– Cold Air Intake Kits – A Simple Way to Save Gas and Get More Power

Installing a cold air intake kit is an extremely popular engine modification, and with good reason. To save gas and get more power, you need to increase your engine efficiency. Modern engines are extremely well engineered pieces of equipment, but they have to make many compromises.

The vehicle manufacturer needs to please the bean counters in accounting, so the cost cannot be too high. The various governmental regulatory agencies set restrictions, such as noise and emission levels that new cars cannot exceed. The engineering departments are designing engines to meet these targets and have an engine that works well for the average driver in daily use.

The problem is that enthusiasts are not the “average driver”. Many are willing to compromise on a few areas in order to achieve gains in power, torque, and efficiency. For example, losing a small bit of power in the lower end of the RPM range is no big deal if you can pick up some good HP gains up top. The same is true with intake noise; a bit more noise coming from the intake is music to the ears of many motorheads. EPA noise regs be damned, they want to pick up a few 1/10’s!

The reason that cold air intake kits are so popular is that they are extremely simple to install and fairly inexpensive. They also do away with much of the junk the car manufacturers put on top of the engine and open things up a bit, so you can see what’s in there, and drop a few pounds off the front end of the car. In a front drive car this can help the handling somewhat. It’s not unheard of for a well designed air intake to add 10 – 15 easy horsepower to the upper end of the engine’s power curve.

In these days of expensive gasoline, the fact that cold air intake kits usually increase the vehicle’s gas mileage and help save valuable gas is icing on the cake for some. For other people, it’s the reason to make a purchase. Being able to stretch a few more miles out of an expensive tank full of gas is never a bad thing.

A cold air intake kit works for 2 main reasons; increasing air density and increasing air flow. The air density is increased because the intake pulls air from outside the engine compartment, where the ambient air temperature is colder than under the hood (hence the name “cold air intake”). Because colder air is denser than warm air, there are more oxygen molecules in every unit of volume. That means that every cubic foot of air at the cooler, outside air temperature has more oxygen molecules in it than does the warmer temperature air under the hood. Since fuel requires oxygen to burn, more oxygen means that more fuel can be properly burned, meaning more power.

Most modern, fuel injected engines use mass air metering. That means they measure air mass, rather than air volume, allowing them to accurately compensate for the increased amount of air molecules entering the engine and increase the fuel flow accordingly.

Doesn’t burning more fuel mean lower gas mileage, rather than better gas mileage? In this case it doesn’t, because the gains in engine efficiency throughout the rev range outweigh the increased fuel use at higher rpms. If you were always driving under heavy load in the meaty part of the power curve, you would get lower gas mileage, but that is never the case in a street driven vehicle.

The second reason for the success of the cold air intake kit is that such an intake will usually allow for increased airflow into the engine. Many stock air boxes are designed with flow restrictors and resonators to reduce noise. While they do an admirable job at reducing noise, they compromise airflow, and thus power.

Most automotive enthusiasts would rather not make such compromises. The small amount of increased intake noise that occurs is almost unnoticeable outside the vehicle in most applications. On the other hand, the power increases are noticeable, and most drivers really appreciate the smaller gas bills too. As an added bonus, most of the filter elements used in cold air intake kits are of the reusable, oiled cloth variety. This means they’ll likely last for the life of the vehicle, meaning the days of spending $30.00 for new air filters every 6 -12 months are over.

To have this sort of performance modification that can be installed by most novices in a couple of hours using only normal hand tools only sweetens the appeal of these intake kits. The better ones, such as those from K&N, AirRaid, and Injen, are well engineered and come with all the parts needed to properly install them, and they are packaged with complete installation instructions.

There’s nothing to prevent the average person with a little bit of mechanical aptitude from installing one of these kits on the next Saturday afternoon. You’ll save gas and pick up a few HP too.

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