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victor malvar
02-04-2006, 02:14 PM
By Steve Campbell

Cold-Air Intakes

A new air intake is among the first modifications a consumer will make to his vehicle, according to SEMA research. The other top candidates for modification are computer programming and cat-back exhaust systems, but manufacturers of air intakes believe that their products provide the best performance gains on a dollar-for-dollar basis.

The basic purpose of the cold-air system is to bring cool air from outside the engine compartment into the engine. This cool air is denser than the air found within the hot engine compartment. The denser charge contains more oxygen than warmer air, helping to provide better combustion through a more effective air/fuel mixture. The other advantage of most specialty-equipment cold air intakes is their consistent diameter and the absence of sharp bends, both of which help to eliminate turbulence in the air stream compared to some OE intakes.

“The air intake offers the best bang for the buck versus these other choices,” said Chris Thomson, national sales manager for AIRAID Premium Filters. “An air intake will also enhance the performance gains from those other products.”

As the performance market shifts—particularly in light of the dramatic increases in fuel prices over the past year—we thought it might be instructive to look at a specific product market to see how it is progressing. We found that air intakes have seen dramatic changes and are still evolving.

A Little History

“NEUSPEED was the first to make cold-air intakes for our niche market,” said Aaron Neumann, vice president of research and development for NEU-SPEED. “In the beginning, we were just eliminating the factory air filter system from the air-flow sensor and adding a K&N filter. That was back in the early ’70s. When we saw the effectiveness in increasing horsepower through air flow, our systems became much more technical in design and execution.”

As air intakes developed, new techniques were employed to more effectively route and calibrate the systems so that they maximized efficiency with the OE systems. Among the advances mentioned by our sources were roto-molded tubes, which allow for more complex geometry and higher heat resistance, and better filtering media rather than the standard cotton media.




A good cold-air intake must be designed to not only efficiently channel air from the filter to the throttle body but also be ergonomically correct and appealing to the eye, according to J.R. Granatelli of Granatelli Motor Sports. (Photo Courtesy of Granatelli Motor Sports)

“Various synthetic and foam elements offer increased filtration capabilities while maintaining high-flow characteristics,” explained Aaron Morant, R&D development for Envisia Technologies. “Technol-ogy advances over the last 10 years have allowed for the incorporation of standard features such as velocity stacks and anti-turbulence designs.”

Even more crucial have been advances in engineering and calibration techniques, according to J.R. Granatelli, president of Granatelli Motor Sports, Inc. “Ten years ago, a cold-air intake meant a bigger filter that evolved to a tube with an even bigger filter that connected to the carb or throttle body,” he said. “Today, a good cold-air intake is designed to not only channel air from the filter to the throttle body in an efficient manner but also to be ergonomically correct and eye appealing. A cold-air intake today needs to be more than just a larger tube with the factory electronics moved into place. All too often, consumers receive products that basically knock the factory calibration so far out of whack that they trigger a check-engine light. The fix for that is to properly calibrate the electronics. We offer this service to the manufacturer and the end user. All Granatelli cold-air systems come with the proper calibration.”

Now, however, another problem looms on the horizon. “The market segment as we know it is still less than 10 years old,” said AIRAID’s Thompson. “The most significant technical changes until now have been adjusting to the ever-changing mass air metering parameters that the OE’s created. Starting this year, we are faced with the upcoming Zero Emissions standards that require the trapping of all hydrocarbon emissions from the air intake system when the engine is shut off.”
While most of the manufacturers we spoke with provided product to either the sport-compact segment or to pickup and SUV consumers, the market has expanded to include the full breadth of vehicle types.

“The range of usage has expanded over the last decade,” said Chip Doeden, rally race team manager for Boshart Motor-Sports, Inc. “Where intake kits used to be sold only for performance-type applications, today intake kits are being marketed and used for fuel economy on everything from sport compacts to minivans.”

As with other products that have developed fairly rapidly, engineering sometimes lags with some of the manufacturers. Gales Banks, president of Gale Banks Engineering, which got in to the cold-air intake business early on, says that some of today’s systems don’t really do what they’re supposed to.

“It is unfortunate that oversimplified air intake systems have evolved that—while looking pretty—ingest underhood heat,” he explained. “We call these systems ‘air filters on a stick.’ They generally consist of a tube running from the air intake to the air filter element, which is usually conically shaped. Some of these systems have a dam around the air filter element and possibly a rubber gasket of some sort around the top to ‘seal’ it against the hood. These dams do not work very well and the air filter assembly breathes in hot underhood air. The hot underhood air has much less density than air that can be brought in from outside the engine compartment. Cool outside air is much denser and contributes significantly to increasing horsepower.”



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