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Should I Get a Cold Air Intake or Exhaust First?

Cold Air Intake or Exhaust First

This is such a common question, especially for new and casual tuners: should I get an intake or exhaust first. I’d like to get both, but I don’t have the money.

The reason why this is such a common question is because these are some of the easiest modifications to make on a car.

Personally, I would get the exhaust first.

It gives you the instant gratification of knowing you’ve done something to your car in the noise you’ll hear every time you turn on the engine, accelerate or shift gears.

You could modify the intake first. It’ll help the engine breathe better, but the difference it makes to your car won’t be as visceral, which matters when you start adding mods but you don’t have a lot of money to spend.

That said, either option has its advantage. So, here are some things to keep in mind to help you with your decision.

Installing a Cold Air Intake First Will Give Your Ride a More Immediate Throttle Response; Better Fuel Economy; and Better Engine Performance

Installing a Cold Air Intake First Will Give Your Ride a More Immediate Throttle Response; Better Fuel Economy; and Better Engine Performance

An aftermarket cold air intake system works by relocating incoming fresh air away from the engine. By doing this, your engine gets a cooler, denser concentration of oxygen going into the combustion chamber.

This creates bigger combustions which means the engine can work more efficiently since it doesn’t have to use as much fuel.

Me Included, I’ve Never Met Anyone That Regretted Installing a New Performance Muffler as Part of Their Exhaust System Upgrade First

While this upgrade is comparatively more expensive than a cold air intake. You’ll be getting a less restrictive muffler that’s sure to boost performance. An exhaust system comprises of everything from the exhaust manifold (or headers) all the way to the exhaust tip.

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If you don’t have a lot of money for modifications. But you want to do something that’ll make the biggest impression, upgrade the muffler. You won’t regret it.

But before you make up your mind on which modification to make first. Let’s look at more pros and cons of going with either a cold air intake or exhaust upgrade first.

Cost Is Usually the Reason Why Most Enthusiasts Go with a Cold Air Intake Modification First

At most you’re talking about $300 for a cold air intake system.

Depending on what you want, a performance muffler comparatively can cost $40 to $900 on an SN95 Mustang for example, which was a car I was modifying when I didn’t have much money for mods. And that’s before paying labor fees to have a shop cut of the stock muffler and weld in the new one.

Although going with a cold air intake is a more fiscally responsible way to go. I’m telling you; it won’t be as satisfying as installing a performance exhaust first.

Both a Cold Air Intake and an Aftermarket Exhaust Will Make Your Ride Sound More Impressive

There are few things about modifying any vehicle more entertaining than making it sound more aggressive than what you get from factory.

As well as improving the performance of your vehicle. Installing a cold air intake system improves the sound. This is accomplished by the louder induction noise made as cold air rushes into the combustion chamber when you hit the accelerator.

The only caveat is that you have to be in the high RPM range to really hear it. But if you really want to change the sound of your vehicle, you can’t go wrong with an aftermarket performance exhaust. The exhaust note will make your ride sound louder and more powerful.

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And it makes you feel like you’ve really done something to your car. For me this kind of upgrade helps me focus on making the type of upgrades that will get the most bang for my hard-earned buck.

Either a Cold Air Intake or Exhaust Upgrade Will Give Your Vehicle a Performance Boost

Either a Cold Air Intake or Exhaust Upgrade Will Give Your Vehicle a Performance Boost

A new air intake system will give you a performance boost no doubt. But just like the sound, a new exhaust system will give you a more dramatic uptick in performance.

The reason is because a new exhaust system eliminates a lot of the restrictions to the flow of exhaust gases which reduces backpressure. This reduction in backpressure improves air flow.

And since an engine is a big air pump, more air flow – either by means of air coming into the engine in this case via the intake or air exiting the engine by an upgrade to the exhaust system – naturally means more horsepower.

A BIG Reason Why It’s Probably Better to Go with a Cold Air Intake Upgrade as Your First Mod is Because It’s Considerably Easier to Install

Cold air intake systems are relatively easy to install.

Even if you’re not that mechanically inclined, installation is pretty straightforward with plenty of YouTube videos and instructions on the internet showing just what to do for your specific automobile.

Comparatively, installing an exhaust upgrade like an aftermarket muffler requires specialized skills that may put this kind of modification just out of reach. For one thing, you need the garage space to lift your car to get to the muffler. Then you need to get your hands on welding equipment.

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There is the option of taking it to a professional to do this for you. But they’ll likely charge you anywhere from $75 to $200.

Even if you were going to get a cold air intake professionally installed, you’re still only looking at $30 to $100.

Want to Quickly Improve the Looks of Your Ride?

Want to Quickly Improve the Looks of Your Ride?

Unless the car you’re modifying if from the 1990s or older where much of the time the exhaust tips are covered by the body of the car (think 3rd gen Camaros). Then a new exhaust system complete with new exhaust tips will go a long way to instantly make your vehicle look more powerful. And even though a cold air intake will improve engine performance.

And the way your budding street machine drives to a certain extent. An exhaust upgrade with performance exhaust tips sticking out the back of your car, truck or SUV does a lot to send the message that this vehicle means business.

Exhaust tips are criminally underrated for the effortless job they do in improving the looks of a car. You’ll be so satisfied with the results that you won’t mind waiting on future mods.

Sources:; SmurfinWRX