About Cold Air Intakes

Published: 08th June 2012
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One of the simplest and most common modifications that many people can make to a vehicle is the addition of a cold air intake to the engine. These are usually fairly simple in design and can be installed onto cars in only an hour or two, and many of them are quite affordable. By supplying the engine of a vehicle with cold air, rather than hot, performance can be increased through greater oxygen content for internal combustion.

The Purpose of a Cold Air Intake

Many modern cars are designed with air intake for the engine that is located near other components, which means the air that enters is hot. Internal combustion engines require air and oxygen in order for the combustion to occur, which is the purpose of the intake. Many vehicles have "thermostatic" systems that bring in cold air when the engine is hot and warm or hot air when it is cold. This is often beneficial in regions with fairly extreme climate changes between summer and winter, as it can make it easier for the engine to start and keep running.

The intakes installed by factories are often somewhat limited, however, due to filtering and overall design. People often install aftermarket equipment, such as cold air intakes, to boost the performance of vehicles through changing the air used in the internal combustion. These are often designed with a bend that is pointed down below the engine itself, drawing in cold air from under the car while it is in operation.

Cold air has higher density than warm or hot air. This means that there is effectively more oxygen within air that is cold, than in hotter air. More oxygen allows the internal combustion engine to produce greater power, which can improve performance in a vehicle. That is why the addition of a cold air intake system is so common for many car enthusiasts. As an added benefit, the filters in these devices do not always have mufflers in them, allowing cars to sound more powerful while in use.

Using Cold Air Intakes

While installation of this type of system is relatively simple, it should be done with some caution. Some manufacturer's warranties can be voided by the installation of such equipment, since it changes the design and overall operation of the vehicle. The way in which engines are designed and placed within certain cars and trucks can also make installation of a cold air intake much more difficult in some models than in others. Experienced professionals should be consulted to ensure proper installation of this type of hardware, preventing potentially costly mistakes or incorrect modifications.

Attending a technical school, either online or in person, is often one of the best ways to learn the skills necessary to make these types of modifications to a vehicle. Such training also allows students to perform much more elaborate work, fully customizing cars and trucks with new engines and changes to the body of the vehicle. Students who attend these types of schools often end up working in professional garages or as part of an automotive design team or racing crew.

Potential Drawbacks from These Modifications

While cold air intakes can boost performance for a vehicle, there are also some potentially serious issues that can arise from their use. These types of devices change the way in which air is taken into the engine of a car, and so they can come into conflict with clean air laws in some regions. Because these intakes often increase the amount of sound released by an engine during operation, there are also regional laws concerning the loudness of vehicles that should be considered.

One major issue, however, that can arise from the use of cold air intakes is due to their placement within a vehicle. Many of these intakes work by drawing cold air in from underneath a car or truck while it is in use. During wet conditions, such as roads covered by rain or snow, this intake can potentially draw in water along with the air. This can lead to a condition referred to as hydrostatic lock or "hydrolock," caused by excess water that prevents the pistons within the engine from moving properly. Severe instances of this can do enough damage to require a full rebuild or replacement of the engine.

Varieties of Intake Methods

Most cold air intakes are quite simple, and just use a bent pipe with a filter on the end of it to bring in cool air from an area away from the engine. More elaborate systems can use longer pipes to access cold air from locations other than directly beneath the vehicle, which helps avoid the potential for hydrolock. These types of intake systems are often more difficult and time-consuming to install, but they can also be safer to use and more resilient once in place. Some models install a filter into the fender of a vehicle, bringing cold air through it. Heat shields are also commonly used to protect the filter and body of a cold air intake from the heat of the engine while in use.

Ram air intakes are similar in design, bringing air into the engine through an extended piece of equipment, but do so through vents or other intakes built into the hood of a vehicle. These are less common than cold air systems, since the car or truck has to be designed with intakes in the hood itself, but can often be seen on technology blogs or websites devoted to high-performance car upgrades and maintenance. The intakes are usually a series of vents or ducts through which air enters.

As the car is being driven, air is pushed or rammed into these intake ducts, through a system of pipes, and into the engine. This ensures that the air is cold, due to the velocity of the vehicle, and the intake system prevents water from entering and creating hydrolock. When not in motion, however, the temperature of the air taken in is the basic outdoor temperature, so these types of systems only provide an advantage once the vehicle is moving.


Learn more about Cold Air Intakes and how they can improve your vehicle.

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