Cold air intakes, induction kits and the effect on performance.

"A review of the benefits of induction kits."

The air filter is a necessary part of the engine to avoid clogging up your engine and contaminating your oil or injectors.

You need an air filter unless you are operating in a laboratory so the aim is to get an efficient air filter that is not too thick and is not oily, greasy or dirty. This is where induction kits and sports panel air filters come in.

Improving the Suck – if you put a piece of cloth over your mouth and suck in air you will not have too much of a problem.

But if the cloth were wet or a double thickness things start to get harder. Your engine, just like you, needs to breathe air.

But do induction kits and high flow air filters always add power to the engine?

In this article we will discuss the different types of filters (RAM, Cone, Panel etc...) and materials used. We will also look at the issue of engine bay temperatures and how this affects intake temperatures.

We'll also suggest the best tuning approach for a variety of different engine sizes and types.

TorqueCars have looked at the various types of filter materials available today and we have concluded that the best filters for flow rates use lightly oiled cotton gauze as their filtration medium.

These were not particularly easy to come by for most applications but in recent years the number of cotton filter kits has increased, thanks in part to our campaigning.

Our induction kit recommendations

So for the average fast road car we would recommend going with one constructed from sponge impregnated with a dirt retentive spray or one of the modern artificial gauze filters as shown above.

This slight coating of oil will aid filtration. As an alternative to sponge get a filter which comprises layers of a fine grade metallic mesh as both of these will flow better than the standard paper filter.

Sports panel filters

The oil sprays for air filters have been traced to problems with the mass air flow sensor. This is generally down to the use of too much oil and improper fitting. We must stress that you should only use a light coating of oil on the air intake side of the filter. It is a good idea to clean the mass air flow sensor periodically anyway.

The bigger the surface area of the filter the better the air flow will be. Mainstream cars today can be fitted with an air induction kit which completely replaces the air intake box.

Cold air induction kits, a cheap way of making the most of induction roar and freeing up a little top end power.

The plus is much better air flow, particularly at higher revs, and the induction roar as air is sucked into the engine the downside is also the roar - some people dislike the extra noise these kits create.

Smaller engined cars can actually lose power when an induction kit instead of an air filter is fitted. It can be challenging to deliver COLD air (which carries more oxygen) to the engine as the temperature under the bonnet can get quite high and and a 20 degrees rise in temperature can rob you of up to 3% of your power!

Under bonnet temperatures can quickly rise to double this. An intercooler can be added on turbo and forced induction cars. Additionally this can also sprayed, with the right setup either Coor a water mist which will further reduce the temperature of the air intake.

It should be noted that in some small engine non turbo applications the car will feel less powerful with an induction kit although it may sound more sporty!

In these instances the best option is a direct replacement panel air filter which goes in the standard airbox.

Sucking warm air in from the engine is a great way to lose power.

Make sure you have a cold air feed pipe to get cool air from outside of the engine bay - cold air carries more oxygen.

Intake air temperatures

It is also good practice to seal the induction kit off from the engine with a box of some description to protect it from engine bay heat and dampen the intake noise.

Recently one of our members (Claymore) ran some tests with and without an airbox and came up with the following interesting results with a cone induction kit.

1) With an air box the intake temps dropped to ambient within 1/4 of a mile of driving.
2) Without an air box, the car had to be driven for 2 miles before the intake temperatures dropped.

If you are doing a quarter mile run, then an open cone filter is next to useless without a cold air feed, as the engine bay will be quite hot for the entire run, even with a heat shield.

If you had a cold air feed from the outside via a vent then intake temps would be  substantially lower and you wouldn't need to run the car any distance to clear out the engine bay temperatures.

So the best air induction kits come with a cold air feed pipe and are fitted in an air box.

This shields the intake air from the high under bonnet temperatures.

The best compromise between the standard air intake box and the induction kit. Some kits have a long pipe which the filter sits at the end nearest the bonnet which really does help cut down the noise and improves the intake temperature.

Induction kits that protrude under the front bumper which claim to get more air forced in through the pressure built up on the front of the car as it cuts through air do not have significant power gains.

Other than the benefit of the cold air from outside the engine bay the RAM effect takes speeds up over 100 mph before a benefit is realized - they are however a great way to collect many botanical specimens of flies, moths and bugs in the air filter!

NB: Be careful where you site the cold air feed - the last thing you want is to be sucking water into the engine every time you splash through a puddle.

If the induction kits air filter is enclosed in a box with a cold air feed, then more power can be obtained avoiding the hot under bonnet air (Carbon fiber boxes are very good for their heat shielding and durability). It also good to wrap a the exhaust header/manifold with a heat resistant material to keep the under bonnet temperatures down and tasteful vents can be added to the bonnet to take away the heat.

Induction kits sometimes come with a guarantee of "more power". In reality though,  the power gains are so small, on small engined cars, they would not be noticeable in real life.

Secondly the power increase tends to be at the higher end of the rev range and your low down power band will suffer.

So to summarize, if you have a large engined car (or an engine with good low to mid range torque) fit an induction kit with a cold air feed. If you have a small engined car or one with little power in the lower rev band fit a direct replacement sports panel air filter.

Please join us in our friendly tuning forum where you will find 1000's of common sense car specific tuning tips and recommendations.

Just don't expect to get noticeable power gains from an induction kit alone and you won't be disappointed. The best reasons for getting one is to experience the induction roar sound or to save money long term on filters as induction kits and sports panel filters are generally washable.

Diesel engines do not require or benefit from induction kits unless very extensive modifications have been carried out and the standard air box has become restrictive.

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8 Responses to “Best cold air intake induction kits”

  1. David says:

    I just bought an ASH carbon air box includes coniacal filter.Picture on packagiing shows air flowing through cold air feed to into inside of filter and exiting to the outside of the filter in the carbon air box then flows towards engine.
    Does this sound right or does it not matter which way around air flows through filter. Most I have seen air flows from outside to inside of filter. ASH did not reply to my question.

  2. Humble says:

    All round sound advice, some engine bays suffer great heat as experienced with induction kit from ITG, the Black filter housing became quite hot in Rover 25 had to insulate same with 1mm cork and overlay with reflective aluminium tape, also found airbox on top of Suzuki swift engine extremely hot in summer months, had to use aluminium deflecter panel between engine and airbox and cut off the hot water feed to the engine throttle body with clamp to cool the whole enterprise, some makers create inefficiencies for pecuniary gain and it is very obvious and frankly bad engineering, the Swift now has a much faster pickup and the airbox after treatment is much cooler, but it also needed the airbox feed to be extended into the airstream right to the front of the car with the nesessity to re position the windscreen waterbottle which was right in the path of the original airstream.. Crazy

  3. Adni says:

    Hi what would you recommend for my car, cone filter with induction pipe or direct replacement in my airbox? My car is a Ford Sierra 3.0i RS with 160hp and weighs around 3000 pounds with driver weight included. Thanx

  4. Agustin says:

    I’m glad to hear you had the same doubt I have now. Did you find the answer? Could you pls share with me? Thanks in advance!

  5. p taker says:

    I’d recommend a diet 🙂

  6. tom says:

    Hi I’m after some advice please, I have a mk5 1.6 astra 2005 and was looking to fit an induction kit as I had one in my previous car (ford focus 1.6) and noticed the fuel consumption was a lot better and the induction sound was sweet too. I wanted to know the best kits to look at for my astra that would sound sweet and benefit on fuel too. Any help appreciated 🙂

  7. Phill says:

    Avoid K&N. Vectra V6, Fiesta ST, Nissan 350Z, all bought with those induction kits fitted.
    I removed and put back to stock – instant power gains.
    K&N are junk.

  8. John Shepherd says:

    I have had over the years 3 Saab 93TiD my last one was one I bought in 2011 a 93TTiD Sadly Saab are no more. In each one I replaced the regular air filter for a K&N lifetime Panel filter The improved throtle response was very much noticed and with a remap amazing. I now have a Jaguar XE Turbo Diesel which I have had remaped but K&N and other peformance air filter makers tell me that as it is a very new model they will not be offering a performance air filter for some time yet. SAD

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