Cold Air Intakes vs. Short Ram Intakes
Pop the hood and you’ll see a large plastic tube running from the air filter to the engine. This is your engine’s air intake, in its factory-form, which works to supply horsepower-generating oxygen to the engine. Factory intakes also have built-in baffles to reduce noise created by this air flow. And while your original intake does an okay job of feeding your ride fresh air to run correctly and keeps sound levels low, it can’t supply enough air to allow your engine to reach its full power potential.
That’s where a performance intake enters the picture. These intakes use your choice of large-diameter aluminum or nylon tubing that, unlike the factory intake, lacks noise-cancelling baffles. Instead, they feature free-flowing performance filters so fresh air can pass through unimpeded. This allows your engine to draw in the oxygen it needs more easily, which increases horsepower and MPGs. You’ll often see both cold air intakes and short ram intakes offered for a given car that perform the same function, but there are advantages to installing one type of intake over the other.
Cold Air Intake
- This is a full-length intake that places the air filter near a cool source of air, like an inner fender well, or behind the front bumper
- Cold air intakes draw in air that’s cooler and more dense, so your ride will make the most power with this type of system
- Many cold air intakes are 50-state (CARB) emissions certified. This means they are legal for use in all 50 states. When shopping, look for a footnote that indicates whether or not the intake is legal in your state
- Due to cold air intake's filter location, it can potentially pull in water. Consider a pre-filter or filter wrap to keep water out
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Short Ram Intake
- Just like the name implies, these intakes use a shorter intake tube that draws air from the area around your engine
- Sometimes, a cold air intake simply won’t fit in your engine compartment or can be too difficult to install. When this is the case, a short ram intake is your easiest way to improve air flow into your engine and build more power over using a factory intake
- Due to where short ram intakes mount, installing & maintaining them is easier than cold air intakes
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Open Element vs. Enclosed Airbox Design
This is how your high-performance filter is mounted on the end of the intake tube and depending on the style, affects airflow and sound.
- When an air filter is clamped to the intake tube, but is not surrounded by an airbox, it’s known as an “open element"
- Because an open element filter has more exposed surface area than enclosed airbox designs, open element filters can potentially out-flow them
- When you want to see how dirty your open element filter is, simply pop the hood, take a look and you’re done
Enclosed Airbox Design
- Many OEM and cold air intakes place their filters in an enclosed box. This forces the engine to draw air from a specific, and usually cooler, area
- Enclosed airbox designs are typically a little quieter than an open element setups while going wide open throttle.
- If you don’t want to see a filter full of bugs every time you lift the hood, or accidentally brush against a nasty air filter when you work on your car, choose an enclosed airbox design. This style is sure to keep your engine compartment cleaner when compared to running an open element filter
Filter Materials Used in Cold Air Intakes
- This reusable filter style employs a cotton gauze media that’s sandwiched by a stainless steel mesh
- Oiled filters tend to have fewer layers than other filter types and instead, rely on a light coating of oil to attract and trap dirt
- Depending on how dusty the roads in your area are, some oiled filters can go as far as 50,000 miles in between cleanings. Be sure to use warm, soapy water when cleaning, air dry and apply a very light coating of oil to the filter before reinstalling
- Dry filters use a cotton gauze or synthetic media in up to 7 progressively finer layers to trap dirt
- These filters can perform just as well as oiled filters but need to be cleaned with soapy water and reinstalled every 30,000 miles
- This filter is unique to Volant intakes and uses a high-flow proprietary filter media that’s formed into a canister shape
- Available airflow through these filters in on par with dry-style filters, but they can catch and trap far more dirt. As a matter of fact, a PowerCore filter that was used for over 140,000 miles was found to contain over 1 lb of dirt, and still provided better airflow than a factory paper air filter
- PowerCore filters require no maintenance and are advertised to last up to 5 years 100,000 miles, depending on road conditions, before needing to be replaced. The previous example shows this is a conservative estimate
Choosing a Street Legal Cold Air Intake
There’s no worse feeling of taking your heavily modded ride in for emissions testing, only to get a smug scowl from the technician and a failing grade. That’s why it’s important to verify whether an accessory like a cold air intake is street legal in your state. You see, in some parts of the country, you can run whatever you like without fear of having your ride sidelined, while in others, a technician will make very sure you haven’t moved a single vacuum line from the factory position.
And when it comes to smugness over smog, no other state has cracked down harder than California. Crusading this clean-air campaign is the California Air Resources Board, or “CARB”. This office set in place emissions standards for California which ensure all gasoline powered cars and trucks newer than 1975 undergo a strict emissions check periodically, which includes both visual and dynamometer testing. Now to use performance accessories like cold air intakes in California or any state that has adopted CARB emissions standards, you need to make sure the accessory has been certified by CARB and has an Executive Order (E.O.) number assigned to it. This means the accessory manufacturer had their product independently tested at a lab of CARB’s choice and it was proven that the product didn’t increase emissions levels. So before ordering any accessory for your car, make sure to check your local laws and regulations to see if it’s legal to use in your area. If you want to learn more about CARB standards and how it controls what you can bolt on your ride, look here.