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Car Air Intake System – Things You Need to Know

Updated on February 13, 2014

It is quite an unfortunate fact that there are not few car owners out there that do not have any ideas on what the air intake in their car really is, how it works or whether it is important or not. The very first car air intake system was introduced to the public back then in the 1980s. Plastic intake tubes were molded to form the air intake. In addition to that, there was also a gauze air filter made of cotton and shaped resembling a cone. Then, about one decade afterwards, manufacturers from all over the world started to import air intake systems that were designed by the Japanese for the market of the sports compact car.

Today, however, thanks to technological advancements, air intake systems can now be obtained using metal tube materials. This, in turn, results in higher customizability. Most of the time, manufacturers will powder-coat, if not paint, the intake systems so that their color matches that of the car itself.

However, since most of today’s modern engines tend to get rid of the use of carburetor, what you should be more concerned about is the fuel-injected engines. In fact, your car may come with this type of engines as well. So, what should you actually know about it?

How Air Intake System Works

With this system, it is possible for the air outside to get into your car’s engine compartment and into your engine. For your information, your car engine requires oxygen to carry out the combustion process. A well designed intake system gives way for the clean air to continuously get into your engine. As a result, you can expect better mileage as well as higher power from your car.

Today’s intake systems are usually comprised of 3 parts which are the throttle body, air filter and mass flow sensor. Built normally behind your car’s front grille, the intake system attempts to draw some air passing a long plastic tube that leads to air filter housing. The air will then be mixed with the fuel of your car. The system will then deliver the air to the intake manifold that is supposed to supply the engine cylinders with that mixture of air and fuel.

Throttle Body

One part of the air intake system is the throttle body. It is meant to determine how much air can get into the combustion chamber. There is normally a bored housing within the throttle body. Within this housing, you can see a throttle plate rotating upon a shaft. When you depress the accelerator, this plate will open up and this makes it possible for the air to flow into the engine. Then, when you release the accelerator, the plate will close down and thus choke off the air flow effectively into the combustion chamber. As a result, the combustion rate as well as the speed of your car is effectively controlled.

You can normally find the throttle body between your car’s intake manifold and air filter box. The mass flow sensor is usually situated near the throttle body as well.

Air Filter

Air filter is very important as it is where the engine of your car “breathes” through. It is usually located in a box made of metal or plastic. The engine requires a certain amount of the air/fuel mixture before it will be able to run and all of the air required gets to the engine by means of the air filter.

The filter also functions to filter dirt besides other foreign particles that come along with the air. By preventing those particles from getting into the engine, the filter attempts to keep the engine from getting damaged.

It is often the case that the air filter is situated in the air stream that leads to the intake manifold and throttle valve assembly. You can usually find your air filter in a compartment in your car’s air duct to your car’s throttle valve assembly when you open the hood of your car.

Mass Flow Sensor

It is very important for your car to measure the mass of air that manages to get into your fuel-injected combustion engine. This is when the mass flow sensor comes in handy. From the sensor, the air then moves on to the throttle body.

You can usually find 2 types of mass flow sensors. The first one is the hot wire and the other is the vane meter. As its name implies, the hot wire makes use of wires that are strung in your car’s air stream. Each of these wires comes with electrical resistance which increases if the temperature of the wire increases. With that being said, it determines how much electrical current is able to flow past the circuit.

At the time the air gets through the wires, they cool down resulting in decreased resistance and higher amount of electrical current passing through the circuit. Yet, with more current passing through, the temperature of the wires increases so that the electrical resistance gets to the equilibrium state again.

The vane meter, on the other hand, comes with a flap that the air pushes while attempting to flow into the engine compartment of your car. The higher amount of air that comes in, the more pushed is the flap backwards. Most of the time, you will also be able to find another vane in addition to the main one. There is usually a closed camber where this second vane may well fit in. The camber causes the vane to experience damper movement so that the engine can measure the air flow more accurately.

The Cold Air Intake

This component is intended to pass some cooler air into the engine. This is to increase the efficiency and power of the engine. For maximum efficiency, intake systems take advantage of an airbox that is supposed to complement the car’s engine. That way, it will extend your car’s engine power band.

In addition to that, the air intake snorkel, or, in other words, the intake opening from where air gets in, needs to be quite large so that adequate amount of air can get into the engine at all conditions, regardless of whether your car is in idle position or in full throttle.

The cold air intake increases the available oxygen amount for combustion with your car’s fuel. It usually attempts to get some cooler air from the outside rather than the hot engine bay. This is because cooler air normally comes with a higher air density which higher greater mass per unit volume.

The simplest cold air intake makes use of a short plastic or metal tube in place of the air box that originally comes with a car. This tube leads to what you may know as the short ram air intake, a conical filter for the air. This will give your car varying power. Yet, the power will be determined by how restrictive the box is.

You can also see some heat shields utilized in well designed intake systems. This way, it is possible to separate the air filter from other components in the engine compartment. This way, cooler air will stay at the side or front of the engine bay. There are also some systems that are often referred to as “fender mount” intended to change the position of the filter into the wall of the fender. As a result, air is drawn up to it resulting in more isolation of the cooler air.

Benefits of Cold Air Intake System

With the cold air intake system in place, you can expect to obtain increased torque and horsepower. The system gets a higher amount of cooler air compared to the stock system. As a result, your car’s engine will be able to “breathe” a lot easier. Now that your car’s combustion chamber is filled with cooler air that is rich with oxygen as well, the air/fuel mixture will burn a lot more efficiently compared to the stock system. With the perfect air amount, you can expect to obtain the perfect torque and power out of each single fuel drop.

Additionally, you can also expect better mileage as well as better response from the car’s throttle. While the stock air intake systems normally give the engine of your car warmer air and combustion mixtures that are rich with fuel, they decrease the responsiveness and power of your car, especially if your car has become hotter and more sluggish.

The cold air intake systems, on the other hand, give you a better air to fuel ratio. As a result, you can use less fuel to reach further distances. In short, it gives you fuel economy.


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