Cold Air Intake Vs Air Filter: Usage, Power, Sound & Cost

By June 19, 2021July 19th, 2021Cold Air Intake

When compared, cold air intake provides more horsepower and better sound improvement than air filters. Generally, cold air intake can provide 20 additional horsepower and a unique sound during acceleration. 

Whereas air filters can provide up to 10 horsepower with minimal sound improvement (if using an open pod filter). However, cold air intake is much more expensive ($300) than air filters ($60) but is definitely worth it.

Personally, I have installed both K&N cold air intake and filters on my GMC Sierra before. The sound improvement from the intake is great. Horsepower and fuel economy is also improved (although not so much).

Overall I’m really happy with both but would like to talk about the key differences in them. I notice a lot of beginners confuse cold air intake and air filters in the forums. 

In this article, we are going to take a look at the different options that you have when it comes to fine tuning your vehicle. We compare regular filters with cold air intake and we will learn the differences. 

Specifically, we will go through important things like horsepower, sound gain, cost, warranty and many more. Trust me and read on!

Cold Air Intake Vs Air Filter

  Cold Air Intake Drop In Filter Open Pod Filter
Horsepower gains 20 hp 5 hp 10 hp
Sound gain Louder wind sound None Slightly more engine sound
Cost $350 $59 $49
Maintenance Cleaning every 100k miles Regular washing and oiling Regular washing and oiling
Warranty 10 year 10 year 10 year
Is It Legal? Yes Yes Yes
Could damage engine Yes No Yes
Tune required No No No

Horsepower Gains: Cold Air Intake Vs Air Filter

With whichever option you go with (cold air intake or air filter), they could give you some horsepower. But it is important to know cold air intake provides more horsepower than air filters. 

With a cold air intake provides you the most horsepower at about 20 additional horsepower. This happens because cold air intake allows you to re-route your stock intake to suck cold air instead of hot air from the engine bay. 

The drop-in air filter will deliver the least of all three, it is known that with an aftermarket drop-in air filter you can get around 5 horsepower – which isn’t significant at all, honestly.

Open pod filter will deliver a better punch in horsepower numbers at 10+ horsepower. Pretty good gain for $49, in my opinion. Open pod filters provide more horsepower than drop-in because they are more exposed and less restrictive.

Related articles:

K&N Cold Air Intake

Cold air intake is less restrictive and allows your car to take in cooler air – resulting in performance gain.

Sound Gains: Cold Air Intake Vs Air Filter

The sound gains are enormous if you are rocking a cold air intake. It’s a unique sound  created when air rushes into the intake – very satisfying.

Air filters, on the other hand, are lacking a bit in the sound department, especially the drop-in filter.

The cold air intake is famous for the sound that it produces when you rev your engine up. It is a deep sound that is unique. You instantly notice a car that is running on a cold air intake.

Here’s a YouTube video that shows you exactly what I am talking about. See 3:59.


The drop-in filters that fit in your intake box do not change the sound at all. You are basically stuck with your factory sound. With this option, you will not feel any difference in terms of sound.

The open pod air filter does not have an airbox – which means you will hear more engine sound when you rev up. Not that significant – but noticeable depending on the engine size.

Related articles:

Cone Air Filter

Pod air filters replace the existing airbox and does not have any tubing. Because it’s widely exposed, you can hear louder engine sound when using pod filters.

Cost: Cold Air Intake Vs Air Filter

Cold air intake costs more than a good old regular filter – about $350 for a good pair of K&N cold air intake. Whereas performance air filters cost about $49 – $59 for good pairs of reusable ones. 

So, if you do not have a budget to get a cold air intake it is a better idea to go for an Open Pod. With this filter, you will gain more horsepower on the engine and also get a good sound out of it.

I personally have installed K&N cold air intake and filters on my car and absolutely loved it (especially the sound). Here’s an article I made about choosing the right cold air intake:

Best Cold Intake: Which To Purchase & What To Look For? 

As for air filter, I have yet to create an in-depth buying guide. But you could find plenty of K&N air filter from Amazon. They are pretty cheap too.

Maintenance: Cold Air Intake Vs Air Filter

Any aftermarket filter requires cleaning – be it drop-in,  cold air intake or open pod filters.

Cleaning will make the filters last for a long time – providing you performance without side effects on the engine.

Cold air intake may be less sensitive to these cleaning cycles. My recommendation is to clean them after about 100K miles or so. It can be done the same way as performance air filters using soap water, and air filter oil.

Drop-in and open pod filters absolutely require re-oiling every 50,000 miles. Maybe even more, depending on the environment you drive in. Monitor your air filters more often when driving in a dirty or sandy environment.

 Related articles:

Warranty: Cold Air Intake Vs Air Filter

Cold air intakes usually have an unlimited mile 10-year warranty. This will be enough for the time you have your vehicle in your possession. Cold air intakes are durable and last for a lifetime with no problem. 

Air filters also have a big warranty especially if it is a brand like K&N. They offer a 10-year warranty on their air filters.

But using a cold air intake may void your warranty on your vehicle so keep this in mind. Especially if you own a new car that is factory warranted. 

Cold air intakes are one of the first mods that people apply when they get a new car but this is a bad idea. Many dealerships void the intake warranty when they see the factory airbox is removed.

So, it’s better to keep your factory airbox in case you need it and reinstall it back on your car before you take it to the shop.

Is It Legal?: Cold Air Intake Vs Air Filter

Cold air intakes and performance air filters are legal in most states. It generally depends on the product and manufacturer.

If the product has an Executive Order (EO) number, then it should be legal in all US states.

Well known brands like K&N should have EO numbers on all their cold air intakes or filters. Otherwise, question the shops that you are getting it from – they should have better answers about these.

Potential To Damage Engine: Cold Air Intake Vs Air Filter

The cold air intake and open pod filters have the potential to cause major damage to your engine if you allow water to enter the engine and cause a hydrolock.

This is where the engine doesn’t start because of water damage.

If you want to keep your engine safe when you are running cold air intake, please do not run the car in deep water or mud – especially if you have re-routed the intake to the bottom part of your engine bay. 

You can prevent water from entering the cold air intake or open pod filters by using products like hydroshield. They wrap around the filters and only allow air through.

You can find plenty from Amazon but this is the hydroshield that I have personally used on my intake.

Image of Hydro Shield

Hydroshield covers the cold air intake or pod filters to prevent hydrolock


Drop in air filters on the other hand do not make a big difference and it will be ok to run your car in some higher water levels.

 But I personally would never do this. Because you never know what may happen and still you may ruin your engine. The best thing to do is stay away from deep water and floods.

Tuning Required: Cold Air Intake Vs Air Filter

Tuning is not required for cold air intake or performance air filters installation. The impact to air/fuel ratio is insignificant and your engine will still run fine.

Doing tuning just for cold air intake or air filters is a waste of money. My suggestion is to wait until you install more aftermarket products like exhaust or headers. 

This way, you have the chance to tweak many attributes and unlock much more horsepower by tuning just once. (Instead of spending money and tuning every time you install new products)

Related article:

Does Cold Air Intake Replace Air Filter?

A cold air intake does replace the air filter in your vehicle. It does not make a difference between the two, except how they are mounted. Drop-in air filters simply replace the existing filter. 

Whereas cold air intake gives you the option to reroute your intake – allowing your intake to suck air from cooler areas. Installing cold air intake means you are replacing the stock air box and air filter.

Cold air intake replace this airbox and its tubing. Drop-in filters merely replace the existing air filter inside that airbox.

Should You Install Cold Air Intake Or Air Filter?

This depends much on the goal you want to achieve and also on your budget. Because cold air intakes are pricier and may hurt your wallet. 

For example, if you opt for more sound and performance then the cold air intake will be perfect for your application. Personally, I would go in this direction if I were you, and I already did, since I’m running in cold air on my GMC.

If you want to have the ability to reuse your filter and never replace it again. The drop-in air filter is right for you. Your car will run more efficiently and you will also save some money on gas.

If you want to gain more power and sound, but your budget is very low. Then going to a pod filter is the right choice for you. 

With this filter, you will have the best of both worlds. Power and also sound. Pod filters also sound meaner like the cold air intakes, even though they produce a bit less power than the more expensive cold air intake.

Ifandi L.

Ifandi L.

Passionate about everything mechanical. Ifandi has been involved with motorcycles and cars since the old days - in his family's auto parts shop. Want to keep in touch? Scream "STRAIGHT PIPEEEEE" at the top of your lungs and Ifandi will show up.

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