As far as the best aftermarket upgrades go, cold air intake systems are right there in the top-5. They are (relatively) cheap, easy to install, and look great with the hood popped. It doesn’t matter whether you’re driving a sedan, crossover SUV, or big-bad truck – you will instantly feel the difference. With the Best Cold Air Intake, vehicles get extra HP/torque, better acceleration, stronger uphill performance, and improved mileage.
Yep, there’s quite a lot to like about third-party cold intakes. So, in this guide, we’ll talk about all of the benefits in more detail. First, we’ll go over the very concept of air systems and see what they’re all about. Next, we’ll discuss how they improve performance and what you can do to maximize the power output.
The Basics: What is the Purpose of an Air Intake System?
I just listed the biggest pros of investing in a new air intake, but the question still stands – what’s its main purpose? In other words, what is a cold air intake used for? The #1 job of any air intake system is to keep the engine from overheating. Regardless of how great the stock system is, when the car is pushed to the limit, it won’t be able to provide adequate cooling for the motor.
Now, an aftermarket intake can be up to 50% more efficient, and that makes all the difference in the world. As a bonus, you also get performance boosts, simply because the engine starts to perform at the top of its game. And one more thing: if you invest in a new air filter, it will keep contaminants (dust, debris, and more) at bay, which is also very important. So, there you have it: aftermarket air intakes are mostly used for two things: cooling and filtration.
How Do Air Intake Systems Affect Performance?
Did you know that many modern-day cars have built-in safety systems that deliberately slow down the vehicle when in danger of overheating? That’s right, and this mostly happens when you’ve got a faulty radiator, header, spark plugs, or cold air intake. So, if you feel like your four-wheeled friend isn’t performing as it used to, it might be wise to check on the cooling system(s).
This is important: please keep in mind that air intake kits don’t improve performance per se. They don’t make the wheels turn quicker. Nor do they help the ignition system create stronger sparks, or the motor put out more torque. All that they do is lift the limitations imposed by the restrictive factory system. And here are the benefits of that:
#1: Extra HP/Torque and Towing
Who doesn’t want to get free HP and torque, right? Well, that’s very well possible with a premium-quality cold air intake. On average, you can expect a 2-10% boost. This is equally true for horsepower and pound-ft. of torque. Will that be a really big increase? Well, no, it won’t. Unless you’re a pro driver that can “feel” every single bit of HP, you probably won’t see a dramatic difference.
So, that’s the answer to your question – how does cold air intake increase horsepower? It won’t be a life-changing boost, but still, a +10-20 HP/torque bonus to a 250-300HP engine is a pretty decent result. Now, more importantly, a new air intake will improve the vehicle’s hauling and towing performance. If you’re an industrial worker and/or carry heavy cargo regularly, you’ll instantly appreciate the added strength and agility of your workhorse.
#2: Better Acceleration
What’s more important: top speed, or acceleration? For most drivers, startup speed is what they’re after. First of all, off-roading fans know very well how big of an impact acceleration can have. When conquering the wilderness, you’re moving at low speeds. Rock-crawlers, in turn, make lots of stops while climbing steep mountains. So, an SUV/truck with a decent starting speed will be right up their alley.
Secondly, it helps to slightly improve mileage. Again, cold air intakes are all about helping the engine bay reach its maximum potential. Therefore, don’t expect your rusty old truck to turn into a bolide. All that the new intake system can do is lift the restrictions – nothing more, nothing less.
#3: Maximized Fuel Efficiency
This is a big crowd-pleaser. You can be an off-roader, a pro racer, or a regular driver, and fuel economy will always be a factor. But how does cold air intake affect gas mileage, though? Here’s what you need to know: the hotter the engine, the more fuel it needs to consume to stay cool. That’s a generalization, of course, but you get the idea.
Thus, with a high-quality cold air intake protecting it from a thermal overload, the motor will require less fuel to operate. This is partially why in most cars, fuel economy is better during the winter and worse in spring-summer. Plus, air intake systems help the engine keep the perfect air-to-fuel ratio – another key factor for fuel economy. A quick note: most manufacturers claim their air kits increase mileage by up to 5 MPG. But, in reality, 2-3 MPG is the market average.
In a year, that will save you +/- 200 US dollars, which is still a pretty sweet deal!
#4: Engine Protection
Even if you live in an affluent, prosperous neighborhood, your car still won’t be safe from contaminants. I’m talking about dirt, pollen, dust, debris, insects, and more. Over time, they can clog the engine and, eventually, lead to overheating. So, I would highly recommend getting an air intake kit that includes a proper filter. The best aftermarket filters are synthetic, crafted from multiple-layer cotton-gauze media, and very easy to clean and reuse.