The Cold-Air Conundrum
Question: “I just bought a Mustang and my friend told me I should get a cold air intake as my first mod, but I’m new to cars and I was wondering what a cold air intake is and how it helps my car.”
This is a great question, and one I hear almost daily. Cold-air intakes are great first mods because their easy installation makes them a perfect DIY project. Before we delve into the details, let’s start with the basics. Your stock intake consists of the airbox, the mass air-flow sensor (aka “MAF”), and the air inlet tube that connects to the throttle body. The airbox houses the air filter and in some cases the MAF. An AmericanMuscle Mustang air filter removes moisture and particulates like dust and pollen from your Stang – all things you don’t want in your engine. Once the air is clean and dry, it’s the MAF’s responsibility to tell the computer how much air the engine is getting, which is why your car won’t run (well) without it. With the cleaning, drying, and measuring out of the way it’s just a short trip up the inlet tube to the throttle body and into the engine. Seems pretty simple, right? Well it is, but let’s see how an aftermarket intake differs from stock, and how that affects your Pony.
The key to boosting your performance on a naturally aspirated motor is improving airflow, and one of our Mustang cold air intakes is the perfect starting point. “It’s just an intake; can it really make a difference?” – YES! It definitely can. Let’s start with the filter: Factory and OE filters are made of paper, which does a decent job of filtering but doesn’t allow as much airflow as the less-restrictive aftermarket filters. Many CAI kits also relocate the filter, moving it to the inner fender well. This allows the intake to draw cooler air, and we all know a cooler engine is a happier engine. The inlet tube is enlarged and simplified, using less turns to get more air to the engine faster, before it has a chance to absorb heat from the engine bay.
To Tune, or Not to Tune…
For you folks with 2005 to 2010 Stangs, that certainly is the question! The reason is that the computers on these newer models are more sensitive than their predecessors’. Basically, the computer is programmed to accept between x and y amount of air, so if you slap on a CAI that’s allowing in z amount of air, the computer thinks something is wrong, causing the car to run poorly or not at all. Every car is different, so if you put on a “no-tune” intake and wind up with a check-engine light, a Mustang tuner might be all you need to get your pony back on the road.
Another common question is “Will a ram-air intake give me more HP than a fender-well CAI?” A ram-air intake mounts the filter right at the front of the engine bay, either off to the side (similar to where the factory airbox mounted) or right over the center. If you have a ram-air style hood, or open hood scoop, cool air flowing over the hood will come right into the intake. Keep in mind that a ram-air intake is most beneficial when you have a hood with some type of opening. Also, cold-air intakes of all types tend to make noise due to their large inlet tube and faster-flowing design. You’ll probably experience a whistling or “vacuum”-type noise after installation; this is completely normal, so don’t panic.
Cold air intakes are an improvement over your stock setup, and they increase performance. They’re an easy mod that won’t break the bank, but will introduce you to the world of DIY modifications. Now that you’ve got the 4-1-1 on how they work, take a look at our cold air intake install video for some extra assistance, or drop one of our trusty AM techs a line if you have any questions.