Do Cold Air Intakes Add Horsepower?

So you are a car enthusiast and heard that cold air intake actually increases the performance of your car. Is it true?

Well, yes. Installing cold air intake on your car will likely add horsepower. They won’t add as much horsepower as other engine modifications (Up to 5-20 horsepower according to the manufacturers). However, they are comparatively cheap to purchase and install at a few hundred dollars.

Let’s go more in depth into cold air intake and understand what it is all about.

What is cold air intake? 

Cold air intake as the name suggests, is a piece of equipment that helps deliver cold air into your car’s combustion chamber. To put it simply, your car engine needs to suck air and burn oxygen to combust and produce power to turn the car wheels. With some science from high school, we know that cold air is more dense and thus it can hold more molecules (like oxygen). More oxygen = more combustion = more power. Simple enough? 😉

The cold air intake aims to reroute how air is delivered to your car engine. Instead of sucking air that is located near the hot engine, cold air intake sucks colder air outside the engine compartment. Usually closer to the front wheel where there is more access to free flowing and colder air. The cold air intake will replace your car’s stock air intake.

Cold Air Intake Image

Pros of cold air intake

Improved performance

Like I mentioned above, cold air intake helps to reroute how air is delivered to your car engine, for a more colder air and more oxygen for combustion. More oxygen = more combustion = more power.

 

Relatively Cheap

Purchasing and installing a cold air intake is relatively cheap when compared to other performance modifications like superchargers and exhaust systems. For $259 you can get this K&N cold air intake from Amazon. Note that K&N is the industry leader when it comes to the air intake system for cars.

 

Engine Roar Like a Boss

Are you that type of person who loves a good roar when you accelerate? If you are – nuff said. Cold air intake is for you, my friend! 😉 

Jokes aside, you will notice a considerable sound difference when you accelerate after installing a cold air intake. This is due to 2 main reasons:

  • The stock air system is always designed to be silent. Removing this will inevitably increase the volume.
  • Cold air intake typically allows more air to flow to your engine. With a more intense air flow, the sound will also inevitably get more intense

Before you decide on whether getting a cold air intake or not, I highly suggest that you listen to the before and after sound. Aside from the performance, the engine roar will be the aspect you notice the most. 

This is a link to a YouTube video, comparing the sound before and after installing cold air intake.

 

Requires Less Maintenance 

Stock air intake typically requires its paper filters to be replaced after 15,000 miles. Whereas a cold air intake usually comes with air filters that need to be cleaned every 40,000 – 50,000 miles. Cleaning it is easy – simply wash it with soap water and rinse it with cold water. No special tools or replacements required!

 

Improved gas mileage 

I would take this advice with a pinch of salt. From my own experience, I have not felt any improvement on my mileage. However, theoretically speaking – cold air intake is linked to a more efficient fuel consumption. With more supply of oxygen, your engine needs to burn less fuel in order to provide for the power you need. Again, take this with a pinch of salt. Having a cold air intake to improve performance without sacrificing fuel consumption is already good enough.

Cons of cold air intake

Water Damage

AKA Hydro Locking. This is when water goes into the cold air intake and goes straight into your car engine. This will result in damages to the internal engine and it could be tricky to fix. To make matters worse, only a spoonful of water is needed to cause a hydro lock. But don’t worry though, typical rain and snow are less likely to cause hydro locking. Just ensure that you are not driving through standing water high enough to reach your car bumper. 

To prevent hydro locking, you could install a hydro shield on your cold air intake. A hydro shield is essentially a waterproof cloth that covers your cold air intake. Allowing only air to pass. Not to worry, a hydro shield is not expensive and can be easily installed without much skills. Here’s a hydro shield from Amazon at $27

Image of Hydro Shield

Voids Warranty

Installing a cold air intake on a newer car will most likely void its warranty. If this is a brand new car, I suggest to wait out a little before making any modification to your car. Or at least understand that this could become a problem down the road. With great power comes great responsibility right? 🙂 

 

Inaccurate MAF Reading

MAF Sensor is a piece of equipment that reads the amount of air going into your car engine. This is required to keep an optimal air to fuel ratio, which in turn is required to ensure your car runs at an optimal condition. 

By default, the MAF sensor in your car is calibrated to work with the stock air intake system (duh!). Changing into an aftermarket cold air intake system will most likely cause an inaccurate reading to the MAF sensor. Which results in a non-optimal air to fuel ratio. This means the possibility of backfiring, non-optimal performance and worse, problems starting your car.

To prevent this issue, you need to ensure ANY of below:

  • Purchase a cold air intake with the same diameter as the stock air intake. 
  • Have a mechanic re-calibrate your car’s computer system to ensure it works with your cold air intake 

 

Sound

I discussed this as a pro earlier. However, this point is really subjective. Some folks absolutely love it while others hate it. Again – aside from performance, the sound difference will be the aspect you notice most. Please make sure you don’t hate it before making the modification. 

How do I install cold air intake? 

Installing a cold air intake into your car is not complicated. In the high level, it consists of below steps:

  • Wait till your car has cooled off completely
  • Unplug your car battery
  • Remove your stock air intake by unscrewing them
  • Install your new cold air intake by using screws and some hose clamp to secure them in place
  • Reattach your car battery
  • Take it for a test drive

I know I may have made it sound simpler than it actually is. You will most likely need to climb under your car to complete the installation. This is because a cold air intake needs to suck air from outside the engine compartment.

Here is a link to a wikihow page on installation guide (with pictures).

Should I install cold air intake on my car?

So now comes the big decision – should you install cold air intake on your car or not? Personally speaking, adding a cold air intake is a cheap way to increase horsepower. Yes, it comes with some drawbacks. However, for each drawback I have already provided you a solution or at least measures to prevent them. 

If you are a car enthusiast who cares about performance, installing a cold air intake will probably be the beginning of your journey on car modifications. At least for most of us anyway :). I recommend you give it a shot and follow your passion. 

Which muffler is your car right now?

Check out the cold air intake from K&N. I personally think it’s the best. I covered that in more detail in this article. Best Cold Air Intake

Conclusion

In this quick writeup I explained that cold air intake is an equipment that helps deliver cold air into your car’s combustion chamber with the goal of increasing performance. Cold air increases performance because it is more dense and consists of more oxygen than hot air. With more oxygen in the combustion chamber, your engine will be able to combust more and deliver more power. 

For the pros – Apart from the performance gain, cold air intake is also relatively cheap to purchase and install. A cold air intake will change the way your engine sounds. So it is advisable for you to ensure you like the new sound before making the modification. 

For the cons – a cold air intake makes your car vulnerable to water damage. With an exposed air intake, water can easily slip into your car engine and cause hydro locking. Though this is easy to prevent by using a hydro shield on your cold air intake. Furthermore, installing a cold air intake would most likely require you to re-calibrate your car’s MAF sensor. This is needed to ensure the air intake reading is accurate, allowing your car to have an optimal air to fuel ratio.

I hope this article has been useful for you!

Ifandi S.

Ifandi S.

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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