Are Intercoolers, Aftercoolers, Charge Air Coolers, and Turbo Coolers Different?

Terminology can be very confusing, and that becomes especially true when words are frequently used interchangeably. Of course it doesn’t help much when people use the words the wrong way either. So let’s clarify a couple of things regarding these terms.

These all refer to the heat exchangers used to cool air that is leaving a turbo charger. The air heats up when it is compressed and expands. Cooling the air down before it enters the engine allows more air to enter and help increase fuel combustion. They are all basically the same thing. So why are there so many names and what is the difference between them?

What is an Intercooler?

An intercooler sits between a series of turbo chargers where air from one turbo charger enters the next turbo charger. In other words, if you have five turbo chargers that the air passes through, you would have an intercooler between each one. This type of setup is more likely found in industrial and aviation applications. In the automotive world, multiple turbo chargers are rarely used in series. Instead, in vehicles with twin turbo chargers, each unit’s output is directed straight to the engine. When people refer to “intercoolers” and automobiles, they are referring to the charge air cooler.

What is an Aftercooler?

Aftercoolers are heat exchangers that sit at the end of a series of turbo chargers. Using our previous example, if you have five turbo chargers the heat exchangers in between them would be called intercoolers and the final heat exchanger after the last turbo charger would be the aftercooler. Once again, when this term is used in the automotive world, it means the charge air cooler.

What is a Charge Air Cooler?

The charge air cooler is a heat exchanger that sits between the turbo charger and the engine. This is the more generic term for intercoolers, aftercoolers, and turbo coolers.

What is a Turbo Cooler?

This is really just a different name for charge air cooler. “Turbo cooler,” “charged air cooler,” “turbo charger cooler,” etc. are all the same thing. It’s simply a matter of which word a person is accustomed to using.

Are You Sure They’re the Same?

For automotive purposes, yes, these words all the same. They all refer to the device that looks like a large radiator and sits between the turbo charger and engine. This may not hold true for some industrial and aviation applications, but those are specialized setups that most people don’t deal with. Hopefully, this helps clear up any confusion on the matter.

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