Cold Air Intake Guide

Updated Jan 16, 2015

cold-rushUntitled-1Today’s aftermarket air intake systems bring more power and efficiency to gas and diesel pickups of all makes and models

By Bruce W. Smith

We are a power-hungry lot.

Exhaust upgrades, engine mods, synthetic lubricants, special additives, and a host of other aftermarket products are added to our vehicles in hopes of making them just a little faster, a little more responsive, and wishfully a little more fuel-efficient than they are stock.

Those in construction trades are some of the most tenacious of this power-seeking group, always looking for ways to get a little more efficiency and performance from their work trucks.

One area where pickups can be made more efficient is under the hood. To be more precise, modifying the air-intake.



An engine is just a big air pump. So the easier it is for it to move air from the radiator to exhaust tip, the better it’s going to perform. It’s a simple matter of physics.

The other factor is air density. The cooler the air charge going into the engine, the more dense it is, and the more power the engine makes. (That’s why intercoolers are used on our diesel pickups.)

handsUntitled-1The filter box and the air-intake tube are where the biggest design changes occur in aftermarket intake systems.

The common theory among engine builders is for every percent change in the density of the intake air-flow, there’s an equal change in the engine power/efficiency: If the air intake is 2-percent cooler, then the engine’s capable of making 2-percent more power.

Why does an aftermarket air intake perform better than the OE intake? Because aftermarket products don’t have to meet the corporate constraints placed on the OE’s powertrain/engine designers.

Ford, Ram and GM have budgets to meet and a number of “consumer” parameters that limit what can be done in the way of maximizing performance.

Among those parameters is minimizing interior cab noise to make the trucks sound like the interior of a car.

So the OE air intakes have twists, turns and baffles designed in them to reduce the noise from the air intake, and, where applicable, the whine of the turbo spooling up/down.

cold-air-intakeUntitled-1Cold-air intake’s main goal is to improve air-flow to the engine. Here’s how Banks design does that while improving filtration efficiency.

From the cost perspective of the OE, there has to be a balance between “performance” and cost of the product.

If the OE can save a few dollars – or even e a few cents – on parts like an air filter or air-filter housing without compromising the warranty life cycle, then they can save hundreds of thousands in costs over the life of that vehicle’s production.

Sure, they can make any engine a huge power maker – but at what cost? And that’s the key.

Aftermarket manufacturers on the other hand, don’t have those types of constraints; if they can make a profit on a air intake that is street legal, flows more cooler air, grabs denser air, and provides better air filtration, then off to market they go.

That’s why one of the very first performance upgrades you see when a new model truck hits the market is – cold-air intakes.

Air intake systems are easy to design and easy to produce.



When you upgrade the stock air intake with an aftermarket version there are going to be changes.

The engine is going to make more power because it’s flowing more air, and, hopefully, that air is cooler (denser) that it was factory.

Not all cold-air intakes systems are designed equally, so some are better at the task than others. You just have to shop carefully and read the dyno charts and not just the ad hype.

Whether or not you can feel that new-found power in the seat of your pants and how much it shows on a dyno depends on the truck, the engine type, and the design of the cold-air intake kit.

pay-specialUntitled-1Pay special attention when moving the OE MAF sensor to the new cold-air intake tube. This is a critical component in the operation of today’s computer-controlled engines. Handle it with care.

Realistically, today’s pickup engines typically gain anywhere from about 3 to 8 percent (10 to 15hp for gas, 10 to 30hp for diesel), and that power is almost always in the upper rpm range.

There’s also an equivalent gain in torque (20 to 55 foot-pounds), which is what you actually feel when your truck is accelerating.

Fuel-economy gains? Well, that’s entirely dependent on your right foot.

In theory, fuel economy should mirror the power gains.

But in real life around a jobsite or in town, gains in fuel mileage are very rarely the case.

Where you will typically see a fuel economy bump is cruising down the open road.

When you do see an mpg gain, smile because the cold-air intake is working magically.



Another gain that’s almost always noticeable might not be as welcome to some. It’s a slight increase in cabin noise.

You’ll hear the intake on acceleration. You’ll hear the throttle open and close. You’ll hear the turbo spool up and down.

That’s what to expect when air-flow is increased 40- to 50-percent more than stock.

Is that an issue? Not normally.

The noise increase inside the cab is typically just a couple of decibels; audible but not annoying to most. And when you are cruising, the noise difference between the stock intake and the aftermarket is negligible.

Then there’re the service benefits. Nearly every air intake kit comes with re-useable air filters. That means the filter can be removed, washed/cleaned, and re-used multiple times. Some filters, like K&N’s, are lifetime, so they never have to be replaced.

High-flow air systems usually make it easier/faster to service the air filter, too.

Over the life of the truck this saves a lot of time – and money.



As for installation, it’s an easy upgrade that’ll take a shop mechanic less than an hour’s work on most trucks. No special tools. No special skills required.

We’ve done a number of air intake upgrade installs in ProPickup and on the website. Check them out to see the steps involved and the results.

An important part of any air-system upgrade is paying close attention to the mass-air-flow (MAF) sensor, which must be moved from the stock intake to the new one without damaging it. Handle with care.

The products shown here are good examples of premium air-intake kits. Believe me when I say there’s one for your pickup – and that it’ll make a difference in its performance.




db-powercoreUntitled-1dB POWERCORE

dB Performance’s gas-engine cold-air intakes feature PowerCore Filtration Technology by Donaldson. Intakes are engineered specifically for the application and contain a silicone connector that provides flexibility in the system while maintaining strength and thermal stability. The dB Performance Air Intakes by Corsa are a great performance companion to dB Performance Exhaust systems.; (800) 486-0999



supre-duty-high-flowUntitled-1SUPER DUTY HIGH-FLO

The K&N High-Flow Intake System for the 2011-13 Ford Super Duty 6.7L Power Stroke adds 12hp over the stock intake. It replaces the stock air box, air filter and intake tube with an all-new intake design that draws air through a K&N High-Flow Air Filter. Filter carries K&N million-mile limited warranty.; (800) 858-3333



S&B-DuramaxUntitled-1S&B DURAMAX

S&B Filters kit for the 2012-newer 6.6L Duramax fit perfectly with GM’s new design for the LML’s induction tube with its second MAF sensor that allows the engine to meet factory parameters without sacrificing airflow. Kit uses S&B’s eight-ply cleanable cotton filter and maintains a 41.8-percent increase in airflow over the stock intake.; (800) 358-2639



air-aid-GM-MFXUntitled-1AIRAID GM MXP

Airaid Filter Company’s MXP Series Intake System, which fits the 6.6L Duramax, includes a massive one-piece airbox and intake tube. Kit adds 19hp and 34 foot-pounds of torque in the middle of the rpm curve. Its 1700cfm washable and reusable Premium Air Filter is available with either SynthaFlow composite or our newest SynthaMax Non-Oiled filtration technology. “No-hassle” warranty.; (800) 498-6951



banks-ram-airUntitled-1BANKS RAM-AIR

Banks Ram-Air cold-air intake for the 6.7L Cummins increases the flow of cool, dense air to the engine by 35 percent for greater power and fuel economy. Streamlined design and CAD flow-tested, it will not cause faults or throw codes.; (800) 601-8072



air-aid-juniorUntitled-1AIRAID JUNIOR

F-150 owners on a tight budget can still enjoy the benefits of higher intake air-flow with the new Airaid Jr. system that replaces the most restrictive portions of the 5.0L’s factory intake system: the air filter and the intake tube. Kit includes a new intake tube that eliminates restrictions caused by the factory tube and a drop-in replacement filter that flows 35-percent more than factory.; (800) 498-6951


Banks-powerstrokeUntitled-1BANKS 6.0L POWERSTROKE

Banks Ram-Air Intake System puts more pep in the 6.0L Powerstroke’s step, flowing up to 38-percent better than stock. Its dome-shaped cotton gauze filter, with lifetime warranty, and the contoured, aerodynamic shape of the airbox eliminates restrictive sharp bends and chokepoints. Works seamlessly with stock sensors and will not generate trouble codes. Easy to install and service.; (800) 601-8072



K&N-cumminsUntitled-1K&N CUMMINS

The K&N High-Flow Intake System for the 2010-12 Ram 2500/3500 6.7L Cummins Diesel increases horsepower by an estimated 8hp. It draws air through a High-Flow Air Filter that never needs to be replaced. Protecting the oversize cone-shaped air filter, and isolating it from engine heat, is an enclosed airbox and snorkel for bringing in lower outside temperatures.; (800) 858-3333



S&B-PowerstorkeUntitled-1S&B POWERSTROKE

Owners of late-model Super Duty owners can increase engine airflow by about 34 percent using S&B Filters new cold-air intake for the 6.7L Powerstroke. The custom airbox’s clear cover seals the intake from the hot engine compartment while making it easy to inspect the filter. Laser-design helps kit fit like a glove. Install time is less than 30 minutes.; (800) 358-2639