What Maintenance Does a Charge Air Cooler Require

If you suspect that your charge air cooler is not working like it should, is there anything you can do about it? Let’s explore some of the reasons why a charge air cooler fails and what your best options are to get it fixed.

The most important question to ask when dealing with a poor performing cooler is this: How did the charge air cooler fail? Usually “failure” in a cooler means that it is leaking air. This can easily be tested with a pressure test kit. A significant drop in pressure indicates a leak somewhere. If it’s not obvious where the leak is, then some soapy water in a spray bottle will help you find it. However, even if you do locate the leak, what are your options for fixing it? This can be a more difficult decision, but the answer really depends on what caused it to fail.

Common Reasons for Charge Air Cooler Failure

There are really only two reasons for a cooler to fail. The obvious cause is damage from an external source such as a collision or even a turbocharger failure. A less obvious cause is from the general metal fatigue that occurs from regular use; however, this is the primary reason a charge air cooler fails. Think about it. The cooler regularly heats up and cools down as well as experiences regular increases and decreases in pressure. Basic science tells us materials will expand and contract as they warm and cool, while the added pressure simply increases the fatigue that the materials suffer. One example of metal fatigue is bending a metal coat hanger back and forth. As you bend it one way and then the other, the metal weakens. You can even feel it as the hanger becomes easier to bend until the metal gives way and breaks. This same process occurs in your air cooler over time.

How to Fix a Turbocharger Air Cooler

So you’ve figured out that your air cooler is leaking, what now? Looking around online will give a variety of options, but not all of them will work long term. Again, it is important to understand why the air cooler failed to begin with. One option you may hear about is patching using epoxy. While this will patch a leaking air cooler for a while, it is never a complete fix. This goes back to the metal fatigue issue. All epoxy will do is cover the hole for a while, but the metal is already weakend which means the hole is going to get bigger. Once it spreads out past the edges of the epoxy, the leak will continue. All epoxy will do is patch the hole for a short period of time, but it will eventually begin to leak again.

A better option is to have your existing turbocharger air cooler re-cored. It is a simple process of building a new core for the unit, removing the tanks from the old, and attaching the tanks to the new core. Obviously, this option eliminates all the metal fatigue from the core since it is brand new. This may also be a good option when your unit has experienced damage from an external source so long as the damage was not too severe.

Sometimes the damage to a cooler may have also affected the tanks. In these cases, re-coring may not be an option. Your best option at this point is to replace the air cooler with a brand new one. While it certainly isn’t the cheapest option as compared to re-coring, it is far cheaper than the loss of fuel economy and potential engine damage that can result from a leaking air cooler.

Quick Recap

Since charge air cooler failure normally means it is leaking (which can be tested with a test kit), you have to determine what caused the leak. Damage from an external source usually means you’ll be safer replacing the entire cooler and avoiding potential problems down the road from hidden damage or debris remaining in the cooler. The primary cause of failure is metal fatigue. Epoxy is not a good fix since the weakened metal will continue to break and the leak will continue. If the tanks are still in good shape, the best option is to have the unit re-cored. A leaking cooler with damage tanks is better off being replaced.

If you have questions about these options, feel free to call us at 1-800-223-4299. We can help you determine the right course of action for you and help you avoid costly damage to your vehicle.

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