Performance Air Filter Vs Cold Air Intake: Pros & Cons

Performance air filters and cold air intake will both increase the power, deliver a better horsepower rating, and can improve the sound of your car, especially cold air intake. Both of them are a pretty good replacement for your factory air filter.

Money wise, air filters usually cost around $50 – $80, cold air filters on the other hand are more expensive and can cost more than $300.

In the past, I was using many different types of filters but nothing replaces the good old cold air intake.

Personally, I’m running a cold air intake on my RAM 1500. I dig the sound it produces when I floor the throttle. It also produces a lot of power compared to other filters. Around 30+ HP increase, to be more exact. If you have the budget and a good engine, cold air is a no-brainer, to be frank.

In this article, we are going to compare air filters and cold air intake in detail. Basically, everything you need to know. No, seriously.. Everything like performance, sound, price, tuning and many more.

Let’s go.

Cone Air Filter

There are different types of air filters, Cone and Flat Air Filter

Performance Air Filter Vs Cold Air Intake

Performance Air Filter Cold Air Intake
Performance gain 10 HP 30 HP
Sound gain YES YES
Price $70 $300
Can damage engine NO YES
Tune required NO YES
Installation EASY DIFFICULT
Void Warranty NO YES
Legal YES DEPENDS

Performance gain with cold air intake is more obvious, because it is able to suck cooler (denser) air to the engine to generate greater power in the combustion chamber.

Ordinary performance filters on the other hand, only benefits the engine by only allowing cleanest air possible for more power. However not all air filters can perform equally.

In order to get the most power, longest life and best fuel economy out of your engine, I would recommend choosing products from a reputable brand. 

Check out these reasonably priced premium quality Cone Air Filters or Flat Air Filters that I got from Amazon. It works like a charm! 

Sound Gain: Air Filter Vs Cold Air Intake

Cold air filters can create louder and meaner sound. 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 bigger the filter the more air is able to suck into the engine, therefore the cold air filter is capable of creating a mean deep tone. Very satisfying growl when you put your foot on acceleration, yet quiet once at speed.

However, in some places, cold air intake is illegal. 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.

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

Price: Air Filter Vs Cold Air Intake

Performance filters are much cheaper than cold air intake filters. Cold air intakes are more complicated and will be pricier and may hurt your wallet.

A performance air filter is going to cost you around $50 – $80, compared to a cold air filter that comes with a whole install kit and a tune that costs $300 – $500. 

It really depends much on the goal you want to achieve and also on your budget. A set of performance air filters will be going to give you some power for a fraction of the price.

Risks Of Engine Damage: Air Filter Vs Cold Air Intake

Cold air filters may have slightly more risk of damaging your engine. The cold air filter is a more complex mod and it may put express stress on the engine. 

The cold air intake also has the potential to cause major damage to your engine if you allow water to enter the engine and cause a hydrolock.

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.

Better safe than sorry, you can find plenty from Amazon but this is the hydroshield that I have personally used on my intake. I also like how it’s able to catch all debris. 

Cold air intakes sometimes may also require a tune to work properly compared to performance air filters which do not require this tune. 

This tune tweaks with your fuel to air mixture and will be programmed to inject more fuel into the engine. Injectors and fuel pumps may take a big toll on this. Also, the engine components will suffer. 

This can potentially put a lot of stress onto your engine and can cause it to wear off prematurely.

Tune Required: Air Filter Vs Cold Air Intake

No, you don’t need to tune your car after installing a cold air intake or air filter. Tuning your car is expensive and for doing it only to optimize is not worth the money. Unless you also install some other parts that are required to tune.

Air filter and cold air intake will work well, without a tune and it will not cause any damage to your car if not tuned. 

I would suggest you 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.

RELATED ARTICLE: Do I Need A Tune After Installing Cold Air Intake?

Installation: Air Filter Vs Cold Air Intake

Installing air filters is easier than installing cold air intake.

Which muffler is your car right now?

With a performance filter, you get a small kit with the filter and attaching clamps. The process of installation is pretty straightforward and does not require any plumbing knowledge. 

Cold air intake is actually not too difficult to install. It can be done with a screwdriver, pliers and a ratchet-set in 90 minutes. The K&N Cold Air Intake that I got from Amazon comes with intake kits to use existing factory holes and mounting points. (Thumbs up!)

Is ECU tuning legal?

It is legal to tune your ECU,  if done moderately. However, ECU tuning is a surefire way to void your car warranty, but no one can fine you if you ECU tune your car.

Different states around the US have different laws, some are stricter and some are not. For example, if you live in California, you will probably not be able to pass the inspection at your local DMV. 

Failing an inspection can be caused by many things, but in this case, it will be caused by your carbon footprint.

Cars from the factory have specific values that need to comply with in order to pass the smog inspection. If you have tuned your car for better performance, in some cases, you may find out that you cannot pass the inspection, until you bring it back to factory spec. 

If you tune your car for better fuel economy, you will be fine. Because tuning to increase fuel mileage will not harm the engine and is eco-friendly.

LEARN MORE: ECU Tuning On Warranty & Insurance: Is It Legal & How To Reverse

Can ECU Tuning Be Detected?

ECU remapping can be detected by dealerships. The data can be detected with an OBD2 scanner, and can be identified easily if your car has a different engine mapping value.

This is how data in ECU memory represented

Generally, cars will be inspected when involved in an accident, especially if they are heavily crashed, mainly to determine the reasons behind the crash. So, if you have heavily tuned your car and crashed it. 

However, some experts can dive into the computer and see when these changes were applied. So, it depends on how skilled mechanics you are having at your dealership to investigate this issue.

Besides this, there are more things OBD2 can do!

You might see warning lights on your dashboard. I highly recommend anyone to get this code reader just to keep in your tool box.

Having yourself a basic diagnostic code reader will be great to determine the cause and find a solution. The scanners are able to detect the engine system and read or erase error codes.

I found several affordable ones from Amazon, and I have bought this Universal OBD2 Diagnostic Tool, which works pretty amazing.

The reader is very easy to use. You will just need to locate where the reader would plug into your car. You can choose to clear the codes after you read them which will likely turn off the Check Engine light.

Void Warranty: Air Filter Vs Cold Air Intake

Installing performance air filters will not affect your warranty or insurance if you still have your stock filter, but cold air intake may make you lose your car warranty.

It is a good idea to check your agreement with your dealership and see which mods are allowed and which of the mods are not allowed. 

This will make sure that you don’t lose your warranty because not all dealerships and insurance companies will allow this type of modding on a car that is under warranty.

RELATED ARTICLE: Performance Air Filters: Insurance, Warranty & The Law

Legal: Air Filter Vs Cold Air Intake

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

California prohibits installing these filters on your car because of the environmental impact and sound pollution.

Check your state and local laws, because some places have noise restrictions and more strict emission standards.

Cold air intakes can produce a deep sound that can be disturbing for some people. I guess not everyone is a car guy and enjoys installing mods… 

You may even be disallowed to register your vehicle. They won’t stay within sound ordinances and will not meet the emission standards. If you live in a big city, you might face a bigger risk for a hefty fine.

If you are running your car moderately maybe you can get away with this. Or if you are living in a place where the laws are less strict you are probably going to be fine.

RELATED ARTICLE: Performance Air Filters: Insurance, Warranty & The Law

Should You Install Air Filter Or Cold Air Intake?

It depends on what you want to achieve. If you want more sound and performance, go for the cold air intake. If you want your car to run more efficiently, a drop-in air filter is perfect for you.

IMO, if budget allows, you should install a cold air intake. Your car can gain a lot of power from it and it will produce a good sound in the process. 

If you are low on budget, or you have a car that is under warranty, a performance air filter will do the trick and will bring you a good sound and a small power improvement, it can even help you save a couple of bucks for gas.

Chai WJ.

Chai WJ.

I am a car enthusiast and a passionate rider who loves to discover new places. Since the pandemic, I can't go to places and I started to blog and share information that I learned. I'm not easily distracted, I just... OMG, do I hear a Supra?

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