Air Intake Systems

Air Intake Systems

Cold Air Intakes

Why you need one for your vehicle

Depending on who you are, you may not have given your air intake much of a thought. I get that. Often times when we are looking to soup up our vehicles, the first part we think of upgrading isn’t our air filter or intake.


And that’s a shame, because any veteran of the parts industry will tell you that the air intake is incredibly important, and even essential if you want to maximize horsepower and torque. Better yet, installing an aftermarket cold air intake can improve your fuel economy and increase the longevity of your vehicle.


And yet most of us don’t start our aftermarket journey here. We might start with tuners or tires, wheels or step bars. And all of those are great aftermarket investments. But the truth is: step bars won’t make your truck faster. I know. Trust me, that was as hard to type as it probably was for you to read.


If you want to maximize the performance of your engine, you need to upgrade your air intake first. Then you can go into your headers and your entire exhaust system, but if your air intake isn’t flowing properly there is no sense in getting into what comes after. You need to start with the intake.

What is your air intake?

What exactly is an air intake?

Your air intake is how your engine gets air and hence oxygen into each cylinder so that it can combust fuel and cause your engine to run. Consider your intake to be how your engine breathes. This system includes your air filter and all the intake tubing that houses it and directs air through it and into your intake manifold.


Here’s an oldie, but a goodie:


My Shop teacher pulled this on us when I was a wee-lad of… oh, 16 or 17 I suppose. We were about to start working on a demo car, an annual project at our high school for all the mechanically inclined students. But first, he had a little impromptu live quiz. He asked us what our demo car ran on?


Most of us just blurted it out. Seemed like such an obvious question. I suppose it could have been diesel or he may have been looking for a specific octane level, but we just shouted out: gas. And we were shocked and staring at him when he shook his head in the negative.


Trick question, I suppose. He was looking for oxygen. His point of course was that you can’t ignite the fuel without the O2. But oxygen will burn just fine with any number of combustibles. Hence, the Oxygen is a must have in the system.


He went into a lecture about the intake system, where he wanted to start our little project, because without a steady flow of oxygen, no matter how great the rest of your engine is, you aren’t going to get optimal power levels, and at low enough airflow, your engine can even stall or won’t even start. Fun times.


This important but simple lesson has stayed with me all these years. So as soon as I get a new truck or vehicle, the first part I think about swapping out or upgrading is that stock intake.

What’s so bad about my stock intake system?

Why are stock air intakes flawed?

Stock air intakes are almost always more restrictive and no as good at air filtration than their aftermarket counterparts. The reasons typically have to do with two of the aspects OEM’s are trying to maximize: profits and noise level.


They want more profits, so they sometimes scrimp on the little things like air intakes and filters. And they’ve got a point. I might be the only aftermarket guy out there who thinks air intakes are in any way sexy. But I certainly wouldn’t look at a stock rig and comment on how great the intake is.


Noise level is something mose manufacturers are trying to limit as well. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not the kind of guy who wants everyone to hear my truck coming from 5 miles away. And no big deal if you are. Each their own. Make your rig your own, I say.


The problem though is that if you’re trying to minimize sound, you’re also not getting optimal air flow. The two are almost always going to be related. I’ve seen tests involving countless air intakes, and one of our favorite things to try is removing some of the tubing and/or covering. 9 times outta 10, this improves the air flow if you’re just spinning tires on a dyno, by the way.


Of course, on the open road, if you’ve got a scoop and a cold air intake, this can drastically change matters from spinning tires in place.


Point is, if you want to maximize your power, performance, and efficiency, you’ve gotta have a more open, less restrictive air intake. But you still need to have top of the line air filtration because you don’t want any particles getting into your engine.

So you’re gonna need a great air filter too.


Air Filters

Air filters come in roughly four varieties:

Stock / OEM Disposable Air Filters

Aftermarket Disposable Air Filters

Reusable / Washable Dry Air Filters

Reusable / Washable Oiled Air Filters


The quick version of this short guide to air filters is that the lower you go down the list, the better air filtration and air flow you’re gonna get.

What is an air filter designed to do?

How does an air filter for your vehicle work?

The air filter’s job is to trap tiny particles and prevent any of them from getting into your engine, while at the same time keeping a high level of air flow through the filter material to keep the engine feed with oxygen. You might think that these two functions are at odds with one another, and in a way they are.


The most optimal air flow after all would be direct, without any material in the way whatsoever. And the best filtration would be incredibly restrictive, trapping even the tiniest of particles. So something’s gotta give. There’s gotta be a tradeoff--a middle ground.


So you need the kind of filter that allows enough air in, while still capturing the vast majority of engine damaging particles.


Most air filters, from stock through dry and oiled reusables, capture a good majority of dust and particles. Higher end oiled and dry filters are going to filter a little bit better. But initially, when you first install a brand new disposable, for instance, most filters are going to be fairly similar.


Where reusable dry and oiled filters start crushing the competition though is over time.


Disposable filters use cloth and cotton mesh to capture tiny particles. And boy do they. The problem is that as soon as the filter starts capturing dust and such, it starts losing air flow. Imagine your disposable filter as a cloth sheet with millions of little holes. Those holes start to gradually fill up with dust particles, which is good, because you want to trap those and prevent the dirt and such from getting into your engine. But it is also bad, because now you have less little holes to allow air in.


Overtime, there will be more and more clogging of holes until you need to replace your air filter with a new one. And that’s simply how a disposable filter works--and a dry filter really.


The dry reusable filter just is a little more efficient because of the material it is made out of and because you can always clean it off and it will be good as new (or nearly good as new). This means a dry reusable filter saves you money because you reuse it and is more efficient because you can clean it.


At this point, you are probably wondering what the magic design of the oiled filter is that it does such a great job in this scenario. You won’t be shocked. The innovative part is simply the oil.


So oiled filters are similar in construction to dry, but they need to be cleaned and coated in oil periodically. The oil clings to the mesh of the filter and grabs particles out of the air. An oiled filter is one par or just a little bit worse at filtering than a reusable dry, depending on make and model and manufacturer of the filter, of course. That oil is able to snag up the particles, and then move them aside, preventing air flow from becoming restrictive. Hence, oiled filters are superior over time because they don’t get clogged as quickly, so they allow more air flow over time.


Furthermore, oiled filters tend to have bigger gaps between fibers or mesh because those gaps can be covered by the oil. Think of the oil as a viscous fluid. It lets air go through very easily, but when something like dirt of dust hits it, the oil traps it like a fly stuck in a spider web.


However, before you go and get an oiled filter cause the Parts Professor told you it was the bestest, slow your roll for just one minute. Oiled filters require a bit more maintenance because… you’ve gotta oil them. I clean mine roughly the same time I change my oil, but some may have to do so more often than others depending on your climate.


Secondly, if you live in a particularly dusty environment, you might want to avoid oiled filters. Remember how they are great at catching dust? Yeah. They are. But they will also need to be cleaned and oiled way more if you say live in the middle of the desert. We highly recommend dry reusable filters if you live in a very dry and arid dusty area.


So filter down? What’s next?


I wanted to get that one out of the way because if you do decide to purchase an entire air intake system, you’ll need to know if you want an oiled filter or a dry one.


So next is what most aftermarket intakes are:

Cold Air Intakes

What makes cold air intakes better than stock intakes?

What is a cold air intake?

A cold air intake is an aftermarket accessory that replaces your stock intake system with one that is less restrictive and allows colder air to get into your intake manifold than stock. Some cold air intakes come with scoops that help direct colder air from locations farther away from the hot parts of your engine into your intake. The piping or tubes tend to have less turns and be wider, offering less resistance over stock versions.


The biggest benefit of an aftermarket cold air intake or CAI for short is the temperature. As you will recall from earlier on in this piece, your engine requires oxygen and fuel to run. Your spark plugs ignite, lighting the fuel which then burns along with the oxygen, causing a miniature explosion within each fuel cylinder. This force pushes your pistons, transferring the kinetic energy from the blast / pumping of the pistons through the whole system of the engine, down through your drivetrain and to your wheels, propelling you forward.


But it all starts with the oxygen.


Not only does the less restrictive filter and air intake tubes allow more air to get into your cylinders faster and easier, but it is also cooler air.


Initially, I must confess, this was lost on me. I was like: so what?


How does my cold air intake increase my vehicle’s horsepower at the wheels?

How do I gain HP by adding on a cold air intake?

Cold air intakes direct cooler air into each cylinder of your engine. Cooler air is naturally more dense--meaning the particles in the air including nitrogen and oxygen, can be packed closer together. In other words, the denser the air, the more oxygen we can fit into a smaller place. More oxygen means we can add more fuel. More fuel and more oxygen together combust more efficiently and just more period. The more mini explosion, the faster your pistons pump, the more horsepower at the wheels.


Or the quick version:

More Oxygen + More Fuel = More Horsepower


Now I’m not about to claim you’re going to see massive increase in horsepower from a cold air intake alone. No matter what a manufacturer is claiming, I want you to bear in mind that a cold air intake can only improve the function of your engine. It isn’t make your engine bigger or swapping transfer case or axle gears to improve torque.


Because of this, the amount of horsepower you can gain from adding a cold air intake it proportional to how much power your engine puts out stock. In other words, you’re going to see a 1-5% increase in horsepower. You’ll see less if you already have another engine part that is increasing oxygen efficiency within each cylinder, like a turbocharger. I wouldn’t expect much more than 1-2% gain on a vehicle with a turbo.


Furthermore, installing a cold air intake alone isn’t going to produce massive performance gains that you are likely to feel on your own without a dyno or other sophisticated measuring devices. That doesn’t mean you won’t get any gains at all. They just may not be noticable, like they would with say a tuner.


But I thought you said they add Horsepower? They do. Just not a large amount.


In fact, I would say that upgrading your air intake to a cold air intake is less about adding horsepower and more about efficiency and temperature, which run hand in hand, after all.


The lower temperature air is already what’s giving you that horsepower gain.


Secondly, by running more efficiently, and cooler, your engine will take less wear and tear.


Finally, that efficiency could even add to your fuel economy, meaning you could see a gain of 2 or 3 MPG.


Overall, adding on a cold air intake is less about horsepower gain and more about increasing the efficiency and longevity of your vehicle.


I personally recommend adding a cold air intake on as one of your first steps under the hood in the aftermarket realm. You could always get a tuner too before or after, but the first part I’d add on under the hood would definitely be a new, reusable air filter and I’d make sure that that filter is part of a brand new cold air intake.


Now that you know all about cold air intakes and why your air intake system is so vital to your engine, you are likely ready to start shopping. We stock a wide variety of great aftermarket air intakes. Personally, I’d like to recommend Banks Power (who contracts heavily with the US military--hence military grade air intakes, man!), K&N (who simply makes some of the best oiled filters around), and aFe (who’s blue filters and Stage 1, 2, 2Si, and Momentum are nothing to sneeze at). We also stock great products from many other top rated aftermarket air intake producers.


We hope when you are ready to order your new Cold Air Intake, you’ll get yours from Midwest Aftermarket. Our collection of air filters, pickup bed covers, truck running boards, and much more includes all the leading styles and brands. Midwest Aftermarket is the #1 online retailer for aftermarket truck and Jeep accessories, selling products at the lowest prices and providing the best customer service in the industry. With the goal to provide the highest quality product with the fastest shipping at affordable prices, look no further for your vehicle’s aftermarket accessories. From UTV’s to Jeep-fanatics to F150’s or Chevy Silverado’s, Midwest Aftermarket will give you the customer support you deserve.

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