A common question we hear from new 5th generation Camaro SS owners is, “What is the best air intake for the Camaro?”. With performance parts there is rarely a blanket “best” anything, only solutions that are best for specific purposes and applications. There are dozens of intakes systems of varying designs available for these cars and it can be a little overwhelming trying to narrow things down, especially if you don’t understand what makes a good air intake. In this post I will try to help you understand a little more about aftermarket air intake systems in general and more specifically the three most common designs. My hope is that this will help you narrow things down a little more and enable you to make an educated decision about what is best for your application rather than relying on an internet “expert” telling you what he has installed on his own car.
HOW DO AFTERMARKET AIR INTAKE SYSTEMS WORK?
Vehicle engineers have many factors other than maximum performance to consider when they design OEM intake systems (noise level, fuel economy, emissions, etc.) and in the process leave plenty of room for improvement. Aftermarket air intake systems replace the factory air box and tubing with more efficient components designed to create more power. The two big things that aftermarket air intakes systems strive to do are:
1) Draw in large amounts of cool dense air from outside the hot engine compartment. The more air your engine can suck in and push out the more power it will make.
2) Reduce the restriction in the intake system by increasing the diameter of the tubing, smoothing out the interior of the intake, eliminating baffles and muffling devices, and limiting the number and severity of any bends in the tubing.
Aftermarket air intake manufacturers address these tasks in many different ways but the three most common types of intake designs are the long tube, heat shield, and sealed air box systems. Prices vary considerably, from as low as $200 up to as much as $600, as does the improvement in performance. Poorly designed systems can actually cause your engine to make less power, while a quality system can add 10-20 rear wheel horsepower. In your search you will no doubt come across advertisements that mention outlandish horsepower gains, this should be an instant red flag.
LONG TUBE SYSTEM
What is the most logical way ensure that you are drawing cool fresh air from outside the engine compartment into your intake? Place the air filter outside the engine compartment! That is exactly what is done with the long tube intake systems. Injen Technology is probably the most well known manufacturer that utilizes this approach. These systems ditch the stock intake tube and air box lay out for a long intake tube that places the air filter outside the engine compartment behind the front facia. This approach typically produces solid horsepower gains across the entire RPM range in stock and mildly modified cars.
So the long tube design is best! Well, not necessarily. The low placement of the air filter behind the front bumper leaves it vulnerable to ingesting water which can lead to a hydro-locked engine. That is the kind of thing that would not be covered under warranty. Also, the multiple 90 degree bends in the intake tube cause restriction that will actually hold back higher power engines. This is especially true for those with forced induction.
HEAT SHIELD SYSTEM
These systems opt to keep the filter inside the engine compartment and utilize the same general lay out as the stock system in an effort to avoid the shortcomings of the long tube design. K&N and AIRAID are the two best known manufacturers employing this design. The stock intake tube is replaced with a more efficient tube that eliminates the stock baffles and muffling and reduces the severity of the single bend. The stock air box is replaced by a heat shield and a rubber weather strip that lines the edge of the shield to seal with the car’s body and hood to isolate the air filter from the hot engine compartment. Cool air is typically fed into the sealed off area by the same channel from the front grill that fed the stock air box. These type of intake systems are typically the most affordable because they are relatively easy to engineer and inexpensive to manufacture.
The performance improvement from intakes of this design vary greatly from system to system. Some produce decent gains while others produce little to no gains whatsoever, in some cases very poorly engineered systems have even shown losses. The units that produce good gains are the better engineered systems that do not leave gaps around the heat shield and achieve a good seal. When considering a system of this design it is critical that you ensure the heat shield is designed to completely isolate the air filter from the engine compartment. If there are gaps, look at another system. Also, pay attention to how severe the 90 degree bend in the intake tube just forward of the throttle body is (as wide and gradual of a bend as possible) and if the system takes steps to resist heat (material, coatings, insulation).
SEALED AIR BOX SYSTEM
The sealed air box design employs the same lay out as the heat shield and stock intake system but utilizes a sealed air box in order to avoid the shortcomings of the heat shield design. Gaps around a heat shield or a bad weather strip seal are not an issue with these systems as the air filter is completely isolated from the hot engine compartment. These air boxes are much larger than the stock box they replace and contain a much larger air filter. Like the heat shield design, the restrictive stock tube is replaced with a more efficient tube and the air box is fed cool air through the same channel from the front grill that fed the stock air box. Cold Aid Inductions Inc. (CAI Inc.) is the leading manufacturer of this type of intake system for the 2010+ Camaro.
This design typically produces strong horsepower gains for everything from stock cars all the way up to high powered monsters. When considering a sealed air box system pay attention to how severe the 90 degree bend in the intake tube just forward of the throttle body is (as wide and gradual of a bend as possible) and whether or not the system takes steps to resist heat (material, coatings, insulation).
As with most performance parts, there is no one and only “best” but many solutions that are better in different ways. Hopefully you will now be better equipped to make a judgement about what is the right solution for your application.