A cold air intake is one of the most common modifications made to modern-day vehicles.
A cold air intake replaces your vehicle’s factory intake, moving the intake to the outside of the engine compartment so it has access to cold air and gets more airflow. Colder air is denser and therefore contains more oxygen. More oxygen reaching your engine allows you to burn more fuel, which will give your car more power. They can also increase intake noise, which serves as a nice compliment to your vehicle’s existing engine and exhaust tone.
Usually coming in at well under $500, a cold air intake is an inexpensive modification. It is also very easy to install – you’ll be able to install your own even with limited mechanical knowledge and experience.
There are multiple brands that make cold air intakes. Standardized cold air intakes exist, but most high-quality ones will be specific to your vehicle’s make and model.
There are also ram air intakes, which focus less on delivering cold air to your engine and simply aim to shorten the route the air takes to get to your engine through the intake. This can increase horsepower and sharpen throttle response.
We’re going to go over the top 10 cold air intakes on sale, helping you to narrow down your search as you shop for this popular bolt-on modification.
Table of contents
- Editor's Pick: Airaid MXP Series
- AEM Brute Force
- Injen SP Series Cold Air Intake
- K&N Typhoon Series Cold Air Intake
- Volant PowerCore Cold Air Intake
- Spectre Performance Cold Air Intake
- K&N Blackhawk Induction Air Intake Systems
- Injen IS Series
- K&N 63 Series Cold Air Intake
- Injen RD Series
- Everything You Need to Know About Cold Air Intakes
- How do Cold Air Intakes Work?
- What About a Ram Air Intake?
- Will an Aftermarket Cold Air Intake Increase my Vehicle's Power?
- Editor's Verdict
Editor's Pick: Airaid MXP Series
The Airaid MXP Series line of cold air intakes is Airaid’s line of premium, high-performance air intakes.
Designed for high-performance gasoline and diesel vehicles, the MXP series will ensure your engine gets a ample cold air and some additional airflow for a slight increase in horsepower. They come with a one-piece airbox, a premium air filter and a polyethylene intake pipe with built-in velocity stacks for increased airflow.
There are also MXP Series Cold Air Intakes with a carbon fiber intake pipe that not only looks great but helps to keep weight down as well. The carbon fiber intakes are available for select Camaro, Corvette, and Mustang models. The carbon fiber pipe can also be purchased separately if you want to upgrade your existing Airaid MXP Series filter.
Airaid MXP Series cold air intakes are also 50 state legal.
If you are looking for a high-quality cold air intake that looks great when you pop the hood, we’d definitely suggest the Airaid MXP Series.
AEM Brute Force
These cold air intakes are almost a hybrid of ram air intakes and cold air intakes – moving the conical intake away from the heat of the engine and protecting it with a heat shield while also shortening the intake hose so additional air can reach your engine.
The high-quality cold air intakes feature an aluminium inlet pipe, helping to trim weight, along with a steel powder coated heat shield and a DryFlow oil-free synthetic filter.
If you have a large displacement engine and don’t want to skimp on your cold air intake, the AEM Brute Force lineup is well-made and guaranteed to give your engine a little extra grunt.
Injen SP Series Cold Air Intake
The SP series of cold air intakes from Injen Technology is the company’s top-tier line of intakes.
The Injen SP intake is a high-performance intake specifically designed for different makes and models. Many SP series intakes have a dual-filter design for increased airflow and are available with a red, black or polished intake pipe.
Separating the SP series cold air intakes apart from less expensive intakes from Injen is the company’s patented MR Technology. Described as the world’s first tuned intake, MR Technology uses a vehicle’s mass air flow sensor to adjust the air flow of the intake and provide the perfect air/fuel mixture to your engine at any given time.
In addition to cold air intakes, the SP series from Injen also includes extra-short ram air intakes.
While not cheap, Injen’s SP intakes are among the most high-quality cold air and ram intakes on the market today.
K&N Typhoon Series Cold Air Intake
K&N’s Typhoon Series of cold air intakes are “built for performance and show,” according to the well-known intake manufacturer.
With an aluminum intake pipe and high-flow conical air filter, these intakes will ensure cold air reaches your engine and that air flow is also increased.
K&N Typhoon Series intakes are available for a wide variety of makes and models but are marketed toward owners of sport compact vehicles, like the Honda Civic for example.
Not all Typhoon Series filters are legal for use in California and those states with California emissions standards. Some Typhoon filters are CARB exempt and 50-state legal, however.
Like many other K&N cold air intakes and ram air intakes, Typhoon Series intake kits have the manufacturer’s million mile warranty. The air filter is also washable and reusable and won’t need washing or changing very frequently.
Volant PowerCore Cold Air Intake
Volant PowerCore cold air intakes claim to have superior filtration versus a traditional cotton gauze air filters.
With a thick, dense filter inside of the included airbox, Volant PowerCore filters help to remove very fine particulates and dirt from the air before it enters your engine. For this reason, they are particularly good for vehicles that may go off-road, but are also available for road-going vehicles like the VW Golf. The PowerCore filter also never needs to be mainteneced.
Volant offers a 4 year or 100,000 mile warranty with all of its PowerCore cold air intakes as well – regardless of driving conditions and usage. That includes intensive off-road driving and track driving.
Spectre Performance Cold Air Intake
Spectre Performance’s cold air intakes are inexpensive compared to those from well-known name brands such as AEM and Injen.
Like many other cold air intakes, a Spectre intake will come with a metal intake pipe, robust mounting clamps and a conical air filter. They aren’t available in a variety of colors, with most just coming with a polished intake pipe with a red or blue filter, but they will perform as advertised and should succeed in making your car a bit more powerful. Buyers of these intakes also report a much louder air induction noise.
A Spectre Performance air intake is perfect for those who own big trucks, as the manufacturer makes a wide variety of intakes for both American and Japanese pickups, along with owners of vehicles with General Motors Small Block V8s.
One downside to a Spectre intake is that it is not California state legal, so you may want to avoid them if you live there or in a state with CARB standards.
K&N Blackhawk Induction Air Intake Systems
K&N’s Blackhawk series of cold air intakes is not too flashy – with an all-black look that will leave your engine bay looking sinister yet not over the top.
Designed for trucks, SUVs and muscle cars specifically, the Blackhawk Series is popular among Chevrolet Silverado owners and Ford F-150 owners. Each cold air intake comes with a black powder coated intake pipe, a fancy-looking welded K&N engraved plate and a K&N dryflow oil-free filter that offers good engine protection.
K&N promises the Blackhawk Series will provide a noticeable increase in intake noise and will also increase your vehicle’s horsepower. It also comes with K&N’s ‘Million Mile Warranty’ so you know it will last for the entire time you own your vehicle. The intakes are 50 state legal and CARB compliant.
While not the most expensive cold air intake on the market, the K&N Blackhawk Series isn’t cheap, usually coming in at over $200. Like most cold air intakes, though, it will save you money on filter replacements in the long run.
Injen IS Series
The Injen IS Series of cold air intakes is the company’s entry-level line of intake systems.
Many IS Series cold air intakes are actually ram air intakes – with a short intake pipe that will quickly route air into your engine for sharper throttle response and little extra horsepower at certain RPMs.
Described as a “traditional underhood air intake system’ the IS Series from Injen fits into the stock location of your air box, instead of moving the filter to an area closer to your wheel well or away from the engine compartment. Each intake is made from a light aluminum alloy to help keep weight down.
Injen’s IS Series is a good option for those buyers who don’t want to spend too much on an aftermarket cold air intake but still want to purchase from a reputable brand name.
K&N 63 Series Cold Air Intake
K&N’s 63 Series of cold air intakes are made for a wide variety of vehicles.
The 63 Series pairs the largest conical air filter K&N has along with a wider polyethylene intake pipe and a heat shield. With the large filter protected from the engine’s heat by the heat shield, it’s able to pull in a large amount of cold air compared to your stock air box.
The oversized air filter only has to be cleaned every 100,000 miles, which will save you money in the long run as you won’t have to spend $20 or so to replace your engine’s air filter every 10,000 miles or so. K&N also promises that the intake pipe and heat shield are durable and will last just as long as the filter.
K&N proudly claims its 63 Series of cold air intakes is the “best high-flow intake system” on the market today.
It should be noted that the 63 Series of intakes are not CARB compliant and thus can’t be used in states with California emissions regulations.
Injen RD Series
The Injen RD Series, which stands for ‘Race Division’ is perfect for the track day enthusiast that truly wants to ensure ample cold air is reaching their engine.
Unlike other air filters that aim to improve cold air flow with a heat shield, or a ram air intake that doesn’t improve cold air flow at all, the RD Series goes out of its way to pull in cold air – literally. These intakes feature a longer, kinked intake pipe that moves the conical air filter way out of the way of the engine behind the front bumper. Because the filter is so far from the heat of the engine, it’s able to pull in lots of fresh air and not only give your vehicle a little extra power, but help keep it running nicely when out on the track for a long period of time.
Injen also claims its RD Series of intakes provides extra mid-range power – exactly what you want at the track, as you’ll be accelerating out of second and third gear in the mid RPM range frequently.
If you need a new cold air intake for your track day car or race car, we’d definitely take a look at the Injen RD Series. While not cheap, the specially designed intake will help keep your engine running smoothly and reliably.
Everything You Need to Know About Cold Air Intakes
A cold air intake is often one of the first modifications many owners make to their car or truck.
While the performance gains provided by a cold air intake are minimal, it’s an inexpensive and easy way to make your vehicle a little bit more fun to drive. Stock air intake systems typically feature a number of bends and kinks that are designed to ensure the intake noise isn’t too loud. By comparison, cold air intakes feature a straightened intake pipe with a wider diameter, allowing more air to make its way into your engine’s combustion chamber. Aftermarket intake kits also move the air filter close to the edge of the engine bay, usually near a wheel well where there is more air flow, further increasing the amount of air that reaches the engine. This increased airflow can help your engine make a bit more power and can also sharpen throttle response. Additionally, intake noise can also increase, giving your car a burbly intake noise that compliments the exhaust sound.
There are several very popular name brands making cold air intakes including AEM, Injen and K&N. Because there are so many brands producing these intake systems, it can sometimes be hard and confusing to shop for them. We’re going to go over some of the best brands for cold air intakes so you know where to start with your research and purchasing process. We’ll also go over the differences between cold air intakes and short ram air intakes so you know which type of intake is ideal for your car.
How do Cold Air Intakes Work?
A cold air intake relocates the engine air filter outside of the engine compartment, ensuring that colder air is able to enter the engine. Cold air is denser, so it has more oxygen. More oxygen means you’re able to burn more fuel, giving you more power. The piping of a cold air intake typically has less bends and is a wider diameter as well, increasing the overall airflow into the engine.
Of course, this isn’t true for all cars and all cold air intakes. Some are aftermarket intakes designed better than others and some cars will respond better to such upgrades. Additionally, because you will be changing the air flow into your engine and the air density, you may want to recalibrate your vehicle’s engine computer for optimum results.
What About a Ram Air Intake?
A ram air intake and cold air intake both work to try and increase your vehicle’s horsepower and intake noise, but they go about it in different ways. Whereas a cold air intake will increase the amount of cold air that reaches your engine, along with the overall flow of the air, a ram air simply tries to provide the shortest possible route for the air to travel. This will, in theory, increase power and throttle response.
Ram air style intakes are typically much shorter than cold air intakes. They are also lighter than cold air intakes, although the weight difference between the two is typically very minimal.
Will an Aftermarket Cold Air Intake Increase my Vehicle's Power?
It depends. As we mentioned above, because these systems typically change the temperature, density, and overall flow of the air that reaches your engine, you may need to recalibrate your vehicle’s computer to get the optimal results, or pair the intake with an aftermarket ECU or tuned ECU. Pairing an aftermarket intake with an aftermarket, high-flow exhaust can also produce performance gains in otherwise stock vehicles.
The biggest benefit of many cold air intakes and ram air intakes for regular, road-going production cars with minimal to no modifications is that they make the intake noise a little bit louder and they look pretty cool when your hood is popped. They may sharpen throttle response, so you could possibly feel a slight difference in the way your car accelerates, but again, this will be a fairly small change.
In short, some cold air intakes for certain cars will provide a small increase in horsepower, although the 12-15 hp that most companies usually cite is a bit generous. For a big performance increase, the upgrade is best paired with a retuned or aftermarket computer and a high-flow exhaust.
It should also be noted that some cold air intakes also may make your vehicle’s check engine light go on, as you’ve adjusted the air/fuel mixture in the engine and thrown the stock engine management software off.
Our Final Verdict
If you are still having a tough time narrowing down your options, here are three of our preferred picks.
If we were in the market for a new cold air intake, we’d definitely go for the Airaid MXP Series. Not only are they 50 state legal, they are available with a great looking carbon fiber intake tube and also come with an effective airbox and very large conical air filter. This is an intake that looks great when the hood is popped and performs as needed when it’s down. While not cheap, it does undercut some other high-end filters from other brands as well, making it a great overall cold air intake.
Best Budget Option:
If you don’t want to spend too much money, we’d opt for the Spectre Performance line of cold air intakes. These budget-friendly intakes perform as advertised, and while the quality and design may not be as high as some other products from Airaid, AEM and Injen, they perform just fine on daily drivers and on applications that aren’t very high horsepower.
Best Option for Performance Cars
If we were building a high-horsepower vehicle, we’d probably go for the AEM Brute Force air intake. AEM also makes aftermarket engine management computers and full exhaust systems, among other performance parts, so their intakes are well-suited to high horsepower builds, as they can be paired with other AEM-brand performance parts. The brand is also active in racing of all types, so you know they’ve done their research on what it takes to deliver a solid cold air intake for a high-performance car.
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