An aftermarket air intake is a commonly discussed mod nowadays, it is the first thing that comes to mind as a reasonably priced performance enhancer yet such modification includes a whole set of responsibilities and considerations. After spending more than two years experimenting with different types of aftermarket cone filters; I will share the story of how things went.
When I purchased my car about more than two and a half years ago a good friend of mine, gave me a set of stainless-steel intake pipes as a gift, including all the accessories you need to install a complete cold air intake system on the engine. Before buying the filter, I went through several auto forums/sites discussing the advantages & disadvantages of these filters. Reading and learning about all the mixed reactions and opinions; the only way to know what works was by learning first hand.
Installing such system on your ride does come with a set of responsibilities and considerations that could avoid you wasting your hard earned cash or even potentially damaging your vehicle. The problem is many people that sell these intakes are anything but serious about their job.
Below is a mini-guideline that will provide you with all the basics of aftermarket air intake purchase, installation & maintenance:
The Air Intake System is fairly easy to install, it should take some 10-30 minutes of work depending on the vehicle & the setup being used.
Most importantly, the system should be installed and sealed properly as to avoid any dirty unfiltered air leaking into the engine. Take note, as well that many modern engines will require rerouting air flow sensors & breather pipes into the new intake pipe. The video below shows how the process is pretty straight forward:
Original brand intake pipes are designed to fit & work perfectly with your vehicle. For those that are willing buy 3rd party piping or plumbing for to build their own intake system, which is usually cheaper to do; should make sure everything fits, seals & ventilates well.
2. Performance gains:
Power gains from after-market intake kits are not that huge. An intake upgrade might be a good addition to a turbo-charged engine or a slightly under-powered vehicle. What you will get mostly is better throttle response, a little extra oomph & a louder un-muffled engine note. Though a poorly installed intake system could lead to power losses and it is common.
Another important and valuable observation is that many of the new cars have efficient stock intakes that an after market upgrade will seem pointless in terms of throttle response improvements; unless you seek to make plenty of noise with little money and keep your self away from constantly buying stock replacement filters.
There are two most common types of air-intake layouts (endless debates have been going on about which setup is better or more appropriate for certain uses and applications):
Short Ram Intake, the easier one to install as all you need is a pipe to hold your aftermarket filter & plug perfectly into your throttle body.
Cold Air Intake, is basically a pipe layout is drawn to the nearest cold air source, usually near bumper openings away from radiator fans or engine bay heat; cold air is more dense hence containing more oxygen for better combustion.
After installing an intake, fuel consumption on some cars can get affected. Since more air is going into the engine, the car’s ECU might adjust the fuel/air mixture by allowing more fuel into the engine as a compensation for the extra air going in.
Finally, the engine will get noisier, usually more pleasant, as the stock air-box is designed to muffle and reduce engine noise. Air suction & butterfly valve sounds will become more audible. It is the cheapest way to enjoy raw engine noise.
3. Breather Hose/Breather Filter:
On many cars there is a ventilation/breather hose that is drawn from the engine towards the OEM air intake pipes. Such system is meant to recycle any excess combustion gases passing beyond the piston rings into the crank case (known as blow-by) back into the combustion chambers.
There is a special nozzle on the aftermarket intake pipe on which the ventilation hose can be plugged on. Usually the nozzle on the aftermarket intake pipe meant for plugging a breather pipe. Picture below shows a breather/ventilation hose connected directly into an intake pipe:
Otherwise a better option is installing a special tiny breather filter (check below photo), which looks like a tiny air filter, installed on the ventilation opening/nozzle/hose. The reason to go for a breather filter is because sometimes the stock breather hose is too short to reach the nozzle on the new intake setup. The breather filter (pictured below), instead of recycling air back into the engine, releases the air into the atmosphere.
As a matter of fact, gas build up from blow by can reduce performance. Hence ventilation hoses should ‘never’ be closed or elongated. Any reduction or restriction of the breather pipe could render your aftermarket intake useless or even lead to power loss.
4. Maintenance and care:
Locally, I noticed that many owners do the terrible mistake of cleaning aftermarket filters using pressurized air, the same way a conventional OEM paper filter is cleaned. Such filters will get damaged as soon as they are hosed with pressurized air which ruins their filtration ability. The ideal way to clean such filters is by using special maintenance kits which can be bought form the suppliers selling the filter. Some people, even, brush off the dirt & re-soak them with engine oil.
Oil filters have to be periodically cleaned and re-oiled depending on how dirty they get & oiling should be a very careful process as excess oil is reported to cause a problems to Mass Air Flow sensors that some engines are equipped with.
An easier option would be settling for dry type, oil free, filters; which can be cleaned with water & left to dry naturally.
5. Value for Money & Buying the filter:
Aftermarket filters last for a life time if properly maintained and taken care of. They do cost much less (including the maintenance) compared to constantly buying OEM paper filters on a long run.
Finally, there are plenty of counterfeit filters out there, some look exactly like the original ones & it is recommended to research before you buy.
Performance gains & filtration capacity varies from filter to filter; here are three brands that were personally tested on a Short-Ram-Intake setup:
- Simota Oil-based Cone Filter:
Simota is the cheapest brand in the market, some more than 50% cheaper than many of the more popular & established brands. Simota brags about being one of the few manufacturers to provide the best air-flow in the market hence the highest performance gains.
Personally speaking, Simota kept their word and it was the best in-terms of performance gains at least compared to a K&N filter I bought later. Though the pay off is a terribly poor quality of filtration. After 6 months of using it, decent quantity & sizes of dirt particle build up on the inside of the air intake pipe can be seen.
- K&N Oil-based Cone Filter:
The most common, one of the oldest and favored brands when it comes to aftermarket filters; a K&N filter costs more than double the price of a Simota.
It does provide a slight hint of less air-flow but still the results are satisfactory in-terms of having better throttle response, a little extra oomph along with more peace of mind for using a more recognized brand. I used the K&N for more than a year and I re-oiled the filter, using the special re-oiling kit you had to buy separately about three times during this period. It still does not offer the genuine filtration a stock OEM paper filter does.
Compared to the Simota, the accumulation of dirt particles on the inner side of the intake did take more time to build up but there was still some significant filth.
- AEM Dry-Flow Cone Filter:
After trying out with Oil-based filters and seeing positive performance gains but a reduction in the quality of filtration; I opted for a dry type filter, which offered less performance gains compared to the oil filter but OEM like filtration.
Still, dry filters have an advantage; they don’t require any maintenance such as re-oiling but care should be taken when installing as the filtering media seems a bit soft and fragile.
With regards to filtering capacity, after eight months, there was signs superficial dirt build-up, on the inside of the intake pipe, similar to that of an OEM filter. That was peace of mind for me.
[DISCLAIMER: All of the above mentioned information is based on personal experience & experimentation.]