The Battle of Budget: Cheap Cold Air Intakes vs Expensive

Today I am going to discuss the topic: cheap cold air intake vs expensive. Got curious? Then, continue reading the blog!

Cold air intakes (CAIs) can increase power and performance by drawing colder air into the vehicle engine. And luckily, this incoming air has more oxygen to burn engine fuel more efficiently. However, in terms of price, you can find two types of cold air intake: cheap and expensive.

But here’s the catch – you can purchase cheap CAIs at $40-$50 and pricy ones at $300-$350 (search the web). Then, is it better to go with a cheap or an expensive model?

Well, if you consider the cheap version, it may cost less but may not filter out as many air particles as costly ones. It may damage the engine. In short, you can select it for a slight improvement in performance by spending a minimal buck.

Expensive cold air intake often offers better construction. It fits the vehicles better. Also, you do not need to replace them sooner than cheap ones. Get expensive ones to get maximum performance by paying some extra money.

Cheap Cold Air Intake vs. Expensive: What People Talk About Them

While planning to write on this topic, I searched the web and found some interesting information.

At Custom Magnums, someone asked, “is there really that much difference between the two price ranges when it comes to performance?” I also found a reply: “Even some of the “good” ones are nothing more than a bent tube with a filter on it.” Another reply was: “Price is not the only factor…

Similarly, at Honda-Tech, someone wanted to install a CAI on his B16A2 motor. He was confused to spend extra $200 for an “AEM, or Injen, or other expensive brand-name intake.” He mentioned about $40-$50 CAIs available on eBay. There was a reply, “the only difference is name brand intakes usually have mounting brackets …. CARB legal….”

Another famous vehicle owners’ forum, Bimmerforums have same type of thread. In a thread, the discussion starter asked, “Ok, can someone tell me the difference between a cheap…. expensive ones?” And there was a response, “… the $300 will give you more HP than the other cheaper setups.” Another answer was like, “…the expensive CAIs really don’t add that much horsepower.”

At Modded Mustangs, someone started a talk titled “Difference between cheaper and more expensive CAI.” Another forum user said, “typically cheaper CAI get heat soaked whereas higher end does not.”

So, all these discussions mainly refer to the fact that there will be no significant power changes. But the last one is logical as it means that the heat dissipation of cheap CAIs is less than expensive ones.

Differences Between Cheap and Expensive Cold Air Intakes

At this point, I would love to share my thoughts on these two CAIs. Before that, learn the basics of these two engine components.

Cheap CAIs

Cheap – this word gives you the idea of spending less and getting more. So, when you buy cheap cold air intakes, you are getting (almost) the same outcome but within a tight budget. However, both CAIs have the same diameter tubing and factory sensors. The engine may get the same denser oxygen installing them.

But there’s a thought! The lower price often comes with compromises. Here’s an example from MotorCliff, air filters on cheap CAIS do not filter out the same air particles as exclusive ones. As a result, the engine will be clogged soon. Someday your engine will not work properly.

These low-cost intakes are made from less durable materials. Other features like heat-resistant or high-quality aluminum construction may be unavailable in these air intakes (yourmechanic). So, they may last less than expensive CAIs. It may involve frequent maintenance.

Advantages of Cheap CAIs

May be you have thought that cheap cold air intakes have no significant benefits. But that’s not right at all. How? You can get these benefits by using them:

  • The primary advantage is saving more money to install cheap CAIs. Still, they can enhance the performance of your vehicle.
  • Though you get these intakes at a lower price, they can provide better power and performance to allow more oxygen to the combustion chamber.
  • Cheap cold air intake can save more fuel as these components can enter more oxygen for combustion.
  • You can find low-cost CAIs at most stores. Also, they are easier to replace than more expensive ones. Ask any local auto parts store or online seller to get the desired item quickly.
  • When your need is a somewhat or moderate level of improvement in performance, you can select cheap items. For instance, you drive primarily in the city without needing high-speed driving. Then, affordable CAIs will be enough for your vehicle.

Disadvantages of Cheap CAIs

Apart from all the above benefits, you may find some lacks and defects in using cheap cold air intakes. Some of these include:

  • Cheap CAIs often have lower-quality filters. They may fail to filter out enough particles than pricier ones. So they may lead to engine damage over time.
  • Universal or not, the model-specific cheap CAIs can lower a car’s HP and fuel efficiency.
  • You get these cheap cold air intakes affordable as the selected materials offer less durability. Through this, the manufacturers can save production costs. Also, it’s why you get the intake at a reduced market price.
  • If the intake ingests a significant amount of water, it can cause hydro-locking. As a result, it may cause disastrous engine damage.

Expensive CAIs

Let’s talk about the expensive cold air intake! You can characterize them with their superior construction, materials, and features. You can install custom-designed CAIs for specific vehicle models. But it may contribute to the higher cost. On the other hand, the facility of this fitment is unavailable or mostly universal in the case of cheap items.

Expensive CAIs are more durable as they are made from high-quality, durable, heat-resistant materials. Again, they often have reusable filters. It can be a factor in their higher cost (like knfilters). You may not need to clean them before using them for up to 100000 miles.

According to MotorCliff, cold air intakes can add 5 to 20 HP to the engine. When you install expensive ones, there is a possibility to gain maximum increase of the power.

Advantages of Expensive CAIs

Yes, there are multiple benefits of spending more money on CAIs:

  • The production cost of costly cold air intake is higher than cheap ones. It’s because the manufacturers choose high-quality materials like stainless steel or aluminum. And these materials have better durability and longevity.
  • Being heat and corrosion-resistant, these air intakes can withstand high temperatures. So, you get the same performance for a long time.
  • You can significantly increase horsepower, torque, and fuel efficiency by replacing the old one with new, expensive CAIs.
  • For the extensive durability of the costly air intake, you may not need to clean or maintain it frequently.
  • Expensive air intake can enhance throttle response. It reduces the delays between pressing the gas pedal and the car’s acceleration (read this).
  • As these CAIs allow more oxygen efficiently, you may get better fuel economy for better combustion.
  • Noise levels produced by CAIs can vary, with some users enjoying the sporty sound produced. Hence, the intensity of airflow can affect the noise level. Cheaper CAIs may not significantly affect sound (read this).

Disadvantages of Expensive CAIs

Paying some extra cash doesn’t always bring blessings. It may bring some negative things with the blessings. Similarly, expensive cold air intakes have some negative aspects. Some of them are:

  • The most apparent drawback of expensive CAIs is their extra cost than cheap counterparts.
  • Some expensive models have increased complexity in their design. So they may need more complex routing. And this is a note to more difficult and time-consuming installation.
  • You may need to tune up the high-cost cold air intake to keep it working consistently.
  • You may often need to find specific models of these CAIs to fit your vehicle.

Factors to Consider When Selecting Cheap vs. Expensive CAIs

So, which one should you buy: cheap cold air intake vs. expensive? I am making it easier! You must keep these factors in mind to select the next cold air intake (read this as a reference):


As I already mentioned, cheap CAIs have low-quality building materials. Depending on this, the expensive models will last longer for their high-quality materials.

Heat Dissipation

The better-quality materials of high-cost CAIs can dissipate the excessive heat from the engine faster. So, it will allow colder air to flow more into the engine and enhance the performance.

Cold Air Intake Style

CAIs have two types: short ram and true cold air intake systems. The first one is easier to access. Also, it requires less complex installation. But the second one focuses on moving the air filter as far forward as possible to generate more cold airflow. You may find difficulties in installing these intakes.

Vehicle-Specific Design

Remember I said cheap cold air intakes are mostly universal? Yes, you don’t need to find specific cheap models for your car. But when you need to install a particular model, it may need some extra money.

Water Protection

High-quality, expensive cold air intakes provide sufficient protection against water or wet weather. It can eliminate the chances of any potential engine failure.


I guess you have found which one you need between cheap and expensive cold air intake systems. However, I am giving you a quick suggestion:

Select the cheap ones for a universal fit, moderate performance boost, and easy installation. But if you need model-specific, high-performing, and long-lasting service, I suggest you select expensive models.

That’s all for today! Thanks for reading this post.

Leave a Comment