With the aftermarket automotive industry growing and prices rising, one thing you can be sure on is that automotive air intakes will always be around. These car engine air intakes are extremely popular among the car enthusiast crowd. They are relatively inexpensive and do not take much time to install. Many owners install this part themselves. Automotive engine air intake systems are manufactured by hundreds of companies today and are available for nearly every vehicle on the road. Some of the biggest manufacturers of these products are AEM, Comptech, Injen, and K&N.
Aftermarket automotive air intakes remove the need for a box assembly like that of a factory air intake. These air intakes use cone filters on the end of a pipe in which air is sucked through. This cleans up the engine bay and removes some unnecessary clutter. Automotive air intakes are usually made from aluminum, silicone or plastic. These options all have their own pros and cons. Aluminum air intakes are generally the most popular and most produced. Some owners like to powdercoat or heat wrap the aluminum pipe on the air intake to reduce heat.
Supplying the engine with air is the main function of the vehicles factory air intake system. Air is fed through a pipe, through a filter and into the engine's intake manifold. Many aftermarket automotive manufacturers have designed products to delivery air to the engine in a more efficient and quicker way. A vehicle's factory air box tends to be restrictive due to so many bends and components involved. An aftermarket intake replaces the stock air box and improves air flow for the engine.
Aftermarket automotive air intakes come in a few different types: cold air, short ram and chamber. A short ram intake is a shorter version of the cold air intake. This type of car air intake provides air to the vehicle's intake manifold just like the others do. The difference of this one is the type of air it provides. Being that it is short, hence short ram, the air around the engine isn't very cool. This air intake pulls air from around the engine parts which when running are usually hot. An engine does not run as well on warm air as it does on cool air. This is also called heat soak for proper terms. The short ram intake can be a very inexpensive upgrade at maybe $100 or so depending on the vehicle. Installation is a breeze as well. It takes longer to remove the factory air box components then it does to install a short ram air intake. This type of intake will be louder than the cold air intake since it is a shorter pipe.
The cold air intake system is what many enthusiasts prefer. It does have its pros and cons though. Unlike the short ram air intake, a cold air intake is much longer more involved. This type of intake offers better air flow since it is a longer tube and it provides cooler air for the engine. When installed, a cold air intake system hangs towards the bottom of the front bumper. This is an optimal position to provide the coolest air possible. On high performance cars, some will have a cutout in the bumper or even the headlight removed to provide direct air. The engine can benefit from a cold air intake because there isn't as much heat soak like the short ram version. This smoother tube design is also more beneficial than the stock and restrictive assembly. Along with better air flow, the cold air intake system provides the engine with more sound and growl then before. Do not expect huge performance gains from this, though. Some companies claim their products produce anywhere from 5 to 20 more horsepower. This is based on having other aftermarket parts installed as well. It will likely feel faster and does provide a boost in performance though.
Higher end vehicles sometimes use air intake chambers. These chambers are designed based on the vehicle and cannot be applied to just any car. The chamber is a closed boxed with passage for air to flow with a filter located somewhere in the box. Air intakes made in this form are usually very expensive because they are sometimes made from carbon fiber. The carbon fiber helps reduce weight for some vehicles made for track use.
The debate on which is air intake is better continues to this day. One will never know which is better because they all provide different ways of getting air into the engine's intake manifold. The cold air intake may not be better than the short ram because it is closer to the ground. If someone were to live in an area with daily flooding, a cold air intake would not be a good option. If water gets sucked through the intake, it will hydrolock the engine rendering it useless. A solution for this is to add a product offered by AEM called a bypass valve. The bypass valve will close off when water hits it and open up filters on the side allowing the engine to still breathe! All three intakes provide performance gains somewhere throughout the powerband. If pricing is a selling point, a short ram automotive air intake is going to be the least expensive, followed by the cold air intake and then the power chamber.