Building Engine Power: Adding a Cold Air Intake
There’s an old saying among performance car builders: “there’s no replacement for displacement.” It refers to the iron-hard physical principle that, when all is said and done, the surest way to create engine power is to simply get a bigger engine. Of course, that’s easier said than done these days, especially if you’re not a rich retired guy who can afford to buy one of the few remaining mega-power plants from the 60s or early 70s. Nonetheless, there are proven, reliable ways to give modern cars some “oomph.” Let’s talk about one: adding a cold air intake to your vehicle. PHOTOS: See More of the 2014 Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG Black Series “Help, I Can’t Breathe!”
Factory intake systems are designed with a built-in barrier to efficiency: the air filter. While it removes impurities, it also restricts the volume of air flowing into the engine and warms it as well, reducing the oxygen content. An aftermarket system reroutes the intake away from the engine (hot air) to a spot near a wheel well or fender (cooler air). It also includes an enhanced filter that allows air to flow through it more efficiently than OEM parts.
As a result, the engine starts breathing deeply whereas before it was gasping for every little breath. Estimates vary, but installing a cold air intake can add between 5-20 hp to your car’s performance. If you’re looking to soup up your ride, then this is an excellent first step, as the skill level to install the parts is relatively low. The parts will also set you back a lot less than, say, installing custom headers or a supercharger. It’s a great way to dip your toe into the world of performance driving until you’re ready to move on to more advanced stuff.
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Cold Air vs. Ram Air Intakes
A ram air intake is a more aggressive way of getting more oxygen into your engine. Instead of passively allowing air to flow, it has a fan that sucks it in. The trade-offs include: time and expense to install and lowered MPGs.
What about Fuel Economy?
It will go down. Sorry, but life consists of a series of trade-offs, and the stronger your ride is the more gas it will burn. Some will argue that a cold air intake increases engine efficiency and thus reduces operating costs. However, this overlooks the fact that these are performance parts, and people install them for –well, for performance. You will step on the acceleration pedal harder and more often, you will love the added zoom you get, and you will pay for it at the pump. That’s how the laws of physics and human behavior work. Compared to other choices, however, a cold air intake requires less skill and investment and offers decent gains in return. Try it as a first step, then see where your interests take you.
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Photo Credit: Greddy Performance