Radiator Vs Intercooler


When it comes to the cooling systems of automobiles, two terms that are often heard are radiators and intercoolers. These two components have different roles in the cooling system and understanding the difference between them is important for any car owner. In this article, we’ll compare radiators vs intercoolers and help you understand what they are and their respective functions.

What is a Radiator?

A radiator is a component that is installed in a car’s engine to cool the engine’s coolant before recirculating it through the engine. It’s usually located towards the front of the car and works by using a series of metal fins to dissipate heat. Radiators are often made of aluminum or copper for better performance.

Radiators are an essential part of any car’s cooling system as they help maintain the optimal operating temperature of the engine. The coolant that circulates through the engine collects heat as it passes through the engine block, and the radiator helps to remove that heat by dissipating it into the air.

What is an Intercooler?

An intercooler is a device that cools the compressed air that is delivered to the engine’s combustion chamber. It’s usually installed in turbocharged and supercharged engines to cool down the air that is heated when compressed during the boost process.

Intercoolers work by using a heat exchanger to transfer heat from the compressed air to the atmosphere. This helps increase the density of the air entering the engine, which improves combustion efficiency, and thus, engine power. As the name implies, an intercooler is placed between the turbocharger or supercharger and the engine.

Difference between Radiator and Intercooler

Now that we know what radiators and intercoolers are, let’s explore the differences between them.


The main difference between radiators and intercoolers is their function. As we mentioned earlier, a radiator cools the engine’s coolant, while an intercooler cools the air that is delivered to the engine. When an engine’s coolant gets too hot, it can cause damage to the engine, while overheated compressed air can result in knocking, which damages the engine. Therefore, both components play critical roles in the engine’s cooling system.


Another difference between radiators and intercoolers is their location. Radiators are located in the front of the vehicle since they need access to air to dissipate heat, while intercoolers are located near the engine because they need to be in a position to receive compressed air from the turbocharger or supercharger.

Shape and Size

Radiators tend to be larger and more rectangular in shape to maximize air exposure and cooling capacity. Intercoolers, on the other hand, are often round or square and are much smaller since they only need to cool the compressed air that’s delivered to the engine.

Materials Used

Radiators are typically made of aluminum or copper to maximize heat dissipation. The fins that make up radiators are usually made of aluminum or copper, while the tubes that carry the coolant are made of brass, aluminum, or plastic. Intercoolers, on the other hand, are made of materials that are optimized for heat exchange, such as aluminum, copper, or stainless steel.

Types of Intercooler

There are two types of intercoolers; air-to-air and air-to-water intercoolers. An air-to-air intercooler, also known as a top-mount intercooler, uses the air that passes through the vehicle’s grille to cool the air delivered to the engine. On the other hand, an air-to-water intercooler, also known as a front-mount intercooler, uses a system of water and air to cool compressed air before it gets into the engine.


Understanding the differences between radiators and intercoolers is crucial for any car owner. While they are both crucial components of a car’s cooling system, they have different roles to play. Radiators are responsible for cooling the engine’s coolant, while intercoolers cool the compressed air delivered to the engine. By understanding the unique function of each component, you can maximize the performance and longevity of your car’s engine.