4 Things to Know Before Buying Cold Air Intake Kits

October 31, 2012

For the beginning automotive performance enthusiast, cold air intake kits are a tempting proposition. Most kits are easy to install, quite affordable, and can offer substantial performance gains. especially on turbocharged vehicles, but not all kits are equal. Cool air intake and short ram intake kits vary quite a bit in their design as well as in their performance, so before purchasing a kit, there are a few important things you should know.

1. Does the Intake Incorporate a Thermal barrier?

Intake systems may ingest their air from a cool, dense source, but if the intake is not protected against thermal contamination, power gains may be minimal. Construction from a material that resists heat transfer such as certain plastics or composites, such as carbon fiber, can have a huge impact on intake temperature, as can a thermal barrier coating such as those made from zirconium or ceramic.

2. Does the Intake use an Oiled Filter Element?

Oiled filter elements tend to offer decent filtration, but can pose a problem when it comes to air metering devices such as mass air flow units. During normal use, countless microscopic particles of oil can contaminate airflow meters, and over time cause failure or malfunction. For vehicles with Mass Airflow Units, sticking to an intake that uses a dry filtering element will reduce trouble down the road.

3. Is the Intake CARB approved?

For those living in California, California Air Resource Board approval, or a CARB exemption order is an important aspect to look into. Any modification to the intake or exhaust system of a vehicle operated on public roads must be approved and certified to not inhibit or affect the emissions controls of the vehicle. What this means simply, is that in California, an intake system must have a CARB EO number, or you may be fined or have your car impounded.

4. Is Water Ingestion a Concern?

In areas with regular rainfall,  cold air intakes that draw their air from the fender well or the bottom part of the bumper may be at risk of ingestion water should the vehicle be driven through water more than a few inches deep. Companies such as AEM offer a bypass valve to prevent ingestion of water on their cold air intakes, while others may use a two piece design that allows conversion to a short ram intake by removing the lower portion in order to prevent water ingestion. If the intake does not include one of these features, and you live in an area with heavy rainfall, you may need to be especially careful, or you may face extensive engine damage.

Cold air intakes offer a lot of advantages, but like any modification, care must be taken when choosing the product or engine damage may result. Cold air intakes are a very common modification offered by a variety of companies and as such, many are designed with profit in mind rather than safe, reliable performance. By checking the above four points against the intake in question, you can greatly reduce the chances of problems in the future.