Obvious First Mod: The Cold Air Intake Kit
June 21, 2024

Obvious First Mod: The Cold Air Intake Kit

You just got your first car, and the mod bug bit you, so now you want to upgrade it. You’re scrolling the web to find what to get. Whether you’re thinking of boosting your new car’s performance for track driving or drifting, or just some spirited back road driving, or you want to personalize your ride with better looks and sound, you’ll always end up at the same starting point: The Cold Air Intake.


It is THE first upgrade for pretty much everyone in the hobby. A cold air intake kit looks good when you pop the hood, sounds way better than stock when you open the throttle, and makes a few extra horsepowers, too! Now, let’s get a little deeper.

What Does a Cold Air Intake Do?

In stock engines, the air filter assembly is commonly fitted close to the engine. Since an internal combustion engine is like an oven, this causes your motor to pull in hot air. You wouldn't want that, as hot air is not as dense in oxygen as cold air, which will bog the engine down.

A cold air intake kit will fix that by allowing the engine to breathe colder, hence denser air, by moving the air filter away from the heat while increasing the airflow. Cold air has more oxygen, creating a more significant combustion in the engine. A more significant combustion equals a higher possibility of making more power. Also, a better airflow will unstrain the motor, allowing it to work more effortlessly.

Types of Aftermarket Intake Kits


  • Short Ram Intake (SRI): Short ram intakes try to remove as much restriction as possible with the help of a short and straight tube so that the air travels faster and smoother with a shorter distance. But since the hosing is short, the air filter may still stay close to the engine in some configurations, making the air going to the throttle body not as cold as some kits offer. This is the major con of a short ram intake, but if your car’s intake manifold and throttle body are already away from a heat source in the engine bay, you may benefit from better airflow with an SRI.
  • Cold Air Intake (CAI): These intake kits generally have much longer piping. They are designed to completely relocate the air filter as far from any apparent heat sources in the engine bay as possible. Some even put the air filter in the fender well or inside the front bumper if the vehicle's structure allows it to. One con of moving the air filter to extreme areas like this is that the open air filter becomes more prone to suck in road debris or even water. Not all CAIs are like this, but it would be nice for you to check forums and read reviews before purchasing.

How Much Power Does a Cold Air Intake Kit Add?

Many aftermarket manufacturers claim some power gains from their cold air intakes. Usually, manufacturers say gains of 5 to 20 HP are possible, and it is not a marketing gimmick. This is true to some extent, but realistically, a cold air intake will bring back a few lost ponies or add a couple more depending on the application and your vehicle’s condition. The right kit definitely will improve some things by sucking in cold air away from the engine block, but the increase cannot be felt easily if you already have a lower-powered vehicle.


a short ram intake

While a couple of extra horsepowers do not make a world of change, the real advantage of an intake kit shows itself when you combine it with other mods. Usually, many first-timers start to modify their cars with a cold air intake kit, a cat-back exhaust system, and an upgraded exhaust manifold (header). Known as F/H/E (Filter/Header/Exhaust) in forum jargon, this trio provides a distinguishable bump in horsepower, especially if you finish it off with a complimentary ECU remap.

A tuning package like that will increase the engine’s output anywhere between 15 to 50 percent. The power gains depend on the engine displacement and whether the motor is naturally aspirated or has forced induction.

Does Cold Air Intake Kits Increase MPG?

Theoretically, a better air intake results in better MPG. A cold air intake kit lets the motor get better quality air inside the combustion chamber to mix with the fuel. Better air means free-flowing and denser air, resulting in a much more effective combustion than stock. An improved and more “complete” combustion process burns the fuel more thoroughly, ensuring the combustion creates more energy with the same amount of fuel. All of this translates to better MPG… theoretically.

In real-world conditions, a cold air intake may slightly improve fuel efficiency. However, a motor’s intake system is not the sole determining factor in improving fuel economy. It involves multiple variables, from the engine’s health to weather conditions, the passengers and cargo you’re traveling with, and your driving habits.

Also, even if all those theoretical fuel savings come true in your case, they will be gone instantly as you’ll drive WOT to hear the noise an open filter makes!


an open cold air intake filter attached to a turbocharger

How to Clean Cold Air Intake Filter

The filters used in cold air intake kits tend to last much longer than stock paper filters. But since they stay out in the open, they are exposed to debris much more than a stock paper filter which stays inside a plastic box. The good thing is you can clean and reuse the aftermarket filters.

Like changing the stock paper filters on an engine's periodic maintenance, you should regularly clean an intake kit’s filter. A good way to keep track of when to clean the filter is the oil change intervals. Whenever you need to change the engine oil, it’s a good idea to clean the air filter as well.

There are three types of filter cleaners:

  • Aerosols: These products thoroughly saturate your filter’s pleats and curves, easily loosening and eliminating dirt and debris.
  • Sprays: Spray cleaners and degreasers are another option. They use a spray method to reach the curves and pleats of an air filter and contain a degreasing agent that quickly removes dirt and debris.
  • Cleaning kits: You can also choose an intake filter cleaning kit which includes a cleaner to clear the debris and an air filter oil to maximize the filter’s efficiency.

The process of cleaning an air filter is quite straightforward:

  • Take the filter out, and make sure no large dirt or debris falls into the airbox. Tap the filter on a hard surface to loosen and remove large particles.
  • Apply the cleaner you purchased thoroughly into the crevices of the filter. Let the agent saturate and filter to be soaked. Wait as long as indicated on your cleaner’s package.
  • Rinse after the cleaner has had its time to work. Use warm, low-pressure water and rinse the filter thoroughly, making sure no residue of the cleaner remains.
  • Let your filter dry out. Thirty minutes to an hour is sufficient, but let it dry overnight if you can for the best results.
  • Oil the entire filter before reinstalling it. This will protect it from heavy dirt buildup. Allow the oil to saturate the filter for 30 minutes.
  • Inspect the filter and reinstall it to the intake pipe.

Are Cold Air Intakes Worth It?

The cost is low, a better look under the hood is eye-catching, and the noise your car will make after the CAI is quite exciting. But is fitting a cold air intake worth it? First of all, if your car is bone stock and you’re not thinking about going down the rabbit hole of adding more performance parts, your stock intake most probably does the job better than anything else.

If you have a newer car with its manufacturer's warranty still intact, a cold air intake might void the warranty, too. Also, fitting a cold air intake might prevent your car from passing the smog test in some states. So consider all of these and decide for yourself before pulling the trigger.

Another Great First Mod: Pedal Commander Throttle Controller

Now that you know all about everyone’s first upgrade and your throttle body receives cold and dense air, it’s time to boost your ride's throttle response. Pedal Commander is the best throttle controller on the market and will be the best complimentary first mod for your vehicle.


pedal commander best throttle controller


Pedal Commander eliminates throttle lag and enables you to enjoy your vehicle to the fullest. Just plug the sockets into your OEM pedal assembly, mount the controller in the dash, and you’re good to go. It will instantly transform how your ride reacts to throttle inputs. On top of that, you can customize the throttle sensitivity with Pedal Commander’s four different driving modes with nine increments for complete individualization. Click here for more info on the product and here to order yours now.