Cold Air Intakes: Everything You Need to Know
Aug 09, 2018
A cold air intake is often one of the first modifications many owners make to their car or truck.
While the performance gains provided by a cold air intake are minimal, it’s an inexpensive and easy way to make your vehicle a little bit more fun to drive. Stock air intake systems typically feature a number of bends and kinks that are designed to ensure the intake noise isn’t too loud. By comparison, cold air intakes feature a straightened intake pipe with a wider diameter, allowing more air to make its way into your engine’s combustion chamber. Aftermarket intake kits also move the air filter close to the edge of the engine bay, usually near a wheel well where there is more air flow, further increasing the amount of air that reaches the engine. This increased airflow can help your engine make a bit more power and can also sharpen throttle response. Additionally, intake noise can also increase, giving your car a burbly intake noise that compliments the exhaust sound.
Founded in 1991, American air intake specialist Injen makes a large variety of cold air intakes and ram air intakes for different models.
In addition to making a high-quality product, Injen also owns a patent to something it calls MR Technology. Described as the ‘world’s first tuned intake’ uses the mass fuel flow sensor to ensure your engine gets an optimal air mixture. This is present on some of the company’s more expensive products.
Injen also offers a Limited Lifetime Warranty to the buyer against defects in the material and workmanship on all of its intake systems.
There are several very popular name brands making cold air intakes including AEM, Injen and K&N. Because there are so many brands producing these intake systems, it can sometimes be hard and confusing to shop for them. We’re going to go over some of the best brands for cold air intakes so you know where to start with your research and purchasing process. We’ll also go over the differences between cold air intakes and short ram air intakes so you know which type of intake is ideal for your car.
How do Cold Air Intakes Work?
A cold air intake relocates the engine air filter outside of the engine compartment, ensuring that colder air is able to enter the engine. Cold air is denser, so it has more oxygen. More oxygen means you’re able to burn more fuel, giving you more power. The piping of a cold air intake typically has less bends and is a wider diameter as well, increasing the overall airflow into the engine.
Of course, this isn’t true for all cars and all cold air intakes. Some are aftermarket intakes designed better than others and some cars will respond better to such upgrades. Additionally, because you will be changing the air flow into your engine and the air density, you may want to recalibrate your vehicle’s engine computer for optimum results.
What About a Ram Air Intake?
A ram air intake and cold air intake both work to try and increase your vehicle’s horsepower and intake noise, but they go about it in different ways. Whereas a cold air intake will increase the amount of cold air that reaches your engine, along with the overall flow of the air, a ram air simply tries to provide the shortest possible route for the air to travel. This will, in theory, increase power and throttle response.
Ram air style intakes are typically much shorter than cold air intakes. They are also lighter than cold air intakes, although the weight difference between the two is typically very minimal.
Will an Aftermarket Cold Air Intake Increase my Vehicle's Power?
It depends. As we mentioned above, because these systems typically change the temperature, density, and overall flow of the air that reaches your engine, you may need to recalibrate your vehicle’s computer to get the optimal results, or pair the intake with an aftermarket ECU or tuned ECU. Pairing an aftermarket intake with an aftermarket, high-flow exhaust can also produce performance gains in otherwise stock vehicles.
The biggest benefit of many cold air intakes and ram air intakes for regular, road-going production cars with minimal to no modifications is that they make the intake noise a little bit louder and they look pretty cool when your hood is popped. They may sharpen throttle response, so you could possibly feel a slight difference in the way your car accelerates, but again, this will be a fairly small change.
In short, some cold air intakes for certain cars will provide a small increase in horsepower, although the 12-15 hp that most companies usually cite is a bit generous. For a big performance increase, the upgrade is best paired with a retuned or aftermarket computer and a high-flow exhaust.
It should also be noted that some cold air intakes also may make your vehicle’s check engine light go on, as you’ve adjusted the air/fuel mixture in the engine and thrown the stock engine management software off.
There are lots of cheap, knock-off cold air intakes out there that we don’t suggest you put on your vehicle – especially if it’s new. If you’re going to purchase aftermarket upgrades for your vehicle, we suggest you stick with a well-known, reputable brand name.
There are a handful of well-known manufacturers of aftermarket cold air intakes that have a better chance of providing you with good intake induction noise and performance gains than a lesser known brand name or a knock-off brand. Here are a few of the best manufacturers around today.
You’ve probably seen a K&N sticker on someone else’s car while driving in traffic, which is usually a sign that they’ve purchased one of the well-known company’s cold air intakes.
K&N makes cold air intakes for a wide variety of makes and models. They typically use an oil impregnated cotton filter, which is thinner and thus flows a bit better than the thicker, more dense filters many production cars come with. The oil impregnated filter helps to draw dirt out of the filter and ensures it doesn’t get too dirty. Thanks to this design, you’ll have to service a K&N filter less than the stock filter.