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.
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.
- 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
- Holes for mounting hardware can be off, leading to improper installation.
- Excessive noise from air filter blowoff can be annoying
- 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
- Installation can be a little tricky with the sensor if you haven’t installed one of these systems before
- 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
- Some vehicles may need minor adjustments during installation. Instructions also aren’t perfectly clear to follow easily
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.
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
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
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 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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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 Blackhorse Racing 4” Cold Air Intake System with Heat Shield Filter, which boasts great performance at a reasonable price.