiator cools down the coolant in a vehicle and prevents the engine from overheating.
  • The intercooler is found under the hood, while the radiator is identified by its cap, and both are designed with metal tubes and fins.

Now that you know all there is to know about the differences between an intercooler and a radiator, you can easily identify and maintain them. Both devices play an essential role in letting your engine run smoothly, so make sure they are both kept in optimal shape.

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