Choosing the Best Cold Air Intake for Maximum Horsepower

BY MICHAEL D.

Suitable for wide-ranging application and designed to deliver superior torque, horsepower and head-turning sound, the cold air intake system is perhaps the most effective of all your performance upgrades. But when the time comes to hunt up a new one, there’s a lot to keep in mind. In this article, we have a couple of suggestions for you to consider. Armed with this knowledge, you’ll be back on the road in no time with the best possible unit underhood.

First, you need to decide what style of intake you’re after — whether short ram or true cold air intake. A true cold air intake places the cotton-gauze filter away from the hot engine, while a short ram typically keeps the filter relatively within reach. A short ram, however, is cheaper because it uses less material and the plumbing is less extensive.

Some people will say to look out for the intake tube material. Stay away from steel, as it is heavy and transfers heat easily, which is the opposite of what you want. Fortunately, virtually no one makes them out of steel. Aluminum will get the job done, but plastic (polyethylene) or composites tend to transfer the least amount of heat. This is ideal, since, after all, you’re trying to keep the intake charge cool. Cooler air is denser and contains more molecules of oxygen per volume.

Find a system with mandrel bends, or at least consistent flow paths. If possible, stay away from one with tons of transitions.

“Transitions,” in this case, would refer to multiple pipe connections and tight radius turns. A straighter flow path equals less resistance and turbulence, and a greater volume of air flow. All other things being equal, a system with fewer transitions would outflow one with turns and coupler connections.

If you live in a wet-weather area and water is a concern, you’re going to want to find a cold air intake with an enclosure, or make sure you consider a water shield if an enclosed version isn’t what you need. You don’t want to pull water into your motor and hydro-lock it. You can seriously damage the engine by sucking water into the combustion chamber, since H2O isn’t exactly compressible.

If you have any sound restrictions and are after a quiet-running ride, you can’t go wrong with an intake with an enclosed air box from Volant. Fitted with a reusable filter meant to be reused and designed for optimal heat- and element-resistance, they install in less than an hour — requiring only minor modifications, if necessary — and will even increase your gas mileage by 1-2 miles per gallon.

Be mindful of air flow versus filtration trade-off. A wide range of high-performance filters may sacrifice filtration levels to gain acceptable flow rates, so remember that when selecting the filter that yields the greatest horsepower.

Now that we’ve got all that covered, there’s nothing left for you to do but begin the search. Leave a comment below to let us know which of these tips and pointers helped you the most as you shop for your cold air intake.