The Intercooler and its Enemies
By Dan Filice – July 06, 2012
As we all know, diesel engines have very unique qualities and desirable features that continue to make them popular amongst consumers. Someone who is familiar with the parts and pieces of a gasoline powered engine might be slightly confused with the makeup of a diesel power plant. The Intercooler, its uses and downfalls will be discussed here.
The Intercooler is an integral part of a modern diesel engine. You will find few diesel vehicles built in the 21st Century that do not include an Intercooler. The basic function of it is to cool the air entering the engine, once it has passed through the turbocharger. Diesel engines require a turbocharger to get a sufficient amount of air inside, and mix with the fuel. The turbocharger is driven by hot expanding exhaust gases, and heat is the main rival to making power. The way today’s engines remove the heat from the charged intake, is by using an air to air Intercooler or CAC (charge air cooler).
As you can see in photo A, (above photo) the Intercooler appears to look similar to a radiator found in all vehicles. It is located in the front end, behind the bumper to catch cool air and still be protected from road hazards. An Intercooler can come in all shapes and sizes, and some diesel sedans have two of them for more efficiency. Hot air moves through the inside of the unit, while cool air passes by the fins, cooling the hot intake air. This process occurs the entire time you are driving, with no moving parts needed.
The downfalls of the Intercooler are excessive heat, vibration and turbo boost pressure. The Intercooler in trucks today is designed to last for more than 100,000 miles. Very rarely does the part actually fail, but a failure can be seen in photo B, (below photo). In this case high mileage and heavy towing caused the right tank to separate and leave the vehicle with no power. A very loud “bang” noise was observed, and the driver was forced to pull the vehicle over. Although alarming, the loud noise was created from pressurized air escaping the failed Intercooler and no further damage occurred.
There is not an obvious method of prevention, but periodic inspections could detect a complete failure at an earlier time. Using a flashlight one can inspect the seals of the side tanks, and the boots that attach to the Intercooler. Each side tank is sealed with one large O-ring, seen in photo B of the damaged tank. Any traces of oil or debris accumulating along these seals can be a sign of a future issue. Vehicles that have performance modifications leading to higher boost pressures should keep a closer eye on the turbo boots and Intercooler, due to increased stress on these parts.
Of all the intricate parts on a diesel engine, the Intercooler might be the least exciting and the most important. It serves a definite purpose and it will remain in use for trucks, equipment and generators for a long time to come. For more information on this part or any other on your vehicle, feel free to call or email Deer Valley Diesel Repair.
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