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      03-02-2016, 05:35 PM   #1
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Talking THE ULTIMATE Intercooler Thread - What to Look For Before Buying an FMIC

There has been numerous threads lately about intercoolers. From the usual which one is the best FMIC on the market to Ebay brands claiming to offer a high quality solution for a reasonable price.

I will be discussing the most important factors about intercoolers and why some FMIC will offer better cooling than others

Intercoolers and why replacement is recommended?

Turbochargers compress engine intake air which creates heat. The Intercooler then cools down the charged air. For remapped cars, temperatures up to 200įC after turbocharger can occur. Factory intercoolers are unable to sufficiently handle such high temperatures. This causes high intake temperatures and the oxygen content of the charged air drops significantly. As a direct consequence, the performance decreases, the thermal load on the cylinder head and valves increases. Worst case this can cause severe engine damage.

The colder the intake air, the higher the efficiency of the turbo-charged engine and less risk of engine damage. This can be achieved with an optimized intercooler system installed between the turbocharger and engine.

Construction of an intercooler?

Intercoolers can be categorized by two types of the core construction.

The BAR & PLATE core construction is relatively heavy so there is certain temperature inertia. Meaning under load the core takes longer to heat, but also longer to cool down once the load is removed. This is fine for on the road, but for use on the race track this core construction is not particularly suitable as it arrives at a constant cooling performance at varying loads in the full load range. Also weight reduction is an important consideration for track use.

The fine structure of the TUBE & FIN core makes them relatively light and exchange heat much faster. This type of core construction takes temperatures relatively quickly, but also very quickly transfers this away again. For a constant cooling performance in a dynamic throttle situation this is an indispensable feature. Tube fin intercoolers are suitable for street use as well as at the race track.

The OUTSIDE CORE is responsible for heat exchange with the running wind. The higher the density of the external core (fins), the better the cooling performance of an intercooler. But you also have to look which parts are behind the intercooler. Too much fin density means all parts behind the intercooler will be blocked. The worst case would be, youíve solved the problem of high intake air temperatures, but the engine coolant temperature climbs. High performance manufacturers note all these factors and develop the most suitable structure of outside core design.

Low Density Core // // // High Density Core
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Also notice the staggered offset fins for a larger contact area on the intercooler on the right

The INSIDE CORE is responsible for heat exchange with the hot charged air and also need to handle the additional air flow which is running through the intake system. Care needs to be taken when deciding the internal fin density. A high internal fin density gives great cooling performance but with a high pressure drop. The pressure drop of the cooling system should not be adversely affected by an aftermarket intercooler. Less pressure drop reduces the mechanical load on the turbocharger (stability & life time for the turbo). High performance intercooler manufacturers find the best balance between high cooling performance, reduced pressure drop and design their intercooler cores specifically for each vehicle.

The right ENTANK DESIGN is another key consideration when you are looking for the best intercooler for your car. It is easy to see the difference between a good and a bad aftermarket intercooler.

There are different approaches, some manufacturers use sheet metal end tanks and others use cast aluminium end tanks. At flow velocities of around 100 m/s it makes no sense to let the air flow straight in to a wall. This causes unwanted turbulence inside the end tank and higher pressure drop. Furthermore, uniform filling of the intercooler is critical for optimum performance. To aid this, some manufacturers add internal air guides.

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Size & Fitment

The size of an intercooler is not always proof of better cooling. There is an old adage which says "Power is nothing without control". This can be applied to bigger intercoolers. If you construct a bigger intercooler without working with internal air guide systems and flow optimized end tanks, the air will not flow through the whole system and choosing a bigger intercooler makes no sense because the intercooler is not being used effectively.

Although the size of the intercooler is changing, the installation should not require mutilation of the vehicle. To avoid nasty surprises you should always look at the installation instructions (if available). Additionally you can seek reviews from neutral and professional sources. I know sometimes it is quite difficult to recognize those sources.

Here is my advice on how to pick the right intercooler for you

Donít get an intercooler because someone on the forum says itís cheap, it fits and they feel it is doing a great job. Ask for logs.

Check if the manufacturer invests time and money in development/engineering, to get the latest technology in your intercooler. The needs of the cars and tuning them changes all the time.

Donít get an intercooler just because people say it is the best. Get an intercooler because professional tuners say it the best. The best intercooler on a fully bolt on car with upgraded turbo might not be the best intercooler for a stock car with stage 1 tune.

Start by thinking ahead in terms of modifications that you will eventually add on your car. If you plan on going fully bolt on in 1-2 years, get an intercooler that suits the fully bolt on application.

Bigger is not always better. If you do not plan on getting stage 2 turbo, donít get an intercooler built for stage 2 applications. You want an intercooler that provides the best cooling with the minimum pressure drop.

If the right intercooler is over your budget, wait until you have enough funds or try saving on other mods so you can get the right intercooler.

Ebay Notes

Some justify getting an ebay intercooler for the following reasons:
  • Daily driver, No track use ever
  • conservative tune
  • Looking for a cheap solution that works, even if it is not the best one available

As mentioned above, getting a bigger intercooler does not always mean you are getting better performance. You might get better IAT than stock, but your pressure drop will be higher and so the couple hundred dollars you spent on a cheap solution did not help.

If you are not going to pick a brand that takes into consideration everything mentioned above, you are better off keeping your stock intercooler.

As i said earlier, dont get the biggest most expensive FMIC if your car is a daily driver with stage 1 tune. Talk to vendors / tuners, tell them your HP goals and mods + your budget. They will recommend an FMIC that suits your needs.
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      03-02-2016, 06:14 PM   #2
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I got ER cause it has black option..
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      03-02-2016, 08:45 PM   #3
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Nice post!
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      03-03-2016, 11:13 AM   #4
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Thanks for this. What do you recommend for a street car planning on going FBO? Willing to modify to fit, not looking to break the bank.
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      03-03-2016, 01:19 PM   #5
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I used to design cores for a commercial HE company. The fin design (fin density and whether or not they are louvered) is the most critical aspect after end tanks. These are generally regarded as "best in class" fins because they help swirl the air to ensure you move the heated air away from the next fins. They are relatively expensive to make as you have to punch-form those louvers and there are a TON of them. You wouldn't believe how long the fin sheets are before they are accordion folded up.

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      03-03-2016, 04:06 PM   #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Joey911 View Post
I got ER cause it has black option..
LOL

ER is a quality product, i have it on my car as well
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      03-03-2016, 07:03 PM   #7
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What about a Wagner IC Evo 1 performance with JB4 (Map 5), CP, aFe intake, Meisterschaft GT?

Secondly if I include Stage 2 turbo down the road would this level 1 IC do the job for a daily driver on 93 octane. Overkill?
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      03-03-2016, 08:19 PM   #8
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That IC is one of the best. With the stage 2 turbo you can also get away with more pressure drop as the turbo can boost more. So a large IC will work even better.
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      03-03-2016, 09:36 PM   #9
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Just in time. Been eyeballin' FMICs as my next mod for a while now. Got my finger on the trigger.
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      03-04-2016, 04:56 AM   #10
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Where does VRSF 7" fit into this? Considering upgrading to ER.
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      03-04-2016, 09:58 AM   #11
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That is the thing this article states, the perfect FMIC for your setup is different depending on mods. If you are running stock turbo you will want to be more sensitive to less pressure loss and don't care about max flow. If you are running a big turbo you won't care as much about pressure loss (which will provide better cooling), but will care about max flow. Obviously a good design is always a must.

Now the downside is that nobody gives you any data to try and compare intercoolers. Most won't even give you a pic of the inside core to see the turbulators and fin density. IC's have a lot of variability to them, but yet we get almost no information about them. FYI, most of the cheaper cores will have less restriction, but also less cooling because they go with a cheaper fin pack inside. The really cheap ones won't have turbulators, they just punch holes in the fins which is nearly useless. I don't believe any BMW intercoolers are doing that.

TL;dR - There is almost no data out there on intercoolers so you are forced to buy on reputation from customers with a similar setup to yours.
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      03-04-2016, 01:11 PM   #12
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Quote:
Originally Posted by m0ss View Post
Where does VRSF 7" fit into this? Considering upgrading to ER.
It's (VRSF) cheap and has some of the best designed end tanks of any 335 IC. I can't really speak to the core design, but the fin density does leave something to be desired IMO. I'd file it under the "good enough" category and considering the price, it has been proven to be of decent value for the minor mods that most people run.

I can't say that the other ICs are really hundreds of dollars better until we see some data logs. All the current data compares back to the stock core where we need to see FMIC to FMIC comparisons. ETS has a (probably much) nicer core, but worse end tanks.
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      03-04-2016, 02:56 PM   #13
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Quote:
Originally Posted by 550i Beast View Post
What about a Wagner IC Evo 1 performance with JB4 (Map 5), CP, aFe intake, Meisterschaft GT?

Secondly if I include Stage 2 turbo down the road would this level 1 IC do the job for a daily driver on 93 octane. Overkill?
Wagner EVO I for the mods listed is a very good choice

IF you might be going to stage 2 turbos, i would get the EVO II
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      03-04-2016, 02:57 PM   #14
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Quote:
Originally Posted by weehe126 View Post
That IC is one of the best. With the stage 2 turbo you can also get away with more pressure drop as the turbo can boost more. So a large IC will work even better.
+1
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      03-04-2016, 02:57 PM   #15
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Quote:
Originally Posted by leokungkin View Post
Nice post!
Thank you
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      03-04-2016, 02:58 PM   #16
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Manberg View Post
Just in time. Been eyeballin' FMICs as my next mod for a while now. Got my finger on the trigger.
Let me know if i can help
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      03-04-2016, 02:59 PM   #17
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Quote:
Originally Posted by m0ss View Post
Where does VRSF 7" fit into this? Considering upgrading to ER.
VRSF 7" is the most popular option. It offers good results with an unbeatable price

If your car is FBO and you are on a budget, VRSF 7" is the perfect choice
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      03-04-2016, 03:01 PM   #18
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Quote:
Originally Posted by JETmn View Post
That is the thing this article states, the perfect FMIC for your setup is different depending on mods. If you are running stock turbo you will want to be more sensitive to less pressure loss and don't care about max flow. If you are running a big turbo you won't care as much about pressure loss (which will provide better cooling), but will care about max flow. Obviously a good design is always a must.

Now the downside is that nobody gives you any data to try and compare intercoolers. Most won't even give you a pic of the inside core to see the turbulators and fin density. IC's have a lot of variability to them, but yet we get almost no information about them. FYI, most of the cheaper cores will have less restriction, but also less cooling because they go with a cheaper fin pack inside. The really cheap ones won't have turbulators, they just punch holes in the fins which is nearly useless. I don't believe any BMW intercoolers are doing that.

TL;dR - There is almost no data out there on intercoolers so you are forced to buy on reputation from customers with a similar setup to yours.
Glad you got the main point of the post, very few did

Some companies do offer data showing pressure drop and temp control, other don't

You have to rely on customer data and reviews or you can ask one of the trusted vendors for their opinion
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      03-04-2016, 03:26 PM   #19
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Quote:
Originally Posted by mike@x-ph.com View Post
Glad you got the main point of the post, very few did
Unfortunately I already knew that all before I have been modifying turbo cars since 1992 and used to have my own shop.

There are a few manufacturers that put numbers out there, but then you have to worry about how accurate they are. I know Mishimoto put a bunch out there, but they were pretty suspect. Nothing against the company, I had one of their radiators and liked it well enough. I just think they were tweaked a bit.
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      03-07-2016, 03:42 PM   #20
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Quote:
Originally Posted by JETmn View Post
Unfortunately I already knew that all before I have been modifying turbo cars since 1992 and used to have my own shop.

There are a few manufacturers that put numbers out there, but then you have to worry about how accurate they are. I know Mishimoto put a bunch out there, but they were pretty suspect. Nothing against the company, I had one of their radiators and liked it well enough. I just think they were tweaked a bit.
Most companies that put their own data manipulate it a bit to make their products look better. Thats why independent data is so important
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      03-11-2016, 11:07 AM   #21
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Very good topic! Went with ER competition FMIC and never bothered to look back.
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      03-11-2016, 11:20 AM   #22
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I got a VRSF 5" stepped core during black friday. I am FBO. Going to install in the coming week
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