There are a lot of factors to consider when buying a cold air intake. To me – a good cold air intake is one that provides additional horsepower, easy to install and improves engine sound. 

After looking through a dozen of cold air intakes, the best cold air intake is still the K&N Cold Air Intake (Amazon affiliate link). Yes – they can be more expensive than others (~$300). But they are for good reasons:

  • The guys at K&N have been producing cold air intake the longest. They should know what they are doing.
  • Horsepower gain is apparent. 
  • Installation is straightforward because they make use of the existing factory holes. 
  • Engine noise is significantly improved when accelerating.
  • 10 years or 1 million mile warranty. 
  • Looks awesome and premium.
  • Comes with a heat shield to ensure cold air.
K&N Cold Air Intake

What to Look for In a Cold Air Intake

Obviously the horsepower gain is what you want to look for. But I mentioned there are a lot of factors to consider when buying a CAI. So what are they?

Ease of installation

Choose a cold air intake that uses the factory holes so you don’t need any drilling or cutting when installing. Read up the reviews on the intake – people usually mention how long it took for them to install.

Also checkout if the product comes with an installation guide. This will be your best friend or enemy when installing.

The K&N cold air intake I suggested uses factory holes – which makes them easy to install.

Most people in the customer reviews took 1 hour to install their intake – not bad! Here’s the guide to installing a K&N cold air intake. (Just for you to gauge how easy or difficult it could be to install)

Street legal

CAI that has an Executive Order (EO) number is street legal in all 50 US states. States like California are very strict on emissions. If you are driving in any of these ‘strict’ states, then ensure your CAI is legal there by having an EO number.

Here’s an example of OE number. K&N cold air intake is street legal in all 50 states – so you don’t have to worry about the law. 

Cold air intake OE Number
Cold air intake with OE Number. (Street legal on all states)

Customer rating

This is just my opinion, but actual customer reviews are the biggest buying factor for me. When choosing a cold air intake, ensure the product has good customer reviews / ratings. I suggest to only trust the customer rating if it has more than 500 ratings – anything less and it could be faked.

The K&N cold air intake I recommended has 4.5 rating from 5200 reviews. Not bad at all.

Sound improvement

A cold air intake is expected to improve your engine sound. In fact, this was the biggest factor for me when purchasing one. Yes, the main focus could be horsepower gain.

But really, how much additional horsepower can a cold air intake provide? 15 if you are lucky (anything more is questionable). Aside from the horsepower, the sound improvement is the most significant and exciting change you will notice.

Before purchasing, try to go on YouTube and listen to the before and after sound.

A K&N cold air intake definitely provided that sound improvement. Check out the customer reviews – I am sure you can easily find reviews about the great sound improvement. Here’s a video showing you the sound improvement from CAI I am talking about. Listen at 3:59

Plastic tubing

Cold air intake usually comes with a metal tube or plastic tube. Plastic tubing is generally better because they don’t absorb much heat – allowing them to keep the air cold.

Plastic tubing should also be less restrictive because they can be molded into precise shape for better air path. This is compared to metal tubing which can only be bent and welded for so much.

K&N cold air intake comes up with plastic tubing or a metal tubing. Just make sure you select the one with plastic.

Cold Air Intake Image
Cold air intake with plastic tubing.

Horsepower gain

As I said, a cold air intake will not give you dramatic horsepower gain. But it’s good to compare how much gain you can expect from different brands. I recommend you to look at the actual dyno results for these cold air intakes – not just what’s claimed.

You could find plenty of dyno results from different cold air intake brands on YouTube.

K&N cold air intake does provide the horsepower gain but it’s not so much – about 10-20 horsepower at most. If you are serious about horsepower, you need to look into something more like turbochargers. 

Other Recommended Cold Air Intake

Although I do recommend K&N cold air intake, the price tag could be too high for you – I understand that. Aside from K&N, the Spectre Cold Air Intake (Amazon affiliate link)  is also another well known brand.

I don’t have personal experience on the Spectre CAI, but I have heard great feedback about them. 

The customer reviews on them are also pretty good. They are rated an average 4.5 stars among 1450 reviews in Auto Anything.

Quite solid, I would say. The only caveat is that Spectre does not produce plastic cold air intakes. All of them have metal tubing.

That being said – everything else is still great: high quality, easy to install and lifetime warranty!

image of spectre cold air intake
Cold air intake with plastic tubing.

Cold Air Intake FAQ 

I know, I know – there are still so many questions you have before purchasing cold air intake. Here are the most common ones I come across:

Q: Do I need to tune after installing cold air intake?
A: No. cold air intake only provides small horsepower improvement and small changes to your engine. I covered that in this article.

Q: Do I need to buy a cold air intake that’s specific to my car model?
A: Yes. You need to buy a cold air intake for your specific car model and year. The website which sells the cold air intake should have the options to select the car model.

Q: Do I need to replace the air filter on my cold air intake regularly?
A: Nope! The air filter on cold air intake is reusable. Just wash it and re-apply the oil and you are good to go.

Q: Why do I need to re-oil my cold air intake after washing? 
A: The air filter in cold air intake is not as restrictive as stock air intake. This allows more air to flow in but also allows unwanted dust and air impurities to enter. Oil in the air filter allows air to enter but traps air impurities. I covered what happens if you don’t re-oil your cold air intake in this article.

Q: How often do I need to wash my air filter in the cold air intake?
A: Depending on the cold air intake. But usually clean the air filter after 50,000 miles.

Q: Does cold air intake make your car prone to water damage?
A: Yes it could be. If the cold air intake is positioned at the bottom of the engine bay (closer to the tires), then water could enter the intake if you drive through standing water. To prevent this, you could equip a hydroshield on your cold air intake. Rain and snow will not put your cold air intake at risk – so don’t worry.

Q: Will a cold air intake damage my engine?
A: No it will not. Aside from the risk of water damage, a cold air intake should not damage your car engine. A cold air intake is a very popular mod among car enthusiasts. Be sure to equip a hydroshield on your cold air intake if you are that worried about the water damage.