Car tuning has arguably become more popular than it has ever been, particularly with import models that are inexpensive and easy to modify. One of the most popular modifications, or "mods," is the cold air intake, which is available for as little as $30 for low-end models. While cold air intakes are known to vastly increase the loudness of an engine's roar, there's an ongoing debate as to whether or not they actually significantly increase a car's horsepower.
Heat shields are often added to cold air intakes to gain even more horsepower. These are metal housings around the conical filter that block heat from the engine, thus keeping the air even cooler. Adding a heat shield may add two to four horsepower to what's already been added by the original intake.
A short ram intake is a common variation to the cold air intake. These are simpler designs that are based off a similar principle, except that they use shorter pipes that don't reach down underneath the engine bay. Instead, these intakes are located in a similar position to the stock air pipes. They do not take in cool air, as cold air intakes do, because their openings are located often right near the engine, where temperatures can exceed 500 degrees F. Therefore, they only add about half the horsepower of a cold air intake. However, many tuners favor short ram over cold air simply because it is not as susceptible to a catastrophic malfunction known as hydro-lock.
Because cold air intakes have openings close to the ground, submerging them in a deep puddle on a rainy day may cause water to be sucked up into your engine. Once there, the engine's pistons will be unable to compress the water, as they do air, and bend out of shape, leading to costly repairs that may require a complete engine replacement. Those with cold air intakes should avoid driving around in wet areas or consider a bypass valve, which is an attachment that can be placed within the piping of your cold air intake which brings provides air with an alternate route to the engine, thus eliminating the vacuum responsible for bringing up water.
Cold air intakes do in fact raise horsepower, but depending on the base horsepower of the car, the differences may be negligible. For example, a car with 250 base horsepower won't improve much with the addition of just seven or so horsepower. However, they're still a popular add-on with tuners simply for their good looks and ability to make engines--even small ones--roar.
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