There are several types of intercooler, in this article you'll learn the differences between bar and plate and tube and fin intercoolers.
What Are Intercoolers
An intercooler is a component of a forced induction engine designed to reduce air intake temperatures, it does this by transferring heat from the charged intake air to ambient air.
Air-to-air intercoolers are the most common type, split into subtypes called tube and fin and bar and plate. They are commonly found on forced induction engines, such as turbocharged or supercharged engines.
Charged air travels through interior air passages that are filled with tiny metal fins attached to many outside small metal fins.
When incoming ambient air passes over these metal fins, the air cools the charged air by removing heat from the interior air galleries.
Bar & Plate Intercooler
Bar and plate intercoolers have rectangular air galleries, which allow a higher volume of compressed air to pass through the intercooler.
But because these galleries are not as aerodynamic, there is more resistance to airflow passing through the core, they also have less of a pressure drop.
More robust and can withstand exterior damage better.
Can handle higher boost pressure.
Usually less expensive.
Typically higher availability.
Take longer to heat soak.
They are heavier.
Typically less efficient.
Tube & Fin Intercooler
Tube and fin intercoolers have curved-edged air galleries, giving them less overall capacity and also a higher pressure drop.
However, the tube and fin intercooler produce less resistance to the ambient air as it passes through the intercooler to cool the compressed air.
Tube and fin intercoolers are usually more efficient.
They are lighter in weight.
Less robust to exterior damage.
Can't handle as high boost pressure as bar and plate intercoolers.
Typically less availability.
Heat soak faster.
Which Type of Intercooler Is Better?
Bar and plate intercoolers have denser cores and take longer to heat soak also meaning they take longer to cool down, they don't flow air as well making them less efficient.
They are sturdier and can tolerate more damage, but they are also heavier.
Tube and fin type intercoolers flow air better and are more efficient, they can heat soak faster, though they also cool down more quickly due to better crossflow.
In cars, tube and fin intercoolers are much more efficient. Mishimoto even swapped their design from bar and plate to tube and fin.
Even more advanced tube and fin intercoolers are now on the market, called square tube and fin and are the middle ground between a bar and plate and tube and fin designs.
They are more robust and lighter yet still have excellent crossflow.
Tube and fin are more effective at reducing intake air temperature but they have drawbacks, the bar and plate type may be better for certain motorsport situations such as vehicles with higher boost pressure or exterior damage such as rally sports.