Here’s Our Beef With Cold-Air Intakes

Cold-air intakes are great if you want to hear cool noises or are making big power. You’re most likely better off with an OEM induction system otherwise.

Frankie likes to talk a lot, and Chris has a lot of knowledge. Together, they have some pretty insightful conversations (or so they think). This time around the fellas flesh out their opinions on cold-air intakes.

Frankie: It seems like addressing cold-air intakes is something that every amateur automotive site tackles, so we should probably talk about that. I personally don’t use them anymore, at least not on daily driven vehicles, but let’s get an engineer’s perspective first.

Chris: I was always in support of cold air intakes. Intuition would dictate that it would increase performance, but by how much? And what are the sacrifices?

As I began working within the industry, I realized that the typical manufacturer specifically hired an engineer who had at least a four-year technical degree to design the air intake system, or maybe even just one aspect of said system. Don’t you think that person did everything in their power to deliver the best product possible from an overall perspective?

Frankie: If you’re asking me whether or not I believe everyone makes the same effort at their jobs as you do with yours, then my answer is absolutely not. But I get the point you’re making. That “overall perspective” is key, because these engineers are trying to hit that sweet spot where the performance is ideal but reliable so that it won’t bankrupt the company with warranty claims.

Chris: Exactly. An aftermarket supplier usually builds a part to dimensional spec and not much else. They typically don’t have the profit margins or resources to be able to support the testing required to concretely prove certain gains. They can get away with this because, unfortunately, the average consumer is going to fall for the hype.

Chris’s 9-3 2.0T with the factory airbox installed.

Frankie:¬†Now that you’ve seen what goes on behind the curtain, do you think you’ll still use cold-air intakes?

Chris: Reliability is the main reason why I won’t run them on my personal cars or for our racing vehicles. I’m not saying that you can’t gain power from one, but to me it just isn’t worth it. If you’re arguing “better air flow”, well, the increase in flow is most likely due to a less restrictive filter, which lets more crap into your engine. And if you go with the “cooler air” or “air density” argument, then I would ask: don’t you think the OEMs designed for the most efficient (aka coolest) air possible?

Frankie: Solid points. I haven’t seen the manufacturing side of things, but I have had to make repairs on a Philly side-street in 100-degree weather due to complications from a cold-air intake.¬†Since it was a cold-air intake, the MAF sensor was located in the wheel-well, which meant I kept having to jack the car up with the small, temporary jack that sits in the trunk with the spare wheel.

Long story short, water had worked its way past the hydro shield, damaging the MAF sensor and EVAP purge solenoid, which was full of brown water. The car, a supercharged Cobalt SS, fired right up without issue after replacing both of those components, but after the trouble I swore I’d never use a cold-air intake again. If I want to hear cool noises, I’ll go with a short-ram intake. As for blow-off valves, well, that’ll be a discussion for next time.

The green piping to the right is the cold-air intake I’m referring to. This K&N unit ran below the headlight wiring, where it pulled in cooler air.


We hope you found this snippet of our conversation to be insightful. There’s plenty more that could be said in regards to this cold-air intake debate, but we’re keeping things short until we roll out our podcasts.

In the meantime, feel free to join in on the conversation by sharing your thoughts in the comment section at the bottom of the page. And as always, stay tuned!

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