Reviews

Best Cold Air Intakes: Give Your Car Extra Power and Boost

Give your engine extra acceleration and horsepower with a cold air filter

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BY Bill Liktor / LAST UPDATED ON November 22, 2021

When it comes to car performance, there are a few different options to get some extra horsepower and torque out of your engine. One of those options that is both easy to install and not too hard on the wallet is a cold air intake. Check out our picks for the best cold air intake filters to help you get the most out of your ride.

Best Overall
AEM 21-478WR Wrinkle Red Cold Air Intake System
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Summary
Summary

A high-performance cold air intake that has a smooth design, excellent air filtration, and is red in color. Can provide a 36-horsepower boost to your engine.

Pros
Pros
  • This Dryflow synthetic air filter is washable, reusable, and works extremely well
  • Mandrel-bent aluminum intake tubes are reliable and resilient
  • Powder-coated heat shield provides further protection
Cons
Cons
  • Holes for mounting hardware can be off, leading to improper installation. 
  • Excessive noise from air filter blowoff can be annoying
Best Overall
AEM 21-478WR Wrinkle Red Cold Air Intake System
Best Value
Blackhorse Racing 4” Cold Air Intake System with Heat Shield Filter
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Summary
Summary
An affordable cold air intake kit complete with heat shield that’s designed for high performance, quality, and efficiency.
Pros
Pros
  • Include all of the components needed for easy installation
  • Can increase your horsepower by 8 to 10 percent and torque by 6 to 10 percent
  • All filters are washable, reusable, and able to save you money into the future
Cons
Cons
  • Installation can be a little tricky with the sensor if you haven’t installed one of these systems before
Best Value
Blackhorse Racing 4” Cold Air Intake System with Heat Shield Filter
Honorable Mention
Moosun 4 Inch Cold Air Intake + Heat Shield
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Summary
Summary
A cold air intake kit that’ll improve performance as well as fuel economy to provide power boosts and make your vehicle even more efficient.
Pros
Pros
  • Creates a 64 percent increase in flow to improve fuel efficiency
  • Can increase horsepower and torque by 8 to 10 percent
  • Requires nothing but basic hand tools to install right in your own garage
Cons
Cons
  • Some vehicles may need minor adjustments during installation. Instructions also aren’t perfectly clear to follow easily
Honorable Mention
Moosun 4 Inch Cold Air Intake + Heat Shield

Why Trust Us


Our reviews are driven by a combination of hands-on testing, expert input, “wisdom of the crowd” assessments from actual buyers, and our own expertise. We always aim to offer genuine, accurate guides to help you find the best picks.

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Our Methodology 

Cold air intakes are nothing new. They've been the first mod new car owners make for as long as any of us care to remember. In fact, we all already have a go-to brand in mind for our next purchase. Is that enough to go off of when putting a list of top picks together? Not exactly. That's why we took the time to go through the usual regimen of doing the homework for you. We took the time to consider the balance of pricing and performance as well as quality. At the end of the day, our list probably isn't all that different than what you'd come up with on your own. 

Best Cold Air Intake Reviews & Recommendations 2021

Best Overall
AEM 21-478WR Wrinkle Red Cold Air Intake System

Our pick for best overall air cleaner is this high-performance model that comes with a smooth design, is hot red in color, and has a specially designed air filter that allows maximum airflow while collecting macro and microscopic particles. AEM cold air intakes are dyno-tested and specifically designed for certain makes and models, so make sure you’re choosing the right product for your car.


This cold air intake has a lot of features that put it at the head of the pack. To start with, all AEM intakes come with an oversized, Dryflow synthetic air filter that is washable, reusable, and gives both amazing protection and great airflow. The mandrel-bent aluminum intake tube efficiently collects colder air from outside of the engine compartment while being dent and rust resistant. A powder-coated heat shield and specially designed hardware deflect a lot of engine heat, giving this cold air intake the ability to boost engine performance by as much as 36 horsepower.


There have been some issues with the pre-drilled holes for the mounting hardware being tapped in the proper locations. This has led to some lost airflow as the seals are not lined up correctly. Also, blow off from the air filter is piped back through the intake, which causes it to be much louder than factory air intakes. If you’re looking for a quiet ride, then this could be a mark against this product.

Best Value
Blackhorse Racing 4” Cold Air Intake System with Heat Shield Filter

If you don’t want to spend a whole lot but you’d love to upgrade to a cold air intake, then the Blackhorse Racing 4” Cold Air Intake System with Heat Shield Filter is just the product you need. This complete kit allows you to upgrade your intake at an affordable price – and it even includes a heat shield filter.


The Blackhorse Racing kit is compatible with certain GMC and Chevrolet vehicles made between 1999 and 2006 with V8 engines. It’s a state-of-the-art filtration system that includes thousands of microscopic cotton fibers that work to shield and protect your engine from damaging contaminants. It’ll help your engine draw in more cold air, create a better throttle response and deliver more explosive horsepower. Once it’s installed, this cold air intake setup can increase your horsepower by 8 to 10 percent and your torque by 6 to 10 percent.


You’ll be able to hear the difference this intake kit makes. It’ll create an enjoyable intake noise that gives your vehicle a powerful growl.

Best for GMs, Chevys
Moosun 4 Inch Cold Air Intake + Heat Shield

If you drive a GMC or Chevrolet pickup truck, the Moosun 4 Inch Cold Air Intake + Heat Shield is a part that’ll really deliver. This cold air intake setup can increase your horsepower, boost your torque, and improve your overall efficiency to help you get better results on the road. And its vehicle-specific fit is perfect for Silverados, Suburbans, Sierra 1500s, Tahoes, Yukons, and other GM SUVs and trucks made between 1999 and 2006.


Made out of alloy steel and covered in a carbon black powder coating, this intake set is built for durability. The filters themselves can last for up to 100,000 miles without needing any service, and the dry air filter is washable and reusable. Silicone components offer a tighter, more durable seal and can survive temperatures as high as 400 degrees Fahrenheit.


And when it comes to power, this cold air intake delivers. It can improve filtration efficiency by up to 95 percent and create anywhere from 5 to 10 percent more horsepower and torque. The only drawback? The installation instructions can be a little tricky to understand.

Best for Mustangs
BBK 1557 Cold Air Intake System - Power Plus Series

The BBK brand is a leader in the aftermarket performance parts industry. Their cold air intakes are designed to channel more cool air to your engine. This boosts your horsepower, torque, acceleration, and throttle response. This system is specifically designed for the Ford Mustang, model years 1986 through 1993. BBK makes a broad range of cold air intakes, though, so you’re sure to find the right one for your car. 


This system comes with an enlarged and efficient air filter. This creates a high flow of air so that more air can get to your combustion chambers. The entire unit is bolt-on, so you can install it in 30 minutes or less. You don’t need to make any special modifications or do any extra tuning.


One drawback of this cold air intake is that it may not be legal in your state. This is especially true if you live in California, so do your research before you buy. The other potential problem is that this particular model is chrome, which will scratch easily. This can make installation a challenge. You can avoid this by buying the black version.

Honorable Mention
K and N Cold Air Intake Kit

Plenty of cold air intakes promise to deliver more power — but the K&N Cold Air Intake Kit actually offers a guaranteed increase in horsepower. This tested kit can deliver up to 50 percent more airflow than your factory intake and filter, and if it doesn’t, you can get your money back.


Overall, this cold air intake set really delivers. In addition to the horsepower guarantee, K&N also offers a 10-year, million-mile limited warranty for even more reliability. Once installed, this kit and its components can improve acceleration and towing, giving you better uphill performance and an improved throttle response. You’ll actually hear the increased power roar under your hood.


Made for GMC, Chevrolet, and Cadillac trucks and SUVs from model years 2014 to 2020, even the toughest vehicles can benefit from this cold air intake. It’s easy to maintain (the filter is washable) and install, and you won’t have to worry about having any special tools on hand. With precision engineering and design, it’s an upgrade you’ll feel is well worth its price.

Honorable Mention
DC Sports SRI4201 Cold Air Intake System

The DC Sports SRI4201 Cold Air Intake System is an all around great choice for those who own vehicles with square MAF intakes. Specially made for these more uniquely shaped intakes, this bolt-on kit includes everything you need to improve your throttle response and boost your horsepower. It can even give you a lift when it comes to fuel efficiency. 


Made out of aluminum and designed for better performance, this intake kit features a polished aluminum filter intake tube, a reusable and washable performance filter, silicone hoses, hose clamps, and all of the hardware needed to install it all on your own with your own tools. Once in place, these components can improve heat dissipation, breathability, and the filtration process. As a result, you’ll get better acceleration and control. 


Additionally, this cold air intake is CARB-compliant, which means you can purchase and install it in all 50 states. Just make sure you double-check that you have a square MAF intake before purchasing to ensure it’ll actually fit your vehicle.

Honorable Mention
Genuine Toyota C-HR TRD Air Intake System

Toyota Racing Development, or TRD, is legendary for producing racing- and performance-inspired products for consumer use. This cold air intake system is designed for the 2018-2019 C-HR, but if you drive another Toyota model, you’re likely to be able to find a TRD cold air intake for it. The kit will come with everything you need for installation, plus the filter service and cleaning kit. 


The beauty of this system is that it keeps in line with the rest of your Toyota as far as looks and style. That way, it's easier to keep a cohesive look under your hood. Having the service and cleaning kit included is a nice extra touch. All of these cold air intakes come with washable filters, but no way of actually caring for them, so it’s nice that Toyota thought ahead. The filter is in a completely enclosed box to prevent hot air from entering the system, which makes this cold air intake more effective. 


Unfortunately, if you don’t own a Toyota, then you won’t find TRD parts to fit your car. The filter enclosure lacks adequate insulation, so once the plastic gets hot, you’ll have some heat transfer through the enclosure box.

Honorable Mention
Spectre Performance Cold Air Intake Kit

Choosing to make upgrades to your new vehicle is a tough decision, since many changes can cause you to void your warranty. The Spectre Performance Cold Air Intake Kit, however, promises that it won’t do this at all. Made to deliver high performance and better engine response, this cold air intake system delivers everything you want without forcing you to sacrifice warranty coverage.


In this kit, which fits 1999 to 2007 Chevrolet, Cadillac, and GMC vehicles, you’ll get components that install easily and deliver up to 50 percent more airflow than your factory parts. The high-performance air filter protects against contaminants, and it can be washed and reused. Once installed, you’ll notice changes like better acceleration, improved uphill and towing performance, and a boosted throttle response. You’ll hear a cool, powerful roar from under the hood too.


And this cold air intake is comprehensive too. It includes a filter, aluminum intake tube, black powder-coated heat shield, and all of the hardware you need. You can handle installation on your own or turn to a mechanic for help.

Our Verdict 

Our top pick is the AEM 21-478WR Wrinkle Red Cold Air Intake System which is rated to give you 36 more horses to run with. That's great and all, but the Blackhorse Racing 4” Cold Air Intake System with Heat Shield Filter is a great option for those on something of a budget. Do they work for you? Probably not! Your application may not be compatible. Be sure to bend our ears and let us know what you think the best cold air intake for your ride is! 

What to Consider When Buying a Cold Air Intake

Cold air intakes are application-specific. That means our list is probably nothing more than a list of names to consider while you shop. That said, we put this buying guide together to give you a little more to run on during selection. 

Types of Cold Air Intake Systems

Open Box 

The majority of options on the market are open-box intake systems. As the name implies, the filter exists in an open box that allows it to draw air from all angles. Even though a shield may be present, there's nothing to seal the intake from the warm air under the hood. Many argue that there's very little that makes it a true cold air intake other than the fact that it is exposed to some outside air. That said, the filter design does still increase the amount of air the engine has available to it, and that does help to increase performance. These also happen to be the most affordable options on the market, which does help to boost their popularity. 

Closed Box 

Closed box filters share the same basic layout as an open box cold air intake, only the filter is in a sealed box that works to keep cold air out. These designs are growing in popularity, not just because they function more like a true cold air intake but because the filter life is extended due to better protection. While these are a step up from open-box designs, not all do draw air from the vehicle's exterior and don't perform quite as well as a true cold air intake will. However, they are a solid middle-of-the-road option in terms of pricing and difficulty of installation. 

True Cold Air Intake 

What we're calling a true cold air intake is an induction system design that draws air from the exterior of the vehicle. Therefore, any system that relocates the filter to a location where only outside air is present can loosely fit into this category. No, there aren't any on our list. Not because they aren't available, but because it's typically a premium option that draws up a significant price point and high level of difficulty for installation. We want to point out that the other options shouldn't be ruled out as viable options, just that solely drawing air from the vehicle's exterior is the best way to reap the rewards of cold air. 

Key Features

Air Filter

The air filter is the most important piece of any intake system, whether it be cold or warm air. The filter keeps dust, dirt, and other particles out of the combustion chamber where they can reduce fuel efficiency, dull engine power, and cause severe damage over time. Most cold air intakes come with their own specialized air filter. While most filters are built with performance in mind, they aren't a detail to simply gloss over. Some are oiled, others are oiless, micron ratings vary, and some designs are better suited for certain environments than others. Take the time to research the details to ensure you pick the perfect match.

Tubing

The tubing has a special purpose for cold air intakes as it provides the only means of collecting cold air and delivering it to the engine. It is usually made of the best materials for cold air intake systems such as aluminum, plastic, rubber, or stainless steel. It is common for cold air intake tubing to run through the grille of a car. Material is very important, but the diameter is another key detail. The diameter of the tubing determines how well the system can deliver air. The wider the tubing, the better it can perform. You generally don't need to read too much into this detail, as most are designed with that and clearance in mind, but it is something to be aware of.

Mass Flow Sensor Previsions

The MAF sensor is important for figuring out exactly how much air mass is flowing through the cold air intake into the engine. By calculating the air mass, the sensor makes it possible to calibrate how much air flows into the engine, thereby maximizing performance. The two common types of mass flow sensors are the vane meter and hot wire. Any application-specific design should have accommodations for this sensor. Still, you should read the reviews to ensure there aren't any fitment issues that might cause issues down the line.

Benefits of a Cold Air Intake

More Power

The main draw to a cold air induction system is the use of oxygen-rich air. Cooler air is denser and has a higher oxygen content. What's oxygen good for? Fire. The more of it you have, the better things burn. The increased combustion that results from using a cold air intake means more horsepower and torque. This means your car will have better throttle response, horsepower gain, and be able to tow more weight.

Fuel Economy

Not only does cooling the oxygen entering your engine give it a boost of power, but it also adds to fuel efficiency. The increased combustibility means less fuel needs to be expended to get the same amount of power than with a factory filter.

Reusable Filter

The standard air filtration system on every vehicle consists of a disposable air filter which collects dirt, dust, and other particles that are hazardous to the engine. The best cold air intake kits have reusable filters that can be removed and cleaned when necessary, which saves you money and is environmentally friendly.

Cold Air Intake Pricing

In the $30-$100 price range, you’ll find cold air filters that are pretty basic in design without anything too extravagant. Expect products at this price point to give your car a modest boost in horsepower. The$100-$300 range has some of the best-rated cold air intake systems on the market. You can expect solid construction using high-quality materials and dynamic designs to get as much extra horsepower as possible. Moving above $300 brings in some of the best performance air intake systems on the market and are usually made specifically for high-end, expensive vehicles. You can expect the best in materials, construction, design, and a warranty.

Tips and Tricks 

As with something you do for decades upon decades, you pick up a few tips and tricks along the way in terms of selecting the right product, and/or using it. That’s the case with us and crate engines. To help you bridge the information gap, here’s a selection of what we’ve learned along the way.

  • Make sure that the company you’re buying an intake from offers a warranty to protect you in case a part is defective. 
  • If you are unsure about installing a cold air intake yourself, then don’t do it. Take your car and recently purchased intake to a professional mechanic to avoid the serious engine problems that can result from improper installation.
  • Before you buy an intake, make sure that the product you’re buying is designed for your car. You’ll avoid a lot of wasted time returning the wrong product and waiting for the right one to come in the mail.
  • When you are ready to install your new cold air intake, make sure to disconnect the battery first. It is an important safety tip that should never be overlooked.

FAQs

Q: What is the difference between aftermarket and OEM?

A: Aftermarket products are made by third-party providers, are designed to be more universally applicable, and will usually cost less. OEM stands for Original Equipment Manufacturer and encompasses your vehicle’s manufacturer as well as any subsidiary companies they use.

Q: Are there downsides to aftermarket cold air intake systems?

A: Generally speaking, some manufacturers use air filter media that isn’t dense enough to collect micro-level particles trying to enter your engine. Also, piping, mounting hardware, and general design are all things to examine carefully when purchasing aftermarket automotive products.

Q: Do cold air intakes cause problems with the air/fuel ratio?

A: The short answer is: It depends. If the intake pipe is too wide/narrow or if the airflow is not smooth, then this can disrupt the air/fuel ratio leading to engine problems down the road. What’s worse is that this problem can be masked by the benefits the intake is giving to your car’s power and torque.

Final Thoughts

Our overall pick is the AEM 21-478WR Wrinkle Red Cold Air Intake System which will give you 36 more horses under the hood.

Our best value pick is the Blackhorse Racing 4” Cold Air Intake System with Heat Shield Filter, which boasts great performance at a reasonable price.