Do Cold Air Intakes Increase MPG? What You Need to Know

Do Cold Air Intakes Increase MPG? What You Need to Know

Most car enthusiasts slap a cold air intake onto their intake manifold to gain some extra horsepower. Depending on your vehicle, they’re usually an affordable performance modification that can get you about 5-10 extra horsepower. Plus, they have a wicked sound as they pull more air through the engine. That said, what if we told you that cold air intakes can help you get more miles per gallon?

Read on to learn more about cold air intakes and how they can improve your vehicle’s fuel efficiency when used properly.

What Is a Cold Air Intake?

A cold air intake (CAI) is an aftermarket component that you can purchase for your vehicle. They’re connected to the intake manifold, and their purpose is to bring colder air into the engine. Most cold air intakes connect to the same spot that the factory intake does, so you don’t have to worry about hooking up an entirely new system. In fact, it’s one of the best mods for a new automotive enthusiast to work on.

What makes the cold air intake different from the stock intake is that it can draw in colder air. They also look different because they consist of lightweight tubing and an air filter, which can be cleaned or replaced. Most cold air intake filters are round, whereas most stock air filters have a square-like design. This is a great way to know if the air intake on your vehicle is stock.

Is It Easy to Install a Cold Air Intake?

Cold air intakes are one of the simplest engine components to install, depending on where it’s located. You may only have to remove a fender, bumper, and the original intake. Everything should connect to the same piping, so it comes down to connecting the intake and making sure it’s sealed.

If you’re worried about the difficulty level, you can opt for a shorter air intake modification. They’re not the same as cold air intakes, but they have the same goal. You also don’t have to worry about removing other components like the bumper or fender to install one because they’re much shorter.

How Much Does a Cold Air Intake Cost?

Cold air intakes will save you money over the long term, but what about the short term? Installing a cold air intake is affordable compared to most engine mods. Typically, the part will cost you between $50 and $500. This comes down to quality, the intake brand, and the type of intake. As for labor, expect most technicians to charge you for about an hour or two of work, so expect another $100 to $200.

How a Cold Air Intake Can Improve Fuel Efficiency

Do cold air intakes increase MPG? Yes, cold air intakes improve fuel efficiency because they send more oxygen into the combustion chamber. This is possible because cold air is more dense, which means it contains more oxygen by volume in its molecules. Dense, cold air flowing through the cylinders provides the engine with more oxygen for combustion compared to less dense, hot air.

When the engine is getting more oxygen, it’s easier to balance out the air-to-fuel ratio. For example, hot, dense air will require more fuel for combustion to work properly. When you have cold, dense air, you don’t have to use as much gasoline. You’ll notice the most benefits at standard operating speeds. Plus, most cold air intakes improve general airflow, which helps the engine breathe better.

Cold air intakes bring colder air into the engine by bringing in air from outside the engine bay. Engine bays get hot, especially if there’s no way for air to escape (like hood vents), so most cold air intakes pull in air from the grille, bumper, or fender.

Can a Cold Air Intake Reduce Fuel Efficiency?

Unfortunately, yes, a cold air intake can also reduce your vehicle’s fuel efficiency. One of the most common causes of a reduction in efficiency from a cold air intake is water or debris entering your engine. Because most cold air intakes are exposed, and away from the engine, they’re more susceptible to taking in water. Water entering your engine will cause several problems, and one of them is worse fuel efficiency.

Keep in mind that this risk is more common with cold air intakes that are located in the wheel well. Still, if you have a vented hood, water could also sneak through the filter.

Does a High-Flow Air Filter Improve Gas Mileage?

Like a cold air intake, yes, a high-flow air filter can improve your gas mileage. It can improve your vehicle’s torque and horsepower, which will improve your miles per gallon. That said, high-flow air filters won’t improve your fuel efficiency as much as a cold air intake. Depending on your needs, both options are viable, so always consider this before installing anything on your vehicle.

Tips for Further Improving Your Fuel Efficiency With a Cold Air Intake

Slapping a cold air intake on your engine is a great start, but you can take this even further. Some of the best things you can do include tuning your engine, improving the intake manifold, and taking care of the intake.

Tuning Your Engine

Modern vehicles have a PCM and ECU to ensure that the right amount of fuel is added to the cylinders during combustion. These computers also connect other aspects of your vehicle to ensure that everything is working properly.

When you add a cold air intake to your vehicle without updating the computer with a tune, you’re leaving the performance and fuel efficiency on the table. Make sure you tune your engine after any engine modification to ensure that everything is running properly.

Getting a High-quality Cold Air Intake

When it’s time to install a cold air intake, make sure you shop for quality parts. Brands are important when it comes to engine modifications because the slightest issue can cause expensive problems if something goes wrong. Always choose the best cold air intakes from reputable brands like K&N.

Additional Shielding

If you have a shorter RAM air intake, you’ll want some shielding. These components cut the air intake off from the heat generated by the rest of the engine. You can also install these behind intakes that run through the grill, bumper, or fender for increased performance. Vented hoods and open grilles may also help.

Following these tips will help you maximize your fuel efficiency and performance.

What Are the Other Benefits of a Cold Air Intake?

The primary benefit of a cold air intake isn’t usually fuel efficiency. While it will save you 3-5 miles per gallon (on average), there are some other benefits you should know.

Learn more about some of the other benefits below.

More Power and Acceleration

The reason that most car enthusiasts install a cold air Intake is for the gains. Expect to gain between 5 and 10 horsepower when you install a cold air intake, even without a tune. Tunes can be done on your own or by a tuner and can further enhance your torque and horsepower gains. While 5-10 horsepower might not sound like a lot, that’s enough to make your car feel fresh. Plus, it can help you get up to highway speeds faster when you’re merging.

Higher Quality Filter

Most vehicles come with a paper filter from the factory, which is usually enough because it’s protected by a cover. However, cold air intakes are exposed, so the air filter is made with more durable materials. In fact, some cold air intake filters never need to be replaced. Instead, you can wash them. Always follow the instructions for your specific filter because some contain oils and can’t just be washed with water.

These are only some of the benefits, and there may be more depending on your goals.

What Are the Disadvantages of a Cold Air Intake?

Whenever you install a new mod, there are some perks and drawbacks. This is just how it works with cars, especially if you’re trying to squeeze horsepower and torque out of them. Therefore, it’s important to know and fully understand the risks of installing a cold air intake to determine if the added fuel efficiency is worth it.

Easier to Take in Water and Debris

Depending on the location of a cold air intake, you might have some extra moisture or debris flowing through your cylinder heads. This is the last thing you want, especially for fuel efficiency. The result can be a reduction in fuel efficiency, misfires, and other problems.

When shopping for a cold air intake, make sure you make note of where it gets the air from. For example, some cold air intakes will pull air from the wheel well. While this reduces the amount of engine heat it sucks in, it also places you at risk of taking in water and debris if you drive through a puddle or dirt.

Heat Soaking

Heat soaking is entirely dependent on your vehicle and where the air is coming from. A heat-soaked air intake occurs when you’re driving in stop-and-go traffic.

When the vehicle sits still for extended periods, the engine bay begins to heat up. Typically, this isn’t an issue for stock air intakes because they have a cover to shield them from this heat. Unfortunately, most cold air intakes aren’t covered, so they can end up sending hot air through the engine. Furthermore, the intake piping itself will heat up, which can further increase the temperature of the air.

The good news is that this is usually only a problem with RAM air intake or other types of short air intakes. A true cold air intake that runs to the wheel well or fog light shouldn’t have this issue.

Thankfully, many disadvantages of a cold air intake can be overcome by being careful.

Install a Cold Air Intake to Improve Your Gas Mileage Today

Cold air intakes aren’t usually the first modification you think of when it comes to fuel efficiency. That said, cold air intakes do increase MPG and will help you save money at the gas pump as long as you use it properly.

Make sure you install it properly and tune your engine once it’s mounted for the best performance.