How to Choose a Performance Air Intake

March 18, 2013

If you want a high-performance car feel without spending the thousands extra for a high-end model, a performance air intake is a good way to add horsepower. There are several intakes to choose from, including Open Air Intakes, Sealed Car Intakes and Ram Intakes, and we will discuss the benefits and drawbacks of each in this article. Here is what you need to do to choose the right air intake for your car.

Step 1. Figure out how much Space You have Under the Hood

Performance air intakes, as the name implies, takes in more air from outside, and are generally wider and straighter than factory intakes, resulting in more air and better fuel-air mixture for more several more points of horsepower. They also take up more space. So the more space you have between the engine block and body, the more options you have for air intakes.

Step 2. Consider the Trade-offs in Performance

There are three kinds of air intakes, each with their own advantages and disadvantages. The most basic is called Ram-air. The next step up is the open element intake. And at the high end, there is the sealed air intake system.

Step 3. Performance vs. Convenience

If you are not a hardcore street racer and just want a little boost to your engine's horsepower, you would probably be best off with a Ram-air intake. This one consists of a short metal pipe connected to an air filter on one end. It also is positioned generally in the same position as stock air intakes, making it a good fit for smaller cars with little extra room around the engine. Ram-air systems are sometimes criticized for having the same problems as the stock: that because of its location it still takes in warm air. It is due to this that ram-airs and other intakes functioning on the same principle are often called Warm-Air-Intakes. To help offset the effects of warmer air, most ram-air intakes have a heat shield; and although the increase to engine power is small, it is still noticeable, and ram-air systems are easily fitted onto most engines.

Step 4. Performance vs. Maintenance

If you want more cold air coming into your engine faster, you can do no better than an open-element intake. As the name implies, these systems work on the premise of an exposed intake. Other intakes are housed inside an "air box" which filters out dirt and debris but unfortunately also limit the amount of air taken in. The open-element intake has no such air box, with just a short layer of oil to trap dust and other particles. The good news is, it takes in a lot more air. The bad news - it also takes in more dirt, requiring frequent cleaning and replacement. If you don't want the added hassle of taking apart and cleaning the intake, you can go with the more expensive sealed-air intake, or downgrade a bit with a ram-air.

Step 5. Performance vs Price

Sealed-air systems are generally considered the gold standard of air intakes, and of the three types mentioned in the article provides the most power. The "seal" of sealed-air intake systems minimizes the hot air taken in. It also is the most expensive and difficult to install - achieving a good seal is far from easy. In addition to buying the expensive system, you may also have to go to a professional mechanic to properly install it. And lastly, since some sealed-air system are forbidden in certain states (particularly California) due to environmental regulations, if you drive with sealed air where it is illegal you risk the added expense of having to swap it out if you get caught.

Step 6. Add Optional Accessories

Bypass Filters

Performance air intakes are usually low to the ground, and in places with a lot of rain or water on the roads that can scoop up water along with air into the engine, resulting in "hydrolock". More commonly known as engine failure. If you live in areas with heavy rain, add water bypass filters to your intake to channel the water away from the sensitive parts of the engine.


Bigger air tubes means more noise from inside the engine. If you want to muffle that sound a bit, add a resonator, which is also present in most stock intakes. For a small drop in horsepower, you gain a significant amount of noise reduction.

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