A Guide to Performance Air Intakes: What They Do and the Different Types Available

Last Updated on February 2, 2024 by John Robinson

There are numerous upgrades you can make when it comes to increasing your car’s performance. They vary in price and efficiency, with some being more expensive than others. If you’re looking for a more affordable solution to boosting your ride’s performance, installing aftermarket cold air intakes can make a huge difference. 

The potential of your car can be significantly increased with aftermarket performance air intake systems, which assist your engine to produce more horsepower. However, choosing the right air intake takes some careful consideration, which is what this article addresses. I’ll teach you what performance cold air intake systems do and the different air intake styles available.

What Do Performance Air Intakes Do?

Improve Combustion

As you already know, the cylinders in internal combustion engines create controlled explosions by mixing the right ratio of air and fuel. Generally, most engines don’t get as much air as they should for them to combust optimally. Factory vehicles are fitted with air intake tubes that are designed to keep the engine quiet. This is accomplished by the design utilising a series of air-restrictive turns and bends. 

Moreover, the air box is often found in your engine compartment, which has very hot outside air. The factory air filter, which is most likely composed of poor paper and delays the air trying to reach the engine, is a final point worth making. Because of all these limitations and the higher temperatures, which reduce the amount of oxygen that enters the combustion chamber, the air-to-fuel ratio is not burned at its best. The combustion process consequently becomes ineffective.

Aftermarket performance air intakes eliminate these restrictions and keep the air cool. They solve all the problems that come from factory intakes and thus, maximise the combustion in the engine. This is possible due to the wider intake tubes that come with fewer bends than factory tubes, resulting in a higher volume of oxygen-rich air. This design, coupled with a high-flow performance air filter, allows for extra oxygen to get into the combustion chamber. Moreover, performance air intake systems move the air box outside the engine bay, allowing cooler and denser air to go into the engine for improved ignition.

Higher Power Gains

The allowing huge amounts of dense, cool air, the engine makes better use of the fuel being injected through the fuel injectors, and pulls more power out of each cylinder stroke. You may significantly increase the horsepower and torque of your engine by removing the factory intake and installing an aftermarket performance system in its place.  

Manufacturers claim up to 10 HP gains, but depending on your car and engine, the gains can vary. When combined with other performance upgrades like tuners and exhaust systems, you’ll see even more performance gains.

Improved Throttle Response

Your car may be a bit slow to accelerate or feel sluggish when you want to overtake on the highway. By increasing the airflow and improving the combustion, your vehicle will become quicker to accelerate and more responsive when you step on the pedal. This will be the extra shove for when you need to overtake, accelerate and hit highway on-ramps.

Improved Fuel Economy

Extra power and throttle typically come at the expense of fuel. But here’s where a better air intake can be of great help. The intake will actually do quite the opposite – reduce the amount of fuel your car uses, thus saving you money at the gas station. 

Your engine will use less fuel if the combustion is improved to make the most of every drop. On average, you’ll get about 0.4 kilometres per litre. Of course, your fuel efficiency will also depend on your driving habits. The extra horsepower and throttle can lead to you driving harder, which will cancel out the fuel-saving gains. As long as you drive modestly, though, you’ll get power and save fuel at the same time.

Types of Air Intake Systems

Standard Performance Air Intake Systems

These intake systems are compact and easiest to install. They swap out the constrictive stock input tube for a wider diameter mandrel-bent tube. You consequently obtain air that flows more freely. They often include a high-flow air filter and a new air intake.

Short Ram Air Intake Systems

They swap out the constrictive stock input tube for a wider diameter mandrel-bent tube. You consequently obtain air that flows more freely. They often include a high-flow air filter and a new air intake. These intakes don’t draw the coldest air as the inlet is close to the engine. However, the huge volume of air they draw makes up for that downside.

Cold Air Intake Systems

These systems feature a long intake tube and relocate the air box outside the engine bay. This allows for cooler air, providing more oxygen to the engine. In case you didn’t know, gases become less dense as the temperature rises. The engine compartment is extremely hot, so cold air intake systems pull in warm air and spread oxygen molecules. 

Cold air intake systems draw cooler, oxygen-rich air in by relocating the air box away from the engine. As a result, the explosions in the pistons are more effective.

Remember that the cold air intake air box is normally situated above the front wheel’s tyres in the wheel well. Therefore, if you drive over high water, the air box may become wet, which could harm your engine.

Intake Manifold Systems

Intake manifolds are the parts that connect the intake tube and the combustion chamber. So, just like the stock air intake system comes with restrictions, so does the stock manifold. 

This is why people get aftermarket exhaust systems with performance manifolds. Performance manifolds feature mandrel-bent tubing that reduces the restrictions of airflow. But even if you replace the manifold alone, restrictions may still be present in other parts of the exhaust system, which is why it’s recommended that you get a complete aftermarket performance exhaust system upgrade if you’re looking for optimum performance.

John Robinson
John Robinson

Howdy! I’m John Robinson from Levittown, New York. I am a mechanical engineer for 15 years and already had an established car repair company. I developed a personal relationship with cars since I was a kid. I always love the sounds and smell emitted by a car or truck and even at construction machinery. Since then I have been married but my love for cars only grew.