Open box air intake systems provide better sound improvement whereas closed box air intakes provide better cooling to the air flow – which means more horsepower gain.
The debate on open vs closed box air has been going on forever. Some swear by the open systems while others the close systems.
Both have their pros and cons but that’s why I am here! As someone who has used both open and closed air intakes, I know exactly what they offer.
In this article, I will compare both air intakes in detail – ranging from performance, sound, engine damage to stuff like costs and installation.
By the end of this article, I promise you can distinguish them by their pros and cons easily and get the right one for yourself. Otherwise, having the knowledge to share with your buddies is also pretty cool, right?
Open Vs Closed Box Air Intake
Open air intakes are not enclosed within any box. They are open and widely exposed to allow more air flow.
Open air intakes are great when it comes to increasing air flow and improving the intake sound (more later).
Closed box air intakes are enclosed within a box (AKA airbox). They allow air to enter from small openings.
Closed box air intakes protect the intake from heat around the engine bay. This means air is cooler and performance is improved.
Open and closed air intake systems have lots of differences. I have listed them in the table below for you to skim through.
For more explanation, read on till the end! We go through each of them in detail.
|Open Box Intake||Closed Box Intake|
|Performance gain||5 hp||5-10 hp|
|Price||Varies on brand||Varies on brand|
|Can damage engine||Yes||No|
|Tune required||No (Optional)||No (Optional)|
|Affected from engine heat||Yes||No|
Performance Gain: Open Vs Closed Box Air Intake
Closed box air intake provides better performance than the open box counterpart.
On average, you can gain 5-10 horsepower from closed box cold air intake. Whereas below 5 horsepower gain from open cold air intake.
This mainly happens because closed box air intake provides better cooling than open air intake.
The enclosing box protects the actual intake from heating up. You have to remember the engine bay gets very hot when you drive.
Depending on where your air intake is located, it can heat up quickly. Especially if it’s located near the engine or turbo – you end up sucking in hot air and reducing performance.
Note: the horsepower gains above are on average and should come from just the installation (no tuning required). I don’t really recommend tuning just for air intake (more on this later).
Sound Gain: Open Vs Closed Box Air Intake
Open air intake provides much better sound improvement than a closed box air intake. This happens because the enclosing box acts as sound suppression for the closed box intake.
When installing a closed box air intake, don’t expect any sound improvement – you won’t get any of it. Closed box air intake is installed only with performance in mind.
When installing an open air intake, you will hear the unique sound of air breezing into the intake as you accelerate. It will not make your engine louder but instead, you will hear the additional sound of air.
Honestly, the sound improvement is my most favorite thing from a cold air intake. Not the performance or looks but the sound.
I talk more about cold air intake and its sound in this article – Does Cold Air Intake Make Your Car Louder?
As for the unique sound of air, listen to this YouTube video and you know what I am talking about. Skip to 3:59.
Price: Open Vs Closed Box Air Intake
The cost of open and closed box air intake varies depending on the brand. Though, the good ones from reputable brands start at about $300 – $350.
You can definitely get cheaper intakes from other brands – but should you really?
I believe you should only get car parts from reputable brands. These parts stay with you for a long time and saving money on them can be more expensive in the long run.
I’ve had some experience with getting brandless parts that breakdown after a few months. In the end, I spend even more money from trying to fix them or buying a new set altogether.
For open cold air intakes, reputable brands like K&N and Spectre are great. For closed air intakes, look for Volant or S&B.
I have an article here where I shared what to look for when getting cold air intake. I generally prefer open intakes because of the sound. If you feel the same, here you go – Best Cold Air Intake: What To Look For
Can Damage Engine: Open Vs Closed Box Air Intake
Open air intake has the risks of hydrolocking when you drive over a puddle of water. This is when water gets inside the air intake and enters your engine. It’s also more prone to allowing more dirt inside.
Closed box air intake does not have any risks of damaging the engine. It’s safe and all stock air intakes are closed-box.
As you can tell by now, open air intakes are completely exposed. This is good for air flow but also prone to damages by allowing more impurities in.
Of course, this is just an associated risk. It does not mean that your engine will be damaged after installing an open air intake.
All cold air intakes that are less restrictive are bound to allow impurities like dirt inside the engine. In most cases, small amounts are fine – it will just cause minor wear and tear damages over time.
If you are daily driving on a regular city street – both open and closed air intake will not cause any damages.
If you are daily driving on sandy roads with lots of dust and dirt, then an open air intake is not the best choice.
If you relocate your open air intake to the bottom of the engine bay, then it’s much more prone to water damage if you drive over a puddle of water.
In any case, regularly clean your air filter and don’t drive over any puddle of water and you should be good.
If you are paranoid, you could look to install an open air intake with a hydroshield. This is a product that you wrap around your air intake – it prevents water from entering your intake. Pretty good for it’s cheap price.
Tune Required: Open Vs Closed Box Air Intake
Both open and closed box air intake does not need tuning to work. You can tune them to unlock more potential and get the most performance out of it, but it’s not required.
Personally, I don’t think tuning your car just for a cold air intake install is worth it. You will not get much more horsepower out of it and tuning doesn’t come cheap.
The air flow improvement introduced by a cold air intake is not significant enough to give drastic horsepower gain (even with tuning).
My recommendation would be not to tune just for a cold air intake install. Instead, keep your money and install other parts like exhaust and headers first.
Once you have installed more parts like exhausts, headers and intakes – then you can look into tuning your car and expect a major horsepower gain.
I actually have written about this topic here – Do I Need To Tune After Installing Cold Air Intake?
Installation: Open Vs Closed Box Air Intake
Installation of an open air intake is much easier than a closed box air intake. Open intake requires lesser space and has lesser parts to worry about.
Taking off an open air intake is also easier. This is useful because you have to regularly clean the filter on your air intakes!
If this is your first mod and you want to install it yourself, an open air intake is definitely the better approach.
You could also have a workshop install the cold air intake for you – but they cost money. Maybe less than $100 depending on the relationship you have with the shop.
I recommend trying to install cold air intake yourself. It’s not that hard and there are plenty of YouTube videos to guide you.
Looks Better: Open Vs Closed Box Air Intake
Open air intake definitely looks better than closed box air intake. The air filters that come with an open intake are usually colorful – like purple, blue and red.
Open air intake significantly improves the look of your engine bay.
Having said that, some closed box air intakes also provide a glass option – which means you can see through your colorful air filter.
I personally think an open air intake looks much better but hey, it’s a personal preference. Just know your options!
Should You Install Open Box Or Closed Box Air Intake?
- Closed box air intake provides more horsepower gain
- Open air intake provides better sound improvement
- Both intakes don’t require tuning
- Open air intake can cause hydrolocking if water gets inside it
I have installed both versions and personally, I prefer the open box air intake. The sound improvement it provides is amazing and I absolutely love it.
Both the closed and open air intakes do not provide much horsepower. You don’t look to install air intakes for power! Look for exhaust systems instead.
So what do you think? Open or closed air intake? I have given you all my thoughts and knowledge. Now it’s up to you to decide.