The Truth About Aftermarket Cold Air Intakes

Whether you own a truck or a car, you may want to pump some more performance out of your docile factory spec power train. Cold air intake systems are sold aftermarket, and claim to accomplish this goal with minimal alteration to your vehicle, and also without putting too large a dent in your pocketbook. While the following facts may vary between systems and vehicles, they are generally pretty accurate. I own a K&N intake for my 2008 GMC Sierra pickup truck, so I speak from experience. 

The Purpose of CAIs

CAI systems are designed to replace the factory air intake and filter system for your car or truck motor. The idea behind them is that by drawing larger quantities of colder air, a motor is able to produce higher power output, as it will no longer be starved for oxygen in the combustion process. This may be achieved with smoother intake piping, and large conical filters that provide higher surface areas than stock air filters. The systems are sometimes also designed with other factors in mind, such as appearance to improve the look when peeking under the hood. If you have a custom or aftermarket exhaust, a cold air intake system may also add a throatier growl to your sound. 

Power GainsK&N Cold Air IntakeCredit: Chris Voorberg

The real question you want answered is, "Are there actual power gains as a result of installing a CAI?" and the response is often yes, but not as much as some would like. Again, the results vary by system and vehicle, but for the average system, the K&N company suggests on their website that usually a very modest horsepower gain between 8-16HP can be achieved. I've never actually measured, but in my case, the stock horsepower is 315, meaning a safely estimated increase of 10HP would improve my overall horsepower by less than 4 percent.

Is This Worth the Price?

After breaking down the numbers and seeing the cost of most aftermarket CAIs at prices around $150, it seems worthwhile if you get the upper end gain of at least 10-15 HP. The truth is that for serious gains, more extensive and costly work has to be done on the power train components. If you don't want to do too much work to your ride, combining a larger exhaust with a cold air intake will increase flow, and adding an easy to use plug and play chip programmer to adjust engine settings may be the best combination to max out your gains. I would recommend brands including K&N, Volant, Banks, AEM and aFe for cold air intakes, but there are many more to choose from. Always be sure to change or clean your filter regularly to improve performance and prolong the life of your vehicle!