To improve a car’s handling, better tires are one of the easiest modifications you can make. But tires and upgraded suspension components can only go so far. Especially if the goal is straight-line speed, you’ll eventually have to tune the engine. A common first step is installing a cold-air intake.
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But does replacing your car’s standard air intake actually add any horsepower?
What Does a Cold-Air Intake Do?
All internal-combustion engines need air to make power. Normally, this air gets sucked in through an air intake pipe. But because even clean air isn’t really clean, the air intake is covered with a filter, housed in a special box. This expert explains that the filter and box also serve as a baffle, which cuts down on engine noise.
However, as with the standard engine mounts, some of this refinement comes at the cost of performance. For one, the factory air intake design limits how much oxygen gets into the combustion chamber. Secondly, the filter box is typically placed fairly close to the engine itself. According to this expert, this means it heats up, and hot air is less dense and contains less oxygen. In other words, the opposite of what engines prefer, especially turbocharged and supercharged ones.
That’s where cold-air intakes come in. This article explains that they’re positioned farther away from the engine and sometimes come with a heat shield. In addition, oftentimes, the cold-air intake filter is wider, with a less-restrictive material, than the OEM one. That means more airflow, which, combined with the cooler temperature, means more oxygen and more power.
Does a Cold-Air Intake Really Improve Vehicle Performance?
To find out how effectively a cold-air intake boosted a car’s performance. A reviewer named Zach Jobe installed one in his NA Miata and a Racing Beat connector. That’s actually the same kind of cold-air intake the previous owner of my NB Miata installed.
After installing the cold-air intake, Jobe doesn’t put the Miata on a dyno. However, the new intake definitely makes more noise than the stock, and there is a slight improvement in power. That’s consistent with the manufacturer’s claims. The reviewer noted that its best Miata cold-air intakes add 3-4 horsepower.
So, on its own, a cold-air intake doesn’t add much performance. But that’s actually OK, Streetside Auto explains, because it’s meant to be just one part of an entire build. That’s why manufacturers like Ford include them in their performance kits. The new, freer-flowing intakes mean the re-tuned ECUs and/or added turbos can do their jobs better.
Price, Installation, and Potential Troubles With Cold-Air Intakes
Cold-air intakes aren’t particularly expensive, especially the more road-oriented ones. For example, the most expensive K&N intake costs over N150,000. And installation can usually be done within an hour or two.
However, there are a few things to keep in mind with cold-air intakes. Some replace the entire pipe that leads into the engine. This expert notes that this can interfere with the car’s airflow sensor and cause fueling issues.
Additionally, experts report that some of these intakes use oiled filter elements, which can build up over the sensor over time, especially if the intake is positioned low, where it can more easily pick up dirt.
Cold-Air Intake adds performance to the engine of a vehicle. However, the amount it adds is not a lot. As such, it’s not a must-have for car enthusiasts, as cars can function effectively without it.