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Charge Air Coolers - Common Failures


Charge-Air-Coolers are subjected to much heat and stress during their lifetime. Today’s high operating temperatures and pressures, vehicle vibration, and climatic conditions cause this stress and possible premature failures. Under ideal conditions, the expected life of a charge-air-cooler should be somewhere around 5 years, or 500,000 miles before a complete rebuild is required. Unfortunately, this is not usually the case in today’s extreme operating environment. Engine operating pressures are being increased to gain more horsepower, which is beyond the limits of many current charge-air-cooler designs. Trucks are running more miles per year at higher speeds creating excessive heat variations on the cooler. In addition, due to road conditions and miles driven, the charge-air-cooler is subjected to more vehicle vibration affecting the critical areas. The illustration below shows the most common areas where a charge-air-cooler will fail.

Unless your charge-air-cooler was damaged in an accident, or a rock went through the core, check these areas out first if you suspect a problem.


Because of the amount of business Fleet Air does in rebuilding charge-air-coolers, we see many different types of failures. Shown below, you will see some of the more common failures.


Failure #1: Separation of Top Plate From Header Plate

Failure #2: Corrosion of the Core

Failures from corrosion are usually found in the northern states where salt is used on the roads during the winter months. This condition can also affect radiators, and other aluminum cooling units. Some OEM manufactures use anti-corrosion materials to protect the core, but there are those that do not use any protective coatings. Although the core of the charge-air-cooler will eventually deteriorate, you can significantly extend the life of the cooler by periodically and thoroughly cleaning the salt deposits from it with a detergent and power washer set to a lower pressure.


It is also important to note that as the core deteriorates, it will begin leaking, which will lead to higher fuel bills and loss of engine power.






Failure #3: Tube Distortion


These are three examples of failures due to the distortion of the cooling tubes. This type failure is caused by the internal fins of the tubes not being brazed properly, therefore allowing to the tubes to expand and crack.


In our studies, we found this situation to be more prevalent on higher horsepower engines.



Failure #4: Failure of Tube Wall

The tubes of a charge-air-cooler are a critical part of the unit. They must be able to withstand high pressures and temperatures in various operating conditions. Some coolers are manufactured using too thin of a material for the tubes. The picture at the right demonstrates the effect of road damage and salt corrosion on a charge-air-cooler that was manufactured using too thin of material for the tubes.






Failure #5: Breakdown of Repair Materials

This charge-air-cooler had been repaired by someone, or company who used an inferior material to stop the leaks where the core is welded to the header plate. Because of heat, the repair material’s chemical composition broke down and became brittle as seen in the picture to the right. These types of repairs are only temporary and are more costly over the long term.


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