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 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 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
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All of our reviews are based on market research, expert input, or practical experience with most products we include. This way, we offer genuine, accurate guides to help you find the best picks.
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 2021
- 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.