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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PUBLISHED ON May 27, 2019
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 are 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 filter to help you get the most out of your ride.
- Best OverallAEM 21-478WR Wrinkle Red Cold Air Intake SystemSummarySummaryA 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.ProsProsThe Dryflow synthetic air filter is washable, reusable, and works extremely well. Mandrel-bent aluminum intake tubes are reliable and resilient. A powder-coated heat shield provides further protection.ConsConsHoles for mounting hardware can be off, leading to improper installation. Excessive noise from air filter blow off can be annoying.
- Best ValueSpectre Performance 9976B Air Intake KitSummarySummaryThis product is designed to boost your engine’s power and torque while keeping it safe from harmful particles. It’s economically priced and easy to install.ProsProsA washable and reusable air filter saves money on replacements. There is a mass airflow sensor mounted to the intake. A powder-coated heat shield keeps air cool inside the intake.ConsConsThe air filter box sits loosely in the engine with no holes or hardware to mount it. The filter will come off if not tightened down correctly.
- Honorable MentionK&N 71-3070 Blackhawk Induction Air Intake SystemSummarySummaryThis air intake is much less obstructive than factory models, so you will get extra airflow that equates to about 12 more horsepower. The intake has a sleek design and comes with a million-mile limited warranty.ProsProsThe mandrel-bent aluminum intake tube and housing are designed to increase airflow while taking up minimal space. The air filter is washable and will last 100,000 miles. It is easy to install and uses factory mounting holes for a perfect fit.ConsConsFits many different cars which can lead to compatibility issues when installing. Can be excessively noisy. Connects to factory mass airflow sensor but needs one calibrated for cold air intakes to be truly effective.
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Benefits of a Cold Air Intake
- More O2. The main reason for installing a cold air intake is that it will get more oxygen into your engine. More oxygen means increased combustion once it mixes with fuel down in the cylinders.
- More power. 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.
Types of Air Intake Systems
Warm Air Intake
Warm air intakes are what you can expect to find among factory air intakes and many aftermarket products. They make use of the warmed air inside the engine compartment which is less rich in oxygen than the cool air outside. Less oxygen means the intake has to suck in more air which adds energy to the combustion process.
Cold Air Intake
Cold air intakes are similar to their warm air counterparts, except the intake tube extends from the engine bay to collect air from the outside. The tube can be run through the grille, along the undercarriage, or anywhere else colder air is present. The oxygen-rich air amplifies the normal level of combustibility in the engine, giving you a boost in power.
AEM Induction Systems
Innovation has always been the main focus of this California-based company. Starting out as a small shop in Compton back in 1987, John Concialdi and Bob Sullivan have spent the past 30 years redefining how air intake systems work. They have grown AEM into one of the best cold air intake brands in the industry with products like the 22-401R Red Short Ram Intake System.
Since 1983, Spectre has been making some of the most powerful cold air intakes on the market. Starting off in a two-car garage, Spectre has worked tirelessly over the years to create high-performance systems that improve fuel efficiency and power. One example of its excellent craftsmanship is the Spectre Performance 9951 Air Intake Kit.
K&N has been responsible for producing some of the best aftermarket cold air intakes, oil filters, and other automotive parts since they opened their doors in 1969. Its headquarters is located in Riverside, California where it has a 10-building complex that takes up more than 400,000 square feet. Among its more popular products is the K&N 63-3082 Performance Air Intake Kit.
Cold Air Intake Pricing
- $30-$100: At the lower end, 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.
- $100-$300: This price 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.
- $300 and up: These are 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.
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.
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.
Mass Flow Sensor
This 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 sensor are the vane meter and hot wire.
- Heat Shield: Some cold air intake manufacturers like to put some extras on high-end products such as a heat shield. Surrounding the intake in a heat shield further insulates it from the heat generated by the engine. This can give you a little bit more of a boost.
- Fender Mount: Some cold air intakes use innovative solutions like being mounted to the fender to further cool the airflow into the engine. Fender mounted intakes are a great option for getting the most out of cold air combustion.
Best Cold Air Intake Reviews & Recommendations 2019
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: Spectre Performance 9976B Air Intake Kit
This cold air intake system is perfect if you want to get a few extra horses out of your engine while avoiding the high prices of some of the other products that are currently available. It is fairly small, easy to install, and comes with the right hardware to give a fit and finish comparable with your car’s original equipment.
The air filter on this product is designed to be washable and reusable, which will save you money on buying replacement filters. It is also designed to grab particles on a microscopic level to keep your engine clean. A mass airflow sensor is conveniently mounted to the intake so you can fine-tune your engine’s performance. Spectre uses a powder-coated heat shield to keep the air flowing through the intake as cool as possible.
The metal box that holds the air filter sits loosely with no way to mount it to the factory air box or anything else. This can be problematic, especially if you’re planning on going off-roading. It also tends to be excessively noisy if you’re looking for a quiet ride but can be fixed with some DIY insulating. The filter needs to be tightened down to company specs, otherwise, it can fall off.
Honorable Mention: K&N 71-3070 Blackhawk Induction Air Intake System
This air intake system has a high-performance design that will get about 12 extra horsepower out of your engine, has a stylish matte black paint job, and the K&N million-mile limited lifetime warranty. The intake’s design is much less obstructive than factory air intakes but will still give your engine the extra airflow it needs to perform its best.
Using a mandrel-bent aluminum tube and specially designed intake housing, this product is not only able to get the most airflow into the engine but also takes up very little space in doing so. It uses an oil-free synthetic filter that is washable and good for about 100,000 miles. The intake has an easy installation process and uses factory mounting holes to give it a perfect fit and feel in your engine.
This product is meant to fit multiple makes and models, which can lead to parts not always fitting perfectly. This, in turn, means a possible loss in airflow or heat exposure. It can produce excessive engine sound if you want a quiet ride. You can hook it up to the factory mass airflow sensor, but for optimal performance, you’ll need one that is calibrated for cold air intakes.
- 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.
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.
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 Spectre Performance 9976B Air Intake Kit for its added performance, cool look, and reasonable price.