I love cold air intake systems – they’re a cheap and easy upgrade that helps your engine breathe easier.
The better an engine is able to breathe, the more horsepower it can make – you can really feel the benefits of a cold air intake in how immediate throttle response becomes.
Anytime you modify the airflow in an engine, you’ll need a tune.
That said, installing an aftermarket cold air intake system isn’t an airflow modification that necessarily requires a tune.
Let’s take a closer look at what a cold air intake does to find out why you may or may not need a tune.
How a Cold Air Intake Works
Installing a cold air intake replaces your restrictive stock airbox and moves the air filter further away from the engine.
This allows cooler air to be sucked into the combustion chamber where this denser concentration of oxygen mixes with fuel for a more powerful combustion.
Another benefit of upgrading your vehicle with a cold air intake system is that since there’s a denser concentration of oxygen coming into the cylinders. Your engine doesn’t require as much fuel for combustion.
In other words, you get a more fuel-efficient engine.
What Does the ECU Do?
The one that controls the engine is our focus. That’s why these ECUs are also sometimes referred to as the engine management system.
A modern engine is essentially a big air pump powering itself by using a mixture of fuel and air.
The ECU controls fuel injection and the timing of spark using the Crankshaft Position Sensor to align the fuel injectors and ignition system so that they are activated at the right time.
The Cost of Tuning
ECU tuning changes how your car runs and how much gas it uses.
ECU tuning is also called flashing or reflashing. It involves reprogramming the ECU by changing the parameters of when events happen within an engine.
Getting a professional tune can cost anywhere from $200 to $900. It varies depending on the type of vehicle, engine being tuned and how much the shop is charging for labor.
You can tune an ECU on your own which will be way less expensive. It’s not difficult but it requires a lot of research and plenty of patience to make sure you do things right.
What’s the Point of Tuning?
As we said in the introduction, any time you make an upgrade to the way that air flows through an engine you should get a tune.
You’ve likely heard of intake and exhaust valves.
These valves sit on top of the cylinders and open and close: intake valves open and close to let oxygen into the cylinder to meet with fuel which is what causes combustion. Then exhaust valves open and close to let the gases from the explosion escape from the engine.
One of the engine characteristics that an ECU controls is just when these valves open and close.
When you change how much oxygen is able to come into the engine, but you don’t change the timing for when the valves open and close. You leave your engine in a position where these valves can become burnt.
When this happens the valve is not able to provide a seal around the enclosure of either the intake or exhaust depending on which valve gets burnt.
In either case this leads to diminished performance.
Why You Don’t Need a Tune After a Cold Air Intake Installation
After an installation of any kind, you want to ensure that it doesn’t cause any damage to the engine.
In general, installing a cold air intake system doesn’t require tuning the ECU because while the cold air intake sucks in cooler air into the engine.
It doesn’t significantly change how much air is going into the engine even though there’s a more dense concentration of oxygen coming into the combustion chamber.
Horsepower Numbers with a Cold Air Intake Installation and a Tune
However, if you want the very most you can get from a cold air intake installation. Then following up with a tune will get you an extra 3 to 5 horsepower.
But there won’t be any harm to your engine if you decide to go without a tune because a cold air intake doesn’t bring more air into the engine.
Instead, it brings a denser concentration of oxygen into the engine.
Cold Air Intake and Damage to Your Engine
A properly installed cold air intake system can sometimes increase horsepower numbers as well as improve fuel efficiency.
Getting these benefits depends on the automobile, not to mention the quality and type of intake.
The filter part of the cold air intake system is what you want to pay attention to. These are made of various materials from cloth to paper.
Some are not as good as other at filtering debris from entering your engine which will cause engine failure in the long run.
Dry vs. Oiled Cold Air Intake Filters
As you can see just from the image above, there’s not a significant enough difference between a dry versus oiled cold air intake filter to necessarily make one better than the other.
That said, a dry filter can catch up to 99% of incoming particles and contaminants due to the smaller micron size of the filter media. An oiled filter can catch about 98% because the filter media has bigger holes.
What You Need for a Smooth Cold Air Intake Installation
Aftermarket cold air intake systems are designed with specific engine designs in mind. To ensure you install the right one:
- Verify that the cold air intake you want to install is designed for your vehicle.
- Make sure that the one you choose has the cone filter you want.
- The intake tube should be as straight as possible to get the most cold air into the engine.
- The cold air intake you choose should also be shielded from water or wet weather so you don’t flood your engine.
Talking to a performance expert or technician that specializes in your vehicle will definitely get you pointed in the right direction.