LAST UPDATED: October 05, 2018

The Best Cold Air Intakes (Review & Buying Guide) in 2020

Best Choice Spectre Performance Cold Air Intake 9900 Kit Spectre Performance Cold Air Intake
Premium Pick Cold Air Inductions 501 1099 10 Intake System Cold Air Inductions Intake System
Best Value Spectre Performance 9951 Air Intake Kit Spectre Performance Air Intake Kit

There are numerous ways of improving your vehicle’s performance. One of the easiest and most effective is to replace the factory installed air intake system. This one simple step can improve the airflow through the engine, which in turn improves the horsepower and torque performance of the vehicle. However, there are many different cold air intake systems to choose from and not all of them will be suitable for your vehicle. So, how do you choose the right air intake system to meet your needs? Our panel of car experts have created a list of the best cold air intake systems and included the vehicle makes and models that the systems are designed to fit.

The Best Cold Air Intake

If you are looking for a cold air intake for a GM Truck between manufactured between 1999 and 2007, then the Spectre Performance Cold Air Intake 9900 Kit might be just what you need. The kit is easy to install and is designed to manage an increase in horsepower and torque. The kit includes a red Spectre air filter, a powder-coated heat shield, and high-quality polished aluminum tubes.

Key Features
  • Cold air 9900 kit for 1999 – 2007 GM Trucks
  • Easy to install
  • Includes red air filter, polished aluminum tubes, and powder coated heat shield
  • Designed to manage horsepower and torque increase
Specification
  • Brand Spectre Performance
  • Model SPE-9900
  • Weight 10 lbs

The K&N Performance Air Intake Kit 57-3070 is designed to fit Chevrolet Silverado, Suburban, Avalanche, and Tahoe; and the GMC Yukon Denali, both Truck and SUV models. The K&N cold air intake kit is designed to replace the complete factory air intake system and to increase horsepower, throttle response, and engine sound.

Under general driving conditions, it is created to last around 100,000 miles before requiring servicing. This ability is due to the oversized air filter that can capture and hold more dirt than standard filters. The kit includes a chrome topped red filter, heat shield, and free-flowing high-density polyethylene tubing.

Key Features
  • Cold air 57-3070 kit for Chevrolet Avalanche, Silverado, Suburban, and Tahoe; and the GMC Yukon Denali, both truck and SUV models
  • Easy to install 100,000-mile servicing lifespan
  • Increases horsepower, throttle response, and engine sound
  • Includes chrome topped red filter, heat shield, and free-flowing high-density polyethylene tubing
Specification
  • Brand K&N
  • Model 57-3070
  • Weight 13.2 lbs

If you are looking for a cold air filter designed specifically for the Chevrolet Camaro 6.2L, then the 501-1099-10 Intake System from Cold Air Inductions might be just what you are looking for.  The easy to install unit increases horsepower, throttle response, and torque. It can also improve fuel economy as it encloses and insulates the airbox and has an inner thermal coating on the intake tubes.

Key Features
  • Cold air 501-1099-10 intake system for Chevrolet Camaro 6.2L
  • Easy to install
  • Improves throttle response, horsepower, and torque
  • Improved fuel economy with the enclosed and insulated airbox and inner thermal coating on intake tubes
Specification
  • Brand Cold Air Inductions Inc
  • Model 501-1099-10
  • Weight 9.55 lbs

The Spectre Performance 9951 Air Intake Kit is designed to increase the torque and horsepower of your vehicle while protecting its engine from harmful debris. The air intake kit includes the red Spectre reusable low restriction air filter, black powder coated heat shield, and high-quality polished aluminum tubing. Fitting is easy, and the kit comes with all the additional parts needed to ensure that it is securely and correctly positioned. The kit is designed to fit Infiniti QX56, Nissan Armada, and Nissan Titan vehicles.

Key Features
  • 9951 air intake kit for Infiniti QX56, Nissan Armada, and Nissan Titan vehicles
  • Easy to fit and comes complete with all necessary fixtures
  • Improves torque and horsepower
  • Reduces debris in the engine
  • Includes reusable low restriction air filter, black powder coated heat shield, and high-quality polished aluminum tubing
Specification
  • Brand Spectre Performance
  • Model SPE-9951
  • Weight 11.45 lbs

The AEM 21-478WR Wrinkle Red Cold Air Intake System offers an estimated horsepower gain of 36HP at 5300 RPM. The system is designed to replace the factory airbox and air filter and comes with a DRYFLOW synthetic air filter that is washable, gives great filtration, and should last for the life of your vehicle.

The system is made from mandrel-bent aluminum intake tubes and powder coated heat shields. Its high-quality hardware is designed to reduce friction and intake temperature to improve performance. The system is designed to fit a range of Subaru vehicles including most WRX and Impreza models.

Key Features
  • AEM 21-478WR Wrinkle Red Cold Air Intake System for Subaru XRW and Impreza models
  • Estimated horsepower gain of 36HP at 5300 RPM
  • Includes DRYFLOW synthetic air filter and powder coated heat shield
  • Includes parts made from mandrel-bent aluminum
Specification
  • Brand AEM
  • Model 21-478WR
  • Weight 8.45 lbs

The K&N 77-1563KP Performance Intake Kit is quick and easy to install and can generally be installed in under 90 minutes. The kit provides an estimated horsepower gain of 15.01 HP at 4500 RPM and virtually eliminates air path restriction. As well as improving horsepower the kit is designed to improve engine sound and throttle response.

The K&N air intake kit replaces the entire factory air intake system and under general driving conditions, it should last around 100,000 miles before requiring servicing. The state-of-the-art filtration system includes microscopic cotton fibers that help shield your engine from contaminants that can affect performance. The kit is designed to fit Jeep Grand Cherokee and Dodge Durango models.

Key Features
  • 77-1563KP Performance Intake Kit for Jeep Grand Cherokee and Dodge Durango Models
  • Estimated horsepower gain of 15.01 HP at 4500 RPM
  • Includes state-of-the-art air filtration system, including microscopic cotton fibers
  • Designed to improve engine sound and throttle response
Specification
  • Brand K&N
  • Model 77-1563KP
  • Weight 11.01 lbs

The Airaid 521-284 AIRAID MXP Series Cold Air Dam Intake System improves airflow through the engine. This creates more power, improving torque and horsepower. The system is a one-piece roto-molded air box with high-density polyethylene tubing. It is simple to install and replaces the factory fitted air flow system without the need for post-installation recalibration. The filter is washable and reusable, which helps maintain improved filtration levels over the long term. The system is designed to fit Infiniti QX56, and Nissan models including Armada, Pathfinder, and Titan.

Key Features
  • 521-284 AIRAID MXP Series Cold Air Dam Intake System for Infiniti QX56, and Nissan models including Armada, Pathfinder, and Titan
  • Replaces factory fitted air flow system without the need for recalibration
  • Improves horsepower and torque
  • Washable and reusable filter
  • Easy to install
Specification
  • Brand Airaid
  • Model AIR-521-284
  • Weight 11.5 lbs

The Volant 152536 PowerCore Cool Air Intake improves efficiency with a filter that is completely maintenance free. The kit meets the OEM filter standard and is easy to install. The closed box air intake is designed to fit most models of Chevrolet Avalanche, Tahoe, Suburban, Silverado; Cadillac Escalade; and GMC Sierra, Yukon.

Key Features
  • Volant 152536 PowerCore Cool Air Intake for most models of Chevrolet Avalanche, Tahoe, Suburban, Silverado; Cadillac Escalade; and GMC Sierra, Yukon
  • Improves efficiency
  • Maintenance free filter
  • Meets the OEM filter standard
Specification
  • Brand Volant
  • Model 152536
  • Weight 10.85 lbs

The AEM 22-503P Polished Short Ram Intake System includes a DRYFLOW synthetic air filter that provides exceptional filtration for the lifespan of your vehicle. The system is engineered to reduce air restriction and add horsepower and torque to your engine to improve performance. The filter is washable to provide consistent results over the long term. The AEM intake system includes powder coated heat shields and mandrel-bent aluminum intake tubes. The system is designed to fit most Honda Civic models.

Key Features
  • AEM 22-503P Polished Short Ram Intake System for most Honda Civic models
  • Includes washable DRYFLOW synthetic air filter
  • Improves airflow, torque, and horsepower
  • Includes powder coated heat shields and mandrel-bent aluminum intake tubes
Specification
  • Brand AEM
  • Model 22-503P
  • Weight 6.6 lbs

If you are looking for an airflow system for a Jeep Grand Cherokee, then the Injen PF5013P Air Intake System might be just what you need. The system includes a webbed Nano-fiber dry filter to accelerate airflow and filter contaminants to improve performance. It also includes patented RM technology that provides safe A/F ratios and optimal performance gains. The system is made from lightweight 6061 T6 aluminum and includes a heat shield.

Key Features
  • Injen PF5013P Air Intake System for Jeep Grand Cherokee
  • Includes webbed Nano-fiber dry filter
  • Accelerates airflow, filters contaminants, and improves performance
  • Made from lightweight 6061 T6 aluminum and includes a heat shield
Specification
  • Brand Injen
  • Model PF5013P
  • Weight 9.9 lbs

Best Cold Air Intake Buying Guide & FAQ

Choosing the right cold air flow kit for your vehicle is important. If you purchase one that is incompatible, then it will not fit or work correctly. If you choose one that cannot deliver on its promises, then you are wasting your hard earn money and potentially putting your engine and therefore your vehicle at risk. In this section of the buying guide, we look at the things you need to consider when buying a cold air intake system, different styles of air intake systems, and the symptoms of a bad or failing cold air intake system. We also answer some of the most frequently asked questions about cold air intake systems.

cold air intake

Things to Consider When Buying a Cold Air Intake System

Compatibility is the main thing to consider when buying a cold air intake system. It is important to check the year, make, and model of your vehicle against those listed by the manufacturer. If your vehicle is not listed, then trying to fit the air intake system could result in damage to your vehicle and to the system. Other important considerations include:

  • A thermal barrier

Power gains from installing an air intake system may be minimal if the intake is not protected from thermal contamination. Numerous materials can be used to create the thermal barrier including certain plastics and composite materials like carbon fiber. Zirconium or ceramic thermal barrier coatings can also have a huge impact on intake temperatures.

  • Oiled filter element

While there are some benefits to using an oiled filter element, such elements can reduce power gains over the longer term and even cause malfunctions or failures in the air intake unit. The main problem is that over time microscopic oil particles can build up and contaminate the airflow meter. If you are using a mass air flow unit, then a dry filtering element can reduce and even remove this problem.

  • CARB approval

If you live in California and operate your vehicle on a public road, then any modification to your exhaust or intake system must be approved and certified by the California Air Resource Board. This is to ensure that the modification does not affect or inhibit the emissions controls of your vehicle. Systems that meet the CARB requirements have a CARB EO number. Failure to ensure this is present can lead to a fine or having your car impounded.

  • Water Ingestion

Water is drawn into the air intake system will affect performance and could damage the system. If the air intake system you are considering draws air from the bottom part of the bumper or the fender well and you live in an area of regular rainfall that leaves standing water, then water ingestion could be a problem. Some manufacturers include a bypass valve to prevent water from being ingested into the intake. Other manufacturers deal with the issue by creating a two-piece system that allows you to convert it to a short ram intake. Removing the lower portion of the system prevents water from entering the system at all.

 Why Buy a Cold Air Intake?

If you are looking for a reasonably inexpensive modification that will improve your vehicle’s performance, then a cold air intake could be the answer. As well as being one of the cheaper modifications you can make, cold air intakes are also one of the easiest to fit. Vehicles come with standard factory air intake systems already fitted, but often these do not work very well and easily become clogged with debris. Running your vehicle with a factory air intake system is often likened to running your vehicle while it has a cold; its breathing, and therefore its performance, is restricted.

Fitting a cold air intake system moves the air filter outside the engine compartment. This means that cooler air is sucked into the engine for combustion. This cooler air contains more oxygen or dense air. When this dense air is brought into the combustion it increases the amount of power that is produced. The air intake filter is usually situated near the fender or in the upper wheel well area. Air is free-flowing in these areas and is cooler because it is away from the heat of the engine.

As well as reducing air temperature a cold air intake uses large diameter intake tubes, removing the need for a box surrounding the air filter. The intake tubes have less bends and are smoother than the factory fitted ones; when combined with the removal of the airbox this provides uninterrupted airflow to the engine.

The result of this action is to improve engine performance, increase acceleration, and provide greater fuel economy. The right intake system can improve horsepower, tacking on anywhere from an additional five to 20 horsepower. The responsiveness of the engine can also be improved through an increase in the amount of air ready for combustion.

Improved fuel economy comes from the increase in oxygen. A mix of oxygen and fuel is used to create the spark that powers your car, the greater the amount of oxygen in the mix, the less fuel that is needed. This makes your vehicle more fuel efficient and reduces the cost of running your vehicle.

As well as improving performance a cold air intake system can enhance the sound made by your engine. As the air moves through the engine it produces a more aggressive sound. This is a preferred sound for many care enthusiasts and races. However, it is possible to purchase cold air intakes that muffle this noise if it is not something you want to achieve with your new air intake system.

installing cold air intake into vehicle

Air Intake Styles

There are three main types or styles of air intake systems. These are cold air, ram air, and a short ram. Here we look at each of these in more detail.

  • Cold air intake systems

This style of air intake system features a long tube that has an air filter at its front end. The system can draw cooler air into the engine block because the filter is mounted further away from the engine. It is often placed at the front of the vehicle, directly behind the grille or bumper.  A heat shield that completely surrounds the air filter is a common feature of cold air intake systems. Other systems include heat shields that partially surround the filter and create a seal against the hood when it is closed.

One of the key benefits of a cold air intake system is that the cooler air it provides is denser. This means that it contains more oxygen, this, in turn, means that more fuel is burned, which increases power.

One of the concerns related to this type of air filter system is that its positioning makes it vulnerable to water ingestion. To combat this, some manufacturers include a pre-filter. This is designed to protect the system from water splashing up from the road. It has the additional benefit of extending the cleaning interval of the main filter. It does this by providing additional protection from dust and dirt, preventing it from being sucked into the main filter.

  • Short ram air intake

This style of air intake system is still designed to replace the entire factory system. Instead of the factory intake tube, air filter, and filter box, you have larger diameter tubing and filtration that is free-flowing. The key difference between the cold air intake system and the short ram is that the short ram has shorter air tubes. This means that the filter is situated much closer to the engine. The air that is drawn isn’t as cold, but it is able to fit in tighter spaces. This makes it ideal for more cramped engine compartments.

  • Ram air intakes

The ram air intake system still channels cooler air into the engine. The setup includes longer tubes with the air filter at the back of the system by the engine. This is the opposite way around to cold air intake systems. For this reason, ram air intakes are often equipped with an additional pre-filter at the front of the tube. This protects the system and the engine from water ingestion and road dust.

Cold Air Intake Filter

Swapping your factory air intake system for a cold air intake filter can noticeably improve the performance of your vehicle. Cold air intakes are easy to fit and are considered to be one of the cheapest modifications you can make to your vehicle that improves its performance.

The filter that is included in a cold air intake system is usually more effective than the filter that is included in the factory installed system. This is because while factory filters are often paper, cold air intake filters are made of finer materials, including cotton. As well as improving airflow the filters often remove more dirt and debris from the air, meaning less gets into the engine to clog up the system.

The filters on cold air intake systems are also often washable. Factory ones generally need to be replaced at the end of their lifespan because they are paper. This means that running the system is more cost effective over the long term.

Symptoms of a Bad or Failing Cold Air Intake

There are three key symptoms that suggest that your cold air intake is bad or failing.

  1. Reduced engine performance – this is one of the most common symptoms of a bad or failing cold air intake. If the air filter becomes clogged with debris or is dirty it reduces the amount of air flowing through to the engine. This reduces acceleration, power, and fuel efficiency. If the filter is not washed or replaced it could eventually cause issues with starting your vehicle.
  2. Excessively high idle – this is often a symptom of a vacuum leak. If your cold air intake comes with vacuum ports designed to accommodate the manufacturers routing, then leaks are possible. The main cause of vacuum leaks is either the ports breaking or the hoses on the ports breaking free.
  3. Check Engine Light – if the Check Engine Light comes on, then this is a sign that something might not be right with your cold air intake system. Sensors install within the intake are designed to detect any issues, setting off the Check Engine Light to notify you of a problem.

volant cold air intake installed into car

Best Cold Air Intake FAQ:

Q:  What are cold air intake kits and how do they work?

A:  A cold air intake kit is a replacement for the factory installed air intake system. It is designed to provide the engine with a greater capacity of cooler air. It works by replacing the existing system with longer tubing and an improved filter. These work together to improve airflow and reduce the amount of dust and debris that travels to the engine. The air is collected from an area of the vehicle that is away from the engine providing much cooler air that is denser, meaning it has a higher concentration of oxygen.

Q:  Why is cold air better for the engine?

A:  Cold air is better for the engine because it has a higher concentration of oxygen. This means that less fuel is needed to create the spark to start and run the vehicle. It also means that the engine works more efficiently, which improve torque and horsepower, as well as acceleration and fuel economy.

Q:  How do I install cold air intake?

A:  A cold air intake system is relatively simple to fit. However, it is important that you purchase one that is compatible with the make, model, and year of your vehicle. If you are unsure, then refer to the guide provided by the manufacture of the cold air intake you are considering. Once you are sure you have a compatible cold air intake system, complete the following steps.

  1. Position your vehicle in safe parking space that gives you access to the front and sides of your vehicle. Ensure the area is well lit so that you can see what you are doing.
  2. Ensure vehicle is turned off and that the engine has cooled completely before continuing.
  3. Unplug your car battery, starting with the negative terminal. This is the black or unmarked terminal. Next remove the red, positive terminal.
  4. Find the factory air intake. It usually resembles a large plastic tube traveling from the engine to a large plastic filter box.
  5. Remove the factory air intake system. You need to remove the air filter, filter box, and the tubing. A wrench or socket set will be required to remove any bolts and mounts that have been used to keep the system in place. Delicately remove any sensors that are included in the system. Do not throw the system away at this stage, it will be needed if there are any issues with the new system.
  6. Follow the manufacturers’ instructions to carefully install the new air intake system. Remember with a cold air intake you will most likely need to access underneath the vehicle to complete the installation. Don’t forget to re-install the sensors that you removed from the old system.
  7. Check that everything is secured in place and fits correctly. Tighten any mountings and check that the intake does not strike other objects within the engine bay.
  8. Reattach your batter, starting with the positive terminal.
  9. Take your vehicle for a test drive.

Q:  How often should I replace my cold air intake filter?

A:  This depends on the cold air intake system you have installed. Some filters are designed to last for the lifespan of your vehicle, while others need to be changed after a certain number of miles. If your filter is washable it will last longer than one that is not. The type you have can be checked with the manufacturer.

Q:  Is an air intake system good for a turbocharged engine?

A:  There is no absolute agreement on this question. However, most experts agree that if positioned properly an air intake system will not harm a turbocharged engine and may be of some benefit. The turbocharged engine produces heat through air compression. Starting with cooler air may improve engine performance or at the very least its longevity.

Our Top Pick

Our top pick for a cold air intake system is the Spectre Performance Cold Air Intake 9900 Kit. If you are looking for a cold air intake for a GM Truck between manufactured between 1999 and 2007, then the Spectre Performance Cold Air Intake 9900 Kit might be just what you need. The kit is easy to install and is designed to manage an increase in horsepower and torque. The kit includes a red Spectre air filter, a powder-coated heat shield, and high-quality polished aluminum tubes.

Sources:

  1. Why Should You Install a Cold Air Intake?, How Stuff Work
  2. Symptoms of a Bad or Failing Cold Air Intake, Auto Blog
  3. How to Install an Aftermarket Air Intake, wikiHow