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Battle of the Intakes
By Nikki Williamson

When a tuner first begins modifying their car, the intake is almost guaranteed to be one of the first items on the list. It is such a simple change, yet it’s the beginning of making all the difference in the car’s “breathing” efficiency. So naturally, with such a high demand for intakes, there are plenty of options of brands and types to choose from. Where do we start, and what are the benefits of an aftermarket intake system? Firstly, some stock intake systems have rubber piping. This causes inefficiency in airflow. There is no aftermarket intake out there that will give you rubber piping. They are all metal. A better intake system will give your car better throttle response, however do not expect huge horsepower gains. You’ll be lucky to get about five horses out of it and you most likely won’t feel much of a difference. However, besides the better throttle response, the intake usually gives it a throatier sound as well.

Now comes the next question. Do you pick a cold air intake or a short ram intake? Here are a few distinctions between the two types to help you make a better choice. The cold air intake does just what it says; it brings in “cold” air. Calling it cold air may be a bit of an exaggeration, but because the piping tends to go down closer to the ground, it is able to bring cooler air flowing in from outside the engine bay. This cooler air is of course denser, and therefore can produce more power. Just remember, this modification can’t perform miracles.

There are drawbacks to the cold air intake as well. The main one is that throttle response is not improved because the distance the air must travel. Another major concern is hydro-locking the engine. Since the filter is so close to the ground, if the car is driven through a puddle, it can potentially suck in water and destroy the motor. But what kind of car enthusiast is going to be driving their pride and joy through threatening-looking puddles?

One last drawback to the cold air intake is that the filter may need more attention than a short ram intake. When the filter is closer to the ground, it has more chance to get dirty and even damaged from debris on the road.

Most die-hard tuners will tell you that the cold air intake is best for non-turbo (naturally aspirated) setups. This is true because with a short ram in a turbo car, it gets the throttle response it needs for quick spool up. A cold air intake in these cars can hinder the performance of the turbo whereas it is not as important for a non-turbo setup.

Short ram intakes are also as they sound. This kind does not extend closer to the ground, therefore getting the cooler air. But because the piping is so much shorter, the throttle response is improved. Because of this, the short ram application is recommended for turbocharged setups. The cooler air you can potentially get from a cold air intake should not be an issue with your turbo car because that is what intercoolers and pipe wrapping are for.

Many racers, especially Supras, do a temporary modification to gain more direct and cool air for their short ram intakes. The headlight on the same side as the filter is simply taken out and so in place is a hole to direct airflow in. Not only can this give racers improvement, but it also gives the car an aggressive “Terminator” look on the track!

So now that the differences of these two types of intakes are clear and you’ve made a decision to go either short ram or cold air, what brand do you pick from? There are many popular brands including K&N, Injen and AEM. Typically, the price range for either type of intake system is about $130. It’s not a bad price to pay compared to many other modifications in store for your car, but at the same time, it could be much cheaper.

If you’re mechanically inclined, go ahead and save your money by getting your intake pipe from elsewhere. Just taking some measurements and a little planning can save you a lot of money since piping from stores such as Home Depot are much cheaper than a name brand intake system. What about the quality you ask? Simply put, a pipe is a pipe. The filter is the part that should stay name brand and can be bought separately.

Another option to save money is to buy your intake through Ebay. It comes with everything you need although changing to a better quality filter is recommended. The only negative thing about the Ebay intake is that you'll need mounting arms. The pipe is simply held in place at the throttle body and can move around easily with just hand pressure. There are no stories of these pipes falling off, but some brackets and metal arms to secure it would provide some peace of mind. This is an easy fix.

Taking this first step in engine performance is critical and from there, all your other modifications will fit together like pieces of a puzzle. You just have to know your car on a personal level so you can fine tune it accordingly. So move quickly. Your car is waiting for you. Happy modding!

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Posted May 9, 2006

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