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Diesel Intercooler, Air-to-Air Cooler, Charge Air Cooler – What’s the Difference?

In the mechanical world, terminology can be confusing. You have ratchets and socket wrenches, adjustable wrenches and spanners, and channel locks and pliers. So many tools have multiple names that it’s not always easy to know what someone is talking about.

So, when you hear the terms diesel intercooler and charge air cooler, is there really a difference, or is it just another case of the same part with different names?

One Part, Many Names

The truth of the matter is that there are multiple names for the same part. One person might use diesel intercooler while another prefers charge air cooler. Ultimately, they’re talking about the same part.

Here are a few of the nicknames for a charge air cooler:

  • Intercooler
  • Air-to-air cooler
  • Air cooler
  • CAC
  • Aftercooler
  • Charged cooler
  • Turbo cooler

All these terms refer to the part in a diesel-powered vehicle that cools the air from the turbo before it enters the engine’s intake manifold. There are some slight variations in different applications, but in the commercial vehicle world, they all refer to the same thing.

Intercooler vs. Aftercooler vs. Charge Air Cooler

As mentioned earlier, there are some slight differences between the terms in various applications. Here’s what each term refers to:

What’s a Charge Air Cooler?

A charge air cooler is a part that cools the air between the turbo and an engine’s intake manifold. It’s the generic term for turbo coolers, intercoolers, and aftercoolers.

Turbo coolers and charge air coolers are identical. It’s all a matter of preference as to which one you use. Intercoolers and aftercoolers do have some slight differences from a charge air cooler in certain applications, but in the commercial vehicle world, it’s all the same.

What’s a Diesel Intercooler?

An intercooler cools the air between turbos in a multi-turbo setup—hence, the prefix “inter.” For example (although not common), if an engine has three turbos, an intercooler could be used between each one.

Of course, using an intercooler between turbos in commercial vehicle applications is not common. That setup is typically used in industrial and aviation applications. When someone working on a commercial vehicle talks about a diesel intercooler, they really mean a charge air cooler.

What’s an Aftercooler?

On an industrial and aviation engine application with multiple turbos, each with its own intercooler, the final heat exchanger at the end of the series is called the aftercooler—hence, the prefix “after.”

Just like with intercoolers, the aftercooler is simply another name for a charge air cooler.

The Many Names of a Charge Air Cooler

In the commercial vehicle industry, charge air cooler, diesel intercooler, aftercooler, and turbo cooler all refer to the same part. It’s the best way to cool the air between the turbo and the intake manifold to ensure optimal performance and engine longevity.

No matter what you call it, a charge air cooler is essential to make sure your truck is ready to conquer any job. Keep your engine happy with a Dura-Lite Evolution® charge air cooler. Dura-Lite is the only company that offers an industry-best 7-year, million-mile guarantee on its charge air coolers. Contact us today to learn how a leak-free Dura-Lite Evolution charge air cooler can keep your truck moving.

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