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Clueless Motorist: The Cold Hard Truth About Cold Air Intakes

I equate having to listen to people talk about their engines to being Charlie Brown in class: I know they’re spitting out words, but it’s just utter nonsense to me. And rather than make an effort to understand, I usually just get sucked into my smartphone and play video games (Clash of Clans, baby!) until it’s all over.

But on those rare occasions that I do decide to tune in to their conversations about…tuning… I usually just hear a bunch of words I’ve never heard before and copious references to new “cold air intakes”.

What the fuck is a cold air intake, and more importantly, why should we all care?

From what I’ve gathered over the years, a CAI is something that not only makes your car faster and run smoother, but also adds a little yellow smiley sticker to your ego that says “good job!”

ImageLet’s consult our educational overlord, Wikipedia, in order to get some answers here.

A cold air intake is an aftermarket assembly of parts used to bring relatively cool air into a car’s internal-combustion engine.

Most vehicles manufactured since the mid-1970s have thermostatic air intake systems that regulate the temperature of the air entering the engine’s intake tract, providing warm air when the engine is cold and cold air when the engine is warm to maximize performance, efficiency, and fuel economy. Aftermarket cold air intake systems are marketed with claims of increased engine efficiency and performance. The putative principle behind a cold air intake is that cooler air has a higher density, thus containing more oxygen per volume unit than warmer air.

The kicker in this explanation is the fact that they used the word “claims”. With a decent cold air intake and tuner kit (which is used to calibrate your engine to your desired specifications) being around $700 for my car (A 2010 Ford Mustang), I’m not taking any chances on claims.

It either works or it doesn’t, annnnnnd, according to the video below…

…it really doesn’t.

So why the hell are people spending good money to alter their engines for something that essentially has very little gain?

Part of the reason may be because a cold air intake will tend to make the engine louder, which some consider a coveted trait in their vehicles.

Or it might just be the flawed rule of mathematics: loud engine + hot person = one smoking hot date.

But if I had to guess, the real reason for the popularity surrounding the CAI is most likely due to the chain effect. You all know what I’m talking about. If everyone tells you that the iPhone is the best phone ever (a “fact” I will always argue), then next time you go shopping for a phone, you buy an iPhone. Why argue with the general consensus?

Whatever the cause, just don’t allow yourself to get suckered into purchasing something for your car you really won’t need. Do your research first on your specific make and model and consult an expert.

And the next time people around you are blabbering about cold air intakes, blind them with your new found science! You might just save someone quite a few bucks down the road.

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