Tube & Fin or Bar & Plate

Manufacturers who supply Tube & Fin designs weigh in on the topic of bar & plate and tube & fin design intercoolers.

The fundamental difference between performance on the one hand and competition on the other lies in the structure of the intercooler net. In the area of ​​performance, it is a bar & plate net, while we use a tube fin net for our charge air coolers from the competition area.

The bar & plate net originally comes from simple industrial production and has been used as a charge air cooler network for a long time, because it can be produced cheaply in any version. The basic structure of this network, however, ensures a higher weight or an increased proportion of material, which leads to the storage of the heat from the charge air if the load continues. The production of a tube fin net is more complex and therefore more expensive due to the necessary use of special tools. This type of net has a significantly lower proportion of material – and therefore less weight -, which means that the tube fin net can better dissipate the high temperatures to the environment and thus work even more efficiently

Wagner FAQ – Source:

This is a topic that always seems to be a subject that causes discussions in the car tuning world. I will try to give some input to help out here!

First of all the most important thing is that you can make both tube&fin and bar&plate cores with many different specifications so there are no way to predicte the performance by the type of core.

So there are no such things that one of the design have more internal than external surf contact area. That is correct if you have a core with empty internal channels which can be made with both core types.

The weight (mass) in the intercooler only affects cooling in the beginning but as soon as the mass have been heated it does not help cooling any more but it do takes a bit longer to cool it down afterwards. So the b&p core are a bit slower in temperature changes compares to t&f, both up and down.

So if you design a b&p and a t&f core with the same internal and external fins, the same internal tube width and the same width/height they will be very very close to each other when it comes to heat dissipation. We have done a lot of tests, including the one just described.

The type of tube and fin core we use in our intercooler is not cheaper to make than a bar&plate, at least not in small series as we do. If you go to vehicle manufacturer production volumes it will probably cheaper.

If you look at the intercooler core type used in WRC cars for example you will see that tube&fin cores works well.

So the reason we choose tube&fin in our intercooler is simply that the performance is the same but the weight is much less.
But it costs more to start a production of a tube&fin core so it is not possible to do this in all cases. The bar&plate is much easier and cheaper to adapt in size for small series productions.


The best way to draw comparisons between the two core types is to look at how they operate based on their construction, and in the format below I have listed their key differences:

Tube & Fin Cores:

These units are of brazed construction and feature tube and turbulator construction of much thinner gauge, allowing better thermal conductivity. The finished units weigh roughly 30% less than a bar & plate equivalent and offer much better recovery rates. These cores are more expensive to produce as they have to be brazed in a very closely monitored process, and each core we build is totally hand-made and pressure tested to over 30 psi.

Bar & Plate

These cores are of welded construction using heavy gauge materials. They are cheap because they are simple to produce, so these are the cores you will find in all the ebay type intercoolers / mass produced Chinese units. They are generally 30% heavier but the real issue with them is their poor ability to disperse heat once they have heat-soaked. They do give a rather false result during rolling road testing, as the units act as a large heat sink due to their thermal mass. This means that they perform quite well from cold, as the unit is absorbing heat, not dispersing it. However this is misleading, as during a dyno session they don’t get the opportunity to get up to full temperature. If you take the car on track during hot weather, the unit will keep absorbing heat, making the inlet temps steadily rise as you do not get the same recovery rate as a tube and fin core.

A simple consideration to make here is to look at the units we build for the BTCC teams – none of them are using bar & plate cores. These teams spend fortunes on year-round testing, and the simple facts are a few horsepower in this arena can make the difference of 1st place or 10th in a race environment. We only build tube and fin cores as they offer the best overall results in terms of thermal efficiency.

Pro Alloy

Tube and fin vs bar and plate is relevant for both air to air and air to water intercoolers. Here at C&R we use tube and fin for the majority of our aftermarket air to air intercoolers to ensure we have a lightweight, unrestrictive cooler that is not going to restrict or heat the airflow to the engine radiator and condenser typically located behind the intercooler in an OEM application and also to not add a massive heat sink to the system which will hurt performance in certain situations.

We can produce this unit as a bar and plate if you are interested in a custom build but our bar and plate is tailored mostly for aerospace and supercharger brick use, and uses very thin bars and plates which make manufacturing much more difficult and expensive.