When it comes to performance, there are a couple options available for messaging a few extra horsepower and torque out of an engine.
While a cold air intake won’t add astronomical HP numbers. It’s a relatively cheap option that’ll get you a few extra ponies, along with other perks. And they’re not that hard to install.
But there are a lot of cold air intakes on the market ranging from $50 to $300. What’s the best option?
To take some hassle out of the hunt, we’ll be looking into the difference between a cheap cold air intake vs expensive intake to determine which is the better option.
Cold Air Intakes
An internal combustion engine – like your lungs – is a big air pump. And the better it can inhale and exhale, the more power it can produce.
An engine mixes oxygen with fuel to produce horsepower. The more oxygen you can get into the engine, the more power it can make.
Also called cold-air-induction, a cold air intake sucks in more oxygen into an engine’s intake to create more power.
Your vehicle already comes with a factory intake system. But it’s restrictive compared to an aftermarket cold air intake and doesn’t allow as much oxygen into the engine.
Despite whatever your favorite keyboard commando wants you to believe, I can attest to the fact that a properly designed and properly installed aftermarket cold air intake improves an engine’s ability to breath, thereby creating more horsepower, however so little.
Not only that, but a cold air intake also gives the engine more sound than a factory air box which we’ll get into.
Cheap Cold Air Intakes
One advantage to a cheap cold air intake is that for much less than the price of a more expensive system, you’re getting the same general benefit.
They come with the same diameter tubing as the more expensive brand names. And use the same factory sensors so you achieve the same goal of getting a denser concentration of oxygen into the engine for a fraction of the price.
The problem is that while the tubing might be similar (even utilizing the same factory sensors). The air filter is where these cheaper cold air intakes tend to cut corners.
Another thing is that the air filters on cheaper cold air intakes don’t filter out as many particles as more expensive ones. This means unfiltered particles get sucked into your engine where they cause damage.
Expensive Cold Air Intakes
Some uninformed people might lead you to believe that with a more expensive cold air intake you’re just paying for a brand name.
But there is truth in the saying, you get what you pay for.
Along with using the same factory sensors, more expensive cold air intakes are better constructed, making your engine bay look nicer.
They also usually have the right mounting bracket for your specific vehicle. And at most you’re only talking about being out of pocket $300.
Now comes the biggest disadvantage:
They’re more expensive than cheaper alternative.
If you’re really strapped for cash what you could do is mix and match the tubing from a cheap cold air intake with the air filter from a reputable brand, like K&N.
I’ve done this in the past, but not without issues which I’ll talk about.
Cold Air Intake Horsepower Numbers
Like we said, a cold air intake alone won’t make astronomical horsepower figures.
But the extra 5 to 20 HP is something.
And if you combine a cold air intake with a full exhaust system upgrade. You’ll reduce restrictions, which means the engine will be able to inhale and exhale much easier.
The Cheapest Way to Increase Horsepower
Besides going the cold air intake route, there are other ways to increase horsepower without taking out a second mortgage.
Cat-back Exhaust straightens the pipes from the catalytic converter to the muffler. This gives the exhaust gases a more direct flow. And the faster the exhaust is able to leave the engine, the better the performance of your ride.
High-Flow Catalytic Converter will do a lot to improve the performance of your vehicle, especially if the vehicle in question is 30 years old or older.
Tires are tragically overlooked when it comes to making more power. But ask anyone who’s ever been racing: A good set of tires can hook into the pavement making all the difference in the way a vehicle performs.
Reflashing the ECU changes the manufacturer’s parameters for how the computer handles timing and the air-to-fuel mixture. All of which has a bearing on horsepower numbers.
Cold Air Intakes and the Sound of Your Vehicle
Another major upshot that comes from installing a cold air intake system to your vehicle – besides an increase in horsepower – is for the noise it makes.
This comes from the more audible woosh the filter makes as the intake sucks in air which you’ll hear when you step on the gas.
Now, to manage your expectations. Like the horsepower numbers, you’re not going to get an astronomically different sound from your engine.
But depending on how good the cold air intake is you’ll hear a bark from the acceleration. Which is just one more reason why it’s worth opting for a more expensive cold air intake vs a cheap one.
Cold Air Intake and MPG
So, remember that we said that an internal combustion engine uses a mixture of oxygen and fuel to make power.
We also said that the more oxygen that’s able to go into the engine, the more power the engine can make.
A cold air intake brings a denser concentration of oxygen into the engine, which means the engine doesn’t require as much fuel for combustion.
The result is a more efficient engine.
I said that I tried going the cheap route by fixing a more expensive cone filter to a cheaper intake tubing.
The problem that I experienced was – fitment.
Since the filter I was using wasn’t made for the tubing. The two halves kept popping apart which didn’t help gas mileage (I had to use duct tape to create a secure connection).
Cold Air Intake and Warranty
In short, installing a cold air intake whether its cheap or expensive shouldn’t void your warranty.
The reason why is because in the United States an auto manufacturer isn’t allowed to refuse a warranty service because you opt to install aftermarket parts on your vehicle.
However, any issues caused by aftermarket parts won’t be protected under warranty.
Should I Get a Cold Air Intake or Exhaust First?
It depends on what you’re after.
A cold air intake attends to the front half of the exhaust system which typically is where more horsepower numbers are created. An exhaust attends to the rear of the exhaust system.
Both help de-restrict airflow which improves engine performance. If you want to provide cooler air to your engine – which will also improve gas mileage – then get the cold air intake first.
If, however, you want slightly more horsepower than a cold air intake system can provide. And you care more about the way your car sounds and looks from the outside. Let’s just say that the sound of an aftermarket exhaust always leaves me smiling.