Why Should You Install a Cold Air Intake?

A cold air intake is a fairly inexpensive modification and a lot easier to install than most other engine mods. See more Car Engine Pictures.
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In the on-going quest to make our vehicles more powerful and fun to drive, people have come up with some great aftermarket systems. Of course there are lots of changes you can make to the engine like a new exhaust system, bolt-ons like superchargers and turbos but seriously, that stuff costs tons of money and you'll probably spend more than a weekend installing those parts.

And then there are cold air intakes.

Cold air intakes are a fairly inexpensive modification (typically a few hundred dollars) and easier to install than most other engine modifications. No, they won't add quite as much power as other engine mods, but they will help your engine in some other ways.

Think of a factory air intake system as like having a cold that clogs up your head and restricts your breathing. Now go running. It's not going to work very well is it? A cold air intake is like amazing medicine that allows your engine to finally breath.

Cold air intakes move the air filter outside of the engine compartment so that cooler air can be sucked into the engine for combustion. Cooler air brings more oxygen (denser air) into the combustion chamber and that means more power. The filters are usually moved to the upper wheel well area or near a fender where there is more access to free flowing, cooler air and less hot air from the engine.

Not too shabby. But it gets even better.

Not only does a cold air intake reduce the air temperature, but it also increases airflow. Aftermarket intakes remove the need for a box surrounding the air filter and instead use large diameter intake tubes that are smoother, have less bends and are often wider than the original factory ones. Removing the air box and using smoother tubes gives the engine uninterrupted airflow.

Sounds pretty good right? But does it actually work?

Does a cold air intake really make a difference?

Cold air and more air sound good in theory, but no one gives a hill of beans about theory when you're trying to pass someone on the highway.

The good news is that although claims of actual horsepower and even increased fuel efficiency may vary, cold air intakes will in fact help increase your car's performance.

By itself, you'll probably notice an increase in power when the throttle is fully open. Some manufacturers claim as much as a 5- to 20-horsepower increase for their system. But if you team up the cold air intake with other engine modifications, like a new exhaust, you'll create a much more efficient system. So think of it as just one part of many to increase your engine's performance.

There are a few drawbacks to consider when installing a cold air intake though. If the air filter is too exposed and sucks up water, it'll go straight into your engine and you'll be up a creek. Pun intended. Look into adding a bypass valve to keep this from happening.

Also, installing a cold air intake on some newer cars may void the engine manufacturer's warranty. So look into this situation before starting, or at least understand that it could become a problem later on.

Other than that, install that cold air intake and hear the magnificent sound of free-flowing cool air to your engine -- and enjoy a few extra horsepower as well. It may be just what your engine needs.

Author's Note

This article reminded me of working on my brother's car back when we were in high school. We made several modifications to his turbocharged Eclipse (ok, it was a Plymouth Laser but it's the same engine!) and the intake was one of the things we changed. It definitely seemed to increase the power, or at least it sounded like it. I'm pretty sure that mod went better than the time we replaced the intercooler pipe and it popped off during our test run. There's nothing like thinking you blew something on the engine only to find out the pipe just needs to be reconnected! That car was so light and fast that we could get into some good races on the highway. I'm not condoning it...but it was fun.

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Sources

  • Aptuned.com. "Cold Air Intake vs. Short Ram: What's the Difference?" Sept. 10, 2011. (April 20, 2012) http://www.aptuned.com/blog/cold-air-intake-vs-short-ram-intake-whats-the-difference.html
  • AutoAnything.com. "Air Intake Systems." (April 20, 2012) http://www.autoanything.com/air-intakes/50A5A115A1.aspx
  • Kim, Tae. "Horsepower Upgrades." Ask Men. (April 20, 2012) http://www.askmen.com/cars/car_tips_150/158_car_tip.html