A Guide to Performance Cold Air Intake Systems

March 28, 2012

A great way to increase fuel economy is to add a cold air intake system. Learn how cold air intakes work, and how to install one yourself.

Cold Air Intake Installation

More people modifying their fuel injected cars for high performance and increased mileage are adding high performance cold air intake systems. The air intake in your vehicle is a crucial part of the combustion process that powers the car, and a high performance intake will help to increase your overall horsepower and speed considerably. The intake manifold is responsible for channeling air and fuel to the engine. The horsepower and power potential of a car is based almost entirely upon how quickly and efficiently the engine can combust this mixture of air and gasoline. The better the intake manifold is at delivering this mixture, the more powerful your vehicle will be.

If you have a basic set of hand tools, the proper instructions and some helpful illustrations, installing a performance cold air intake system is quite easy and won't be terribly expensive.

Why Go Cold Air

The simple answer to why you would want to install a performance cold air intake is power. For every eleven degrees of temperature drop, you receive a corresponding increase of one horsepower. A free flowing air filter and a properly installed high performance cold air intake system can end up giving you an increase of up to fifty horsepower.

What It Entails

The installation of a high performance cold air intake system is actually quite easy. You replace the fresh air intake pipe and the new pipe is routed to ensure the coldest possible air reaches the intake manifold and combustion chambers. Tools required shouldn't be anything more than a Phillips and a flathead screwdriver. An adjustable wrench may be required to remove a nut from a mounting bracket. Some systems ship with a cold air box. This is an insulated box to ensure that only cold air is sucked into the intake and your engine. These are especially popular on diesel engines.


There are a wide variety of manufacturers of cold air intake systems. K&N is the recognized leader in the performance air intake systems market. Volant is a relatively new entrant in the market.

Increasing Horsepower with a High Performance Intake Manifold

A high performance intake manifold is much more efficient at delivering a higher quantity of the air and fuel mixture into the engine. This allows the engine to combust faster and the horsepower levels to increase considerably. There are a few considerations you should keep in mind before you go searching for a high performance intake manifold.

First of all, the intake manifold for your vehicle should be the same size and capacity as the one already installed in your car. This eliminates compatibility concerns.

If other parts of your vehicle's combustion system are not working properly or as efficiently as they could be, improving the intake manifold will not considerably help to boost the horsepower in your car. Be sure that everything else in the combustion system is prepared for a new intake manifold and can function at a higher level.

How to Install a High Performance Intake

There are many different types of intake systems and each will have specific instructions. The steps here provide a basic overview of the intake installation. You will need the following tools and materials:

  • A new intake
  • An air filter
  • A socket wrench
  • Pliers
  • Screwdrivers
  • Jacks

Match Engine to Parts

It is very important that you purchase aftermarket parts that match the make and model of your vehicle. Not all parts work with all engines. A common car will be much easier to find performance parts for. Normally the year, model, and engine information is all that is needed to match parts. However a more specialized vehicle may be more difficult to find performance parts for.

Disconnect the Car Battery

An important safety is to unplug the negative, or black, wire on the car battery. This will ensure that you cannot accidentally shock yourself or the engine cannot accidentally turn on during installation.

Remove the Old Intake

Remove the entire old stock intake. The air filter is located in a large plastic box. The tube running from this box will also need to be removed. The air filter and hoses are normally attached using clamps. Use a pair of pliers or screwdriver to loosen and remove these clamps. Several air sensors need to be replaced as well. These simply screw into the side of the intake. Use a screwdriver to remove them. The intake itself is bolted into the car. Use a wrench to loosen the bolts and get help when removing the intake.

Install the New Air Filter

Bolt the new air box into place. Ensure that the new air filter is not damaged and is pre-oiled. Place this at the end of the intake pipe and use a hose clamp to secure it in place. Pull gently on the filter to ensure that it is securely in place.

Install Intake Hoses and Hose Clamps

Sometimes, a new intake will not have the same number of hoses for the number of holes on the intake pipe. If there are fewer vacuum hoses, simply plug up the extra holes with grommets. Attach the silicone coupling to the throttle body and then tighten the hose clamp on the coupling. Put an additional hose clamp on the front of this coupling, but don't tighten it.

Install the Intake Tube

Put the intake tube into the throttle body silicone coupling. Tighten the second hose clamp, and secure the tube along its route with brackets. The intake tube should be very secure and not rattle.

Install the Sensors

At minimum, a mass air flow sensor will need to be installed. Simply screw this into place. Attach any replacement sensors if necessary. Reconnect the battery and then check to ensure the engine is running properly.

Replacing Intake Parts

Replacing stock parts with high performance parts can provide some of the most noticeable power boosts to your engine.

Air Filter

Most auto air intake filters are made of cotton, foam, or paper. High performance filters focus on improving the aerodynamics and air compression. An easy way to increase your vehicle's performance and keep it at that level is to frequently clean the air filter. When the filter becomes clogged, it is more difficult for air to pass into the intake. This means the engine has to work harder, which consumes more fuel. Regularly checking and cleaning the air filter is an easy way to achieve excellent performance.

Inlet Pipe

Another easy upgrade is the inlet pipe. Most stock inlet pipes are made of silicon and can collapse when there is a high flow rate, as a vacuum is created. A high performance inlet pipe is made of stainless steel will not collapse. It produces the maximum amount of internal area for the best air flow through the intake.

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