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Pumping Up Performance with Cold Air Intake Kits

Photo Credits: Jonathan Daniels (@dear_jondog) 
iKnowAuto Staff
If you are looking for a way to squeeze out a few more horses from your power plant, the fastest, easiest and most cost-effective method is to install a cold air intake kit. Get a bigger bang out of your internal combustion engine by giving it more oxygen. We’re not talking turbos or superchargers here, just a more potent mix of fuel, oxygen and spark.
MAR 06, 2018

Here’s the theory behind this simple performance enhancement. Cold air is denser than hot air. Cold air has more oxygen atoms than hot air. The more oxygen atoms that are in the combustion chamber of your engine, the more efficiently fuel is burned. In other words, you get a bigger explosion and that bigger release of energy pushes the piston with greater force creating more horsepower and torque.

The air inside your engine bay is way hotter than the air outside your car. The air your engine is currently sucking in is not quite as hot as the ambient engine temperature, but at a minimum, it’s “pre-heated.” The stock air intake in your ride was designed to fit snuggly against your engine block. That’s like snuggling up to a bonfire. If you had a way to get the colder air into the choke without “pre-heating” it, you would have more efficient combustion and more power.

Enter the cold air intake kit.

Increased Power, Increased Torque, Better Fuel Economy 

Cold air intakes essentially move the air intake away from the engine block and closer to the “cold” air entering the vehicle from the outside. All cold air intake kits consist of a tube and a performance filter that replaces the stock air filter. The tube is attached to the stock intake and angled away towards an air vent, wheel well or some other location where air enters the engine compartment from the outside.

At the end of the tube is an air filter. Unlike your stock filter which needs periodic replacement, the cold air filter can be removed, washed in soapy water and reinstalled. The kits are typically made of plastic to minimize vibration and noise, or metal with a shiny finish like aluminum for drivers who “showcase” their engines.

These kits are a snap to install. No special tools or advanced skills are required. If it takes you longer than an hour, you probably shouldn’t be driving anyway.

So, here’s a quick rundown on what you can expect when you install a cold air intake kit:

  • A more efficient burning of fuel that releases more energy. This translates into increased horsepower and torque.
  • More efficient burning of fuel means more fuel efficiency. Expect to see your mpg to go up.
  • No more changing air filters. Cool water and a splash of dish soap keep your performance filter clean forever.
  • A better breathing engine means less engine wear.
  • OK, cold air intake is a great idea. Who makes them?

Most Popular Cold Air Intake Kits

There are a ton of “air enhancement” products out there, but there are a few brands that sell the most cold air intake (CAI) kits. Some tend to carve out a certain niche or specialty, but most have a product for every vehicle.

K&N Cold Air Intake

K&N Cold Air Intake

This is the 800-pound gorilla of the cold air intake business. They were the first to popularize the concept and they were the first to invent a reusable cotton gauze filter. If your car or truck has four or more wheels, K&N has a cold air intake kit for you.K&N Cold Air Intake. This is the 800-pound gorilla of the cold air intake business. They were the first to popularize the concept and they were the first to invent a reusable cotton gauze filter. If your car or truck has four or more wheels, K&N has a cold air intake kit for you.

Volant Cold Air Intake FORD F150 04-07

Volant Cold Air Intake

Volant uses a fully enclosed box for its air filter. It also has a reusable filter. For whatever reason, Volant is popular with pickup owners, particularly folks driving Ford F-150s. Volant and K&N are usually priced about the same. Volant Cold Air Intake. Volant uses a fully enclosed box for its air filter. It also has a reusable filter. For whatever reason, Volant is popular with pickup owners, particularly folks driving Ford F-150s. Volant and K&N are usually priced about the same. 

Spectre Cold Air Intake

Spectre Cold Air Intake

You can get creative with Spectre and build your own air intake system if you like. They have all the parts available separately. Otherwise, Spectre’s CAI kits are vehicle specific. Spectre uses aluminum so this kit is going to be showy, including the filter which comes in red, blue, or black.  Spectre Cold Air Intake. You can get creative with Spectre and build your own air intake system if you like. They have all the parts available separately. Otherwise, Spectre’s CAI kits are vehicle specific. Spectre uses aluminum so this kit is going to be showy, including the filter which comes in red, blue, or black.

AEM Cold Air Intake

AEM Cold Air Intake

These folks build air intakes for every imaginable automotive application including diesel, hybrids, and hemis. Their cold air intakes are made of aluminum, and like Spectre, come in a variety of colors. They have a limited lifetime warranty and claim that their filter can go 100,000 miles before it needs cleaning. AEM Cold Air Intake. These folks build air intakes for every imaginable automotive application including diesel, hybrids, and hemis. Their cold air intakes are made of aluminum, and like Spectre, come in a variety of colors. They have a limited lifetime warranty and claim that their filter can go 100,000 miles before it needs cleaning.

S&B Cold Air Intakes

S&B Cold Air Intakes

These are designed principally for pickups like Ford’s F series, RAM 1500-3000, and Toyota Tundra. They also do well in large work vans. They have an enclosed box over the filter to funnel air into the tube. They are bigger, because of the vehicles they serve and are generally priced higher than others. S&B Cold Air Intakes. These are designed principally for pickups like Ford’s F series, RAM 1500-3000, and Toyota Tundra. They also do well in large work vans. They have an enclosed box over the filter to funnel air into the tube. They are bigger, because of the vehicles they serve and are generally priced higher than others. 

To sum it up, there is a cold air intake kit for every kind of vehicle including hybrids, exotics, subcompacts and luxury sedans. If you want more power and a more responsive acceleration, installing a cold air intake kit is a super option.