A cold air intake isn’t super useful to a modern turbocharged engine. But yes, you can have a cold air intake and a turbo.
Most modern turbocharged vehicles come with an intercooler system to cool the boosted air temperatures from the turbo before it goes into the engine.
But if you want to add a cold air intake to your turbo engine anyway. In all likelihood you will need a specially designed cold air intake.
Keep reading as we take a closer look at the responsibility of a turbo and cold air intake to help you determine if its worth adding a cold air intake to your setup.
What Does a Turbo Do?
Did you know that turbochargers were originally designed for aircraft? Turbos have been around since the 1800s and only began finding their way into cars in the 1960s.
An internal combustion engine uses a combination of heat, fuel and air to create controlled explosions within each cylinder.
How do you get an engine to make more power?
You can either make it bigger, which is why we have four cylinder, V6, V8, V10, V12 and W16 engines. Or you can add more fuel or air into the engine.
A turbo works by forcing more air into the engine to increase combustion, making more power.
What Does a Cold Air Intake Do?
A cold air intake system works by directing cold air into an engine. The theory behind it is that cold air is denser with oxygen molecules than hot air.
Forcing more cold air into the engine creates a bigger combustion, which equals more horsepower – this is also known as forced air induction.
Some cars come with a cold air intake system from factory in a ram air configuration, like the RAM Rebel TRX and Pontiac Trans-Am.
But in most cases an aftermarket cold air intake system replaces the factory airbox and snorkel with results that can be very effective.
Cold Air Intake Benefits to a Turbocharger
In an engine without a turbocharger, a cold air intake helps direct cold air into the combustion chamber: the airflow path goes straight from the intake directly into the engine.
The increased performance is the result of increased air density. Since most modern turbocharged cars come with intercoolers, the intercooler is already doing the job of cooling the warm air from the turbo before sending it to the engine.
Here the airflow path goes from the intake to the turbo, then to the intercooler and finally the engine. In other words, the intercooler is already doing the job that a cold air intake would do.
Intercooler vs Cold Air Intake
A cold air intake would be beneficial in an older turbocharged engine that came without an intercooler.
A turbo creates a lot of heat as it compresses air.
A cold air intake cools the air before it goes into the turbo from the inlet side. This lowers the temperature of the compressed air which adds up to more power as the turbo sends the compressed air into the engine on its outlet side.
Not only that, but this setup also nets you a bit more sound from your turbo which comes from the woosh you get as the turbine draws in air.
Turbo and Cold Air Intake Connection
So, how do you get this growl and more purposeful look under the hood of your turbocharged vehicle?
Well, first you need to research and buy the cold air intake system specifically designed for your vehicle. This will come with all the correct routing so there’s no fabrication involved.
The cold air intake doesn’t attach to the turbo directly. Instead, it replaces the OEM air filtration system that comes with your ride.
Once this is removed, installation is rather straightforward even if you don’t know much about cars. Plus, there’s plenty of instructions and videos on the internet for installing a cold air intake onto your particular vehicle.
Cold Air Intake and Turbo Horsepower Gain
A cold air intake can range between $75 and $300. That’s a rather small investment for such a big payoff.
Although there is some power gain to be enjoyed from a cold air intake and turbo setup, you shouldn’t expect anything massive.
Cold air intakes are designed to help cooler air flow more efficiently to your engine which results in higher performance. The result is a horsepower gain of 5 to 20 ponies.
Turbo Engines with Cold Air Intake and Sound
As well as improving the performance of your vehicle, adding a cold air intake is one of the better known ways of increasing the sound from your turbo.
Since cold air intake systems tend to make more noise when you hit the accelerator due to the sound of air that comes rushing into the engine compared to a factory airbox. It can also help your turbo sound louder.
But if you want to go the opposite extreme, there are cold air intake systems designed to be quieter, too.
Types of Air Intakes
There are three types of air intake systems:
Cold air intake features a long tube with an air filter on the end. Since the filter is positioned further away from the engine, the system can draw in colder air.
Short ram intake features short air tubes with the filter closer to the engine. While the proximity means that the air coming in isn’t as cold as it could be. This system has the advantage of fitting in tighter spaces.
Ram air intakes collect air from high pressure areas like the front of a vehicle with the filter positioned at the back of the engine.
Does a Cold Air Intake Require a Tune?
Any time you modify how much air flows into your engine, you’re changing the air-to-fuel ratio. Which means you’ll also need to change how the computer processes this new air to fuel mixture in order for the engine to continue running efficiently.
And most importantly, trouble-free.