Complete Guide to Cold Air Intake Systems | Benefits & Performance Boost

Truck and car enthusiasts are always looking for new aftermarket parts and modifications. Always with the need to enhance the performance of their vehicles. 

But, upgrading car exhaust systems, improving pickup truck horsepower and/or other automotive performance upgrades are expensive.

Cold air intake systems (CAI) are an affordable aftermarket modification. Adding a CAI will improve your truck’s performance and efficiency.

In the mid-1980s, electronic fuel injection engines started to become the standard. These engines work using internal combustion. 

Internal combustion is gas and oxygen burning together inside the engine for complete combustion.

Cold air intake systems or CAI is an aftermarket assembly of parts with the purpose of bringing cold, oxygen dense air into the truck’s internal combustion engine.

Improved cold, oxygen dense airflow is a huge factor when it comes to improving car performance. It allows for a better more complete engine combustion.

The problem with factory air intake systems is they aren’t good at sucking in oxygen to the engine. Also, the airflow they suck in is warm.

Cold air intake systems work by improving the combustion efficiency of the engine. The end result is an increase in horsepower and torque. 

This is through increased flow of cold and oxygen dense air to the engine which is more effective to burn.

Cold air intakes get installed with the air filter outside of the engine compartment. Most often behind the bumper or in the wheel well away from the engine. 

This placement allows for the suction of the free-flowing cold air away from under the hood.

Performance air intakes increase total airflow to the engine. Aftermarket cold air intake filters have the performance benefit of no box cover. This allows for even more airflow to the engine. 

Also, they use larger diameter and smoother intake tubes with fewer bends. This tubing structure gives uninterrupted airflow.

Benefits of Cold Air Intake Systems On Trucks

Engine output power relates to total air used during the internal combustion cycle. 

Cold air intakes increase the cold airflow to the engine. Which increases the rate of oxygen combustion. 

The better combustion it provides results in 5 to 20 more horsepower.

Cold air intake systems bring cold, oxygen dense air into the engine. That means more oxygen to the engine resulting in less gas needed to operate. 

These intakes offer a modest bump in MPG.

Enhanced Sound

Factory air intake systems get designed for silent operation. Meanwhile, cold air intakes get built for performance

Cold air intakes have a deep growl sound to them due to the increased amount of air sucked into the system.

Increased Acceleration

Cold air intake systems can give a moderate boost to a car’s responsiveness. 

This is due to the truck reaching the intended speed faster when there is a more cold air carried to the engine.

Save Money on Air Filters

Factory air intake systems and dry air intakes have paper air filters. These air filters need to get replaced every 15,000 miles. 

Cold air intake filters don’t need to get replaced instead, wash them every 40,000 to 50,000 miles.

Longer Engine Life

The engine and components of the engine running on colder temperatures increase the lifespan.

The one main drawback to cold air intake systems is the risk of hydro-locking. 

Hydro-locking occurs when the car engine absorbs moisture rather than air. It’s the process that allows water to get trapped into the engine cylinders. 

This results in ruining your pistons while bending connecting rods.

Plastic Performance Air Intake Vs Metal Air Intake

Performance air intake tubes get made from plastic or metal. 

There are no real advantages to one material over the other. But, metal intake tubes look more appealing and have a slight sound to them.

Oiled Performance Air Filter vs Dry Air Filter

Cold air intake systems can have an oiled or a dry air filter.

Dry filters have layers of cotton gauze or a synthetic fabric that keeps contaminants out of the engine. 

Dry air filters perform for 15,000 to 30,000 miles depending on the manufacturer and must get replaced after use.

Oiled filters have a coating of a thin layer of oil which traps dirt and keeps it out of the engine.

Oiled air filters perform for 50,000 miles and can get cleaned then reused. To clean them give the air filter a bath in warm soapy water and then apply oil.

Car mass airflow sensors detect the amount of oxygen coming in. Then, sends the correct ratio of fuel to the cylinders. 

When adding an aftermarket cold air intake system, your stock airflow sensor may not handle all the extra air.

Mass airflow sensors (MAF Sensors) designed to better detect oxygen allowing for better air to fuel combustion ratio. 

Also, provide even more extra airflow to the engine. The end performance result is efficient combustion, increased power and better fuel economy.

Throttle body spacers or TBI spacers install between the throttle body and air intake tube. 

They feature a special spiral bore that spins the air coming in from the intake tube. 

This makes a vortex of air that mixes better with fuel to deliver even more engine power.

Make sure to buy the proper diameter throttle body spacer for your performance air intake.

  1. Make sure the engine is cool
  2. Disconnect the battery from the negative terminal
  3. Take out the old air intake
  4. Attach the silicone coupling from the CAI kit to the body of the throttle
  5. Tighten the hose clamp at the end
  6. Put a hose clamp on the front of the coupling but, don’t tighten
  7. Slide intake tube into the coupling. Double-check the intake pipe is running from the throttle away from the engine bay
  8. Tighten the coupling and secure the brackets
  9. Plug the mass airflow sensor into the cold air intake system
  10. Reconnect Battery

How to build a DIY cold air intake system

Dyno tests from the top manufacturers of cold air intakes show an average improvement of 5 to 12 horsepower.

Cold air intakes improve gas mileage because of the increased cold, oxygen dense air they provide. 

This increase of cold air allows for more efficient combustion which saves gas.

Cold air intakes suck in large amounts of cold air and the engine creates a lot of heat. 

This heat may pass down cheap air intake tubes resulting in the air heating up as it passes through.

The best cold air intakes get built from materials that don’t heat up and some may have a heat shield.

Oiled filters for cold air intake systems should get cleaned every 40,000 to 50,000 miles. 

To clean an oiled air filter, soak it in warm soapy water then apply an oil coating.

Cold air intake systems are in the class of aftermarket parts. The upgrade from standard air intake to a cold air intake will void your dealer’s warranty.

Yes, cold air intakes do make a difference in many performance aspects of your vehicle. 

They are one of the lowest-priced modifications for improving truck performance.

If you’re upgrading your truck with a cold air intake system you must get a tune.

If water gets into a cold air intake system there’s a chance of hydro-locking. 

Hydro-locking is the process of water getting trapped in the engine then destroying your pistons.

Yes, cold air intakes make the vehicle louder. This is primarily due to the amount of air they suck in at once causing a deep growling sound.

A new cold air intake system for your truck or car costs from $150 to $500.