Does A Cold Air Intake Increase Mpg or Improve Fuel Economy (Not Worth It)?

Getting less miles per gallon recently? Many folks are feeling the pinch at the pump these days. A reasonable question comes up – can simple add-ons like a cold air intake help your ride go farther on a tank of gas? Let’s explore the realities around cold air intakes and fuel mileage.

Are you also thinking of switching to bigger tires? Read my guide on how big tires affect MPG.

Does A Cold Air Intake Increase Mpg?

Not enough, considering the price you have to pay for cold air intake installation.

The impact of cold air intakes on gas mileage is debated, with minimal gains at best. Most users report no noticeable improvement in MPG after installing an aftermarket cold air intake.

While cold air intake may provide a slight increase in horsepower by reducing air intake temperatures, this denser air requires more fuel to maintain proper air-fuel ratios.

Manufacturers design efficient factory airboxes already optimized for street driving. Aftermarket intakes offer little improvement for most modern fuel-injected vehicles.

Driving style and habits have a greater impact on gas mileage than engine modifications like cold air intakes.

Smooth acceleration and braking, avoiding excessive speeds, removing extra weight, and proper tire inflation provide more MPG benefits for free. Regular maintenance like tune-ups and clean air filters also supports better efficiency.

The small potential MPG gains from cold air intakes rarely offset their purchase and maintenance costs over a vehicle’s lifetime.

Any minor improvements may be further reduced by temptation to drive more aggressively due to increased noise. Independent testing and user reviews reveal limited functional benefits beyond aesthetics and sound.

How Does Cold Air Intake System Work?

cold air intake system

Cold air intake system works by providing a less restrictive path to the intake air by passing it through a straight metal pipe and a conical air filter.

In cold air intake systems, heat shields are incorporated to protect the intake air from the heat of surrounding engine components that are hot enough to increase the temperature of the intake air.

However, some cold air intake systems are less restrictive, but they still draw air in front of the hot engine bay and behind the radiator. In that case, a cold air intake isn’t worth anything as it will not perform its job efficiently.

If the aftermarket intake system is just a pod filter with a short length of piping under the hood, it is not going to make much difference as the filter will be still located in the hot engine bay. 

The pod filter is a cone-shaped high-flow air filter in aftermarket air intake systems is designed to suck more air and produce more horsepower.

Moreover, due to a conical design, aftermarket air intake systems produce a louder sound during acceleration just like straight pipe exhaust systems.

When installing cold air intake, you should tune the ECU if the aftermarket intake system has a larger inlet pipe. In that case, you would need a bigger throttle body, and the MAF (Mass Airflow) sensor isn’t going to be mapped to the high flow of air.

The largest potential downside of cold air intake systems is water inhalation. Your factory intake is very good at protecting the car from getting a big slug of liquid.

Even with shielding, your chance of sucking up water and damaging your engine is significantly higher with a cold air intake system.

What Does Cold Air Intake Do?

Adding a cold air intake is an easy way to get more power from your engine. It works by bringing in cooler outside air instead of hot engine bay air.

Cool air is heavier since it packs together tighter. That means each gulp of air has more oxygen for your engine to burn. More oxygen plus fuel makes bigger bangs in the cylinders so you get more zoom zoom!

The cold air intake also helps the engine gulp more air faster when you step on the gas pedal. More fast air makes the engine feel extra zippy instead of lazy.

So the cold air intake gives you:

  1. More oxygen for powerful explosions
  2. Faster gulps of air when accelerating

That’s why they help your engine make more power using the same old gas! The only trick is fitting the intake pipes nicely so the fresh air zooms straight in.

cold air benefits engine more due to its higher density

Efficiency of Cold Air Intake Depends On Vehicle

In some vehicles, factory airboxes are next to perfect and do not offer any restrictions on the upcoming air.

In modern vehicles, factory air intake is a cold air intake, pulling air through the grille, fender well, or something along those lines.

Aftermarket so-called “cold air” intake systems are not worth it because they put an exposed filter with no separation in a hot engine bay.

For example, in the below picture, you can see that an aftermarket K&N cold air intake filter is exposed to the engine bay. Although it is withdrawing air from the fender well, the cone-shaped air filter is exposed to the hot engine bay.

cold air intake filter is placed outside the engine bay

Here is what a user says about the stock air intake system in his vehicle:

There’s a duct that goes from the air cleaner snout to the grill, pulling in cooler air than what’s available under the hood.”

If you see the initial 5 minutes of the youtube video below, the stock air intake system is also drawing air from the fender well without exposing it to the engine bay.

However, on the other hand, one person installed K&N cold air intake on his 2010 Ford F150 which increased the engine performance. His vehicle had a 5.4 3v Christian v8 engine.

Using Drop-in Filters

Drop-in air filters are designed to flow more air than your OEM air filter, but they don’t have any cons that are associated with aftermarket cold air intake systems.

People have observed a 1-2% increase in HP by using aftermarket drop-in filters. You can easily install them in the OEM air filter box.

Most car owners, instead of getting a $400 aftermarket cold air intake system, only replace the OEM air filter with a high-performance K&N drop-in filter in the vehicles with factory-installed cold air intake systems. Those filters will only cost you around $60.

Cold Air Intake Improves Power Above Certain RPMs

Your driving style also greatly impacts MPG after installing the cold air intake system. A true cold air intake system only improves power and fuel economy at higher RPMs.

For most daily drivers, a cold air intake system may not provide significant benefits. Since the average commuter spends more time at low engine speeds rather than high RPMs, a cold air intake won’t dramatically improve performance during normal around-town driving.

However, for vehicles used primarily for racing, track days, or aggressive driving, the increased airflow from a cold air intake can deliver meaningful high-RPM improvements.

When the engine is revved up consistently, the cooler, denser air charges allowed by a cold air intake system can optimize combustion and yield worthwhile gains in horsepower, torque, and throttle response.

So, you will not face much difference in MPG and fuel economy with a cold air intake system until the engine revs above 4,000 RPM. This is because airflow requirements increase with RPM.

The engine throttles more as the accelerator pedal is depressed. So, to reap the benefit of cool, denser air with a high flow through a cold air intake system and find a noticeable difference in fuel mileage and horsepower of your engine, you need to rev at high speeds.

Apart from this, if your vehicle remains mostly in low to mid-range RPMs, you can significantly improve the MPG by just improving your driving style.

The easiest way to noticeably improve the fuel economy of your engine is with your foot. You should moderately press the accelerator. If you accelerate heavily from a stop, it will consume more gas until you get to your normal cruising speed.

Similarly, aggressive braking also damages the fuel economy or MPG as the significant energy generated by the fuel is converted to heat due to excessive friction between brake pads and the rotor. 

So, avoid accelerating rapidly to overcome other cars or immediate breaking not to hit the next one.

Final Thoughts

So, does cold air intake increase MPG? I would say that reducing airflow restrictions and air temperature with a well-designed and properly located Cold Air Intake can enhance performance and MPG. The results after installing cold air intake entirely depend on the condition of your OEM air filter and the installation of a stock air intake system.

The point of the CAI is to draw cold air from outside of the engine bay. If the air is exposed to a hot engine bay, there isn’t any significant benefit of spending $400 on a cold air intake system to achieve a few percentage of improvements in the MPG.

If you ask my opinion, I like Spectre and Volant CAI. In Volant CAI, the filter is fully enclosed in a box. Volant CAI also comes with a Scoop that runs down closer to the ground that sucks air in from the grill, thus taking the much cooler.

You can buy any of those cold air intake kits and test the air intake temperatures and MPG after the kit is installed. Amazon has a refund policy. So, that won’t be an issue. furthermore, replacing stock exhaust and headers with the aftermarket exhaust system, having a wider piping and less restrictive muffler. In most cases, you’ll lose some low-end torque but as you climb higher in RPMs you will be utilizing the higher flow and making more power.

First Hand Experiences Shared By Users In Different Communities

Our team conducted research across various online communities, forums, and subreddits to gather user comments and opinions on “effects of cold air intake on mpg”.

User 1:

I’ve always been skeptical about cold air intakes. From what I’ve read, the gains in MPG and power are often minimal and vary greatly depending on the car and the quality of the intake system. Personally, I think regular maintenance and driving habits have a bigger impact on fuel efficiency and performance.

User 2:

In my experience with a Subaru WRX, the cold air intake added a bit more power, especially at higher RPMs. The sound is great, and there’s a noticeable difference in throttle response. However, I didn’t really buy it for fuel efficiency, so I can’t say much about any MPG gains.

User 3:

I’ve installed cold air intakes on two different cars – a Toyota Corolla and a Chevy Camaro. The Corolla didn’t see much improvement in power or MPG, but the Camaro felt more powerful. I think it really depends on the type of vehicle and what you’re expecting to get out of the upgrade.

User 4:

One thing to consider is your environment. I live in a very dusty area and found that a cold air intake required more frequent filter cleaning. I did notice a small improvement in MPG, but it was offset by the need for more maintenance. Power increase was negligible for my Honda Accord.

User 5:

I put a cold air intake on my 2003 Ford F-150. The truck definitely feels more responsive, especially when I’m towing. As for MPG, there’s been a slight improvement, but nothing dramatic. I think it’s more about the driving experience for me.

How Much Improvement In MPG You Observed After Installing Cold Air Intake? Please Vote.

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  1. This writer doesn’t know shit about cars. Saying improving gas mileage or improving mpg is the same thing. Why does it need to be said twice?

    1. Hey there, I apologize for any confusion. But, to my technical knowledge, both mpg and gas mileage have the same meaning. MPG stands for “miles per gallon”. It refers to the distance covered by the vehicle by consuming one gallon of gas. If you search both terms on Google, you will find the same results for both. I hope it’s clear for you. If you have any questions, you can ask:)

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