Cold air intakes are excellent performance upgrades that are universally available to fit or retrofit onto almost any automobile. When combined with a high-flow exhaust system, you can seriously upgrade the performance of your vehicle. A cold air intake is an exceptional value when you compare it to other engine modifications like porting out the head to increase air flow. It is also easier on your engine than more aggressive tuning modifications like adjustable cam timing gears, fuel-mapping chips, and superchargers. Cold air intakes are easy to install and widely available. Read our FAQ below for more details on these wonderful devices.
What Does a Cold Air Intake Do?
How Much Horsepower Does a Cold Air Intake Add?
A performance cold air intake system can easily increase the horsepower by 10 to 15 ponies. However, there are reports of certain cold air intake systems increasing the horsepower by nearly 60 horses in a Shelby GT-500. Upgrading a standard exhaust system to one built for high flow can double these numbers when added with a cold air intake system.
How to Install Cold Air Intake
This instructional is simply to provide you with a basic understanding of how easy it is to install a cold air intake system. Always be sure to follow the specific instructions that come with your device for the best results.
#1: Disconnect the Battery
You should always disconnect the negative lead from your battery before you do any kind of work in the engine bay to prevent injury. The cooling fan in the engine bay can turn on at any moment, even without keys in the car, and chop off your fingers. Be sure to have your throttle body aligned if you drive an Audi, Volkswagen, or any other model that requires recalibrations. This involves cleaning the throttle body to remove any carbon deposits and using a special computer calibration sequence.
#2: Remove the Engine Cover (late-model vehicles)
Most engine covers pry right off and use the snugness of rubber grommets squished against perpendicular posts to hold them in place. However, some vehicles such those manufactured by BMW may have other components and vacuum hoses mounted within the engine cover that makes it more complicated to remove and reinstall. In such a case, you should obtain the factory repair manual instructions before attempting to remove the cover yourself. Most instructions are accessible from the manufacturer’s online website for a small daily fee.
#3: Remove the Original Intake Hose
Remove the hose and band clamp that attaches the original air intake box to the throttle body using a screwdriver or small socket. The air hose should pop right off once the band clamp is adequately loosened.
#4: Fully Remove the Old Air Intake System
You may have to remove the old airbox, filter, and hose entirely to fit your new cold air intake. In some systems, you will have to work under the vehicle to install cold air intake ductwork. In any event, you should always keep your old system intact to reinstall it if you ever run into performance issues.
You can locate the airbox of your vehicle by looking for the largest hose that is attached to the throttle body of your engine. The airbox is usually black plastic and mounted in the engine bay on a frame with screws or bolts. The lid of this box can usually be unclipped with your fingers or a flathead screwdriver to make inspecting and changing the air filter easy. You may have to remove the engine cover before you can get to the airbox.
#5: Retrofit Sensors
Retrofit any sensors such as the Mass Air Flow (MAF) sensor in the new aftermarket cold air intake. The MAF is usually a thin coated wire contained within a small plastic cylinder. You will need to read the instructions that come with your cold air intake. This metal wire is extremely sensitive to temperature changes and allows your engine to fine-tune its fuel mapping.
There may also be a manifold absolute pressure (MAP) sensor or other air intake temperature sensors that need to be retrofitted in the new cold air intake system. Your MAF sensor may not be compatible with your new cold air intake system because it is calibrated for less restrictive flow and temperature ranges. Upgrading to a performance MAF sensor is usually a good idea.
How to Clean Cold Air Intake Filter
Special cleaners are available to spray on your filter when you see that there is visible clogging of the mesh filter substrate in any degree. To clean it, simply spray and soak the filter in the cleaner without allowing it to dry. Then, use a low-pressure stream of cool water to gentle rinse away any particles and cleaning solution. You may have to repeat these steps several times to get perfect results.
Once the filter has dried, you can reoil it by applying oil to the crowns of the filter and allowing it to wick away and cover the whole filter. The color of the filter typically brightens into a vivid red or blue when the oil is applied.
Do not overdo it when you apply the oil, however. Excess oil residue can be sucked into the throttle body and may coat the Mass Air Flow (MAF) sensor. When this happens, the engine can have difficulty in fuel mapping. In such a case, you would need to use MAF cleaner after the excess oil has passed through to regain proper sensitivity and calibration in your system.
What Does a Cold Air Intake Do to Gas Mileage?
Because the cold air intake allows for more complete combustion and efficiency, you can expect to see up to 3 or 5 miles per gallon increases in fuel economy. However, this is only if you continue to stay gentle on the throttle and drive at speeds of 55 or no more than 65 mph. You are more likely to see gains if you are upgrading your air intake system to one that draws cold air from outside of the engine bay instead of closer to the fenders. This is especially true if your engine was already built to draw in air from near the fenders but was limited by the bottleneck of the smaller hoses.
A cold air intake is a low-cost solution for owners who want a little more pep when they step on the pedal. Having extra power at your command and improved fuel economy for a few hundred dollars or less is an excellent value that can pay for itself at the pumps. You will also save yourself the expense of having to buy air filter replacements and will generally be able to space out cleanings to every 50,000 or 100,000 miles if don’t drive go off-roading.