We’ve titled this post “Air Intakes 101.”

It’s not the most creative title for a post, but it fits the topic in so many ways. For starters, most air intakes are inherently a “101” part—a basic, entry-level upgrade that novice and seasoned tuners like for a quick, bolt-on performance boost. Taking the 101 concept a step further, this article will provide an introduction to aftermarket air intakes, review the reasons air intakes are a popular upgrade, and supply you with some basic info you need to make the proper choice when choosing an air intake for your vehicle.

“Air Intake” and “101” just kind of go together naturally—like grease on white T-shirts.

Why Choose an Aftermarket Air Intake ?
As you probably know, the key ingredients to making horsepower are air, fuel, and spark. The more air you mix with the fuel, the more combustion takes place when ignited by the spark. That’s what makes a good aftermarket air intake kit a valuable part of the equation.

A high performance air intake kit delivers instant horsepower gains, enhanced throttle response, and sometimes even an increase in fuel economy by increasing the amount of airflow to the engine. Depending on the kit, this is accomplished by the use of a high-flow air filter, mandrel-bent intake tube, and/or larger diameter intake tube—all of which increase airflow to the engine. In addition, cold air kits pull in denser air to give the combustion process an added charge (more about cold air kits later).

Best of all, an aftermarket air intake is one of the easiest performance parts to install, requiring only basic hand tools and minimal mechanical knowledge. In our next installment of air intake tech (titled Air Intakes 201, perhaps?), we’ll show you how to choose the right air intake for your application. Later, we’ll share some installation videos to convince you that you’re ready to swap out your air intake.

But first, a little homework: Check out the glossary below for all the key terms you’ll need to make an educated buy.

Air Box: The part of the factory air intake which houses the air filter. Incoming air is pulled in through the air box and filter and then sent traveling down the intake tube toward the throttle body.

Air Intake System: This is the collection of parts that connects to the throttle body and feeds air into the engine. It includes the air filter, intake tube or runner, and other components depending on the system.

Air-to-Fuel Ratio: The ratio of air to fuel used to create combustion in your engine. Your engine senses the amount of air entering the combustion chamber via the mass airflow sensor and responds with the corresponding amount of fuel based on the correct ratio. A “rich” air-to-fuel mixture is heavy on fuel; a “lean” air-to-fuel mixture is light on fuel

C.A.R.B.: Abbreviation for California Air Resources Board, an organization dedicated to maintaining air quality standards. Items which are C.A.R.B.-certified or exempt have satisfied the toughest emissions laws in the United States and are emissions legal for use in any of the 50 states.

Cold Air Intake System: An air delivery system designed to collect colder, denser air for the engine. This is accomplished by drawing in air from outside of the engine compartment.

Combustion: The ignition and burning of the air/fuel mixture in the combustion chamber. Combustion is achieved when spark from the spark plugs ignite the compressed air and fuel mixture.

Combustion Chamber: The area in the cylinder heads where combustion takes place. During the combustion process, the bottom surface of the combustion chamber is created by the piston, which is located at top dead center in the engine cylinder.

Conical: A conical air filter utilizes a conical shape for improved air flow and larger surface area for filtering.

Engine Compartment: The area of your vehicle that houses your engine. Stock and standard air intakes are typically confined to this area; cold air intakes may be routed to the outside of this area to draw in colder air.

Intake Tube: This is a plastic or metal tube that connects the factory air box or performance filter to the mouth of the throttle body. Stock tubes often have a small diameter and multiple bends to fit within the compartment and reduce noise. Aftermarket intake tubes incorporate larger diameter tubing and fewer bends to reduce restriction.

Mandrel Bending: A less restrictive form of bending than crush bending, mandrel bending is achieved by inserting a flexible rod, called a mandrel, into the tubing before it is bent. This mandrel allows the tubing to maintain a consistent diameter throughout its bends, reducing air restriction.

Performance Air Filter: An air filter which is less restrictive than a stock, paper filter.

Performance Air Intake: An air intake that allows a greater volume of air to pass through it.

Ram Air Intake: An air intake which forces air into the engine from an external vent.

Short Ram Intake: An intake system with a short intake runner that places the air filter within the engine compartment. Short ram systems often feed the engine with a greater volume of air but draw in warmer air than cold air intake kits.

Throttle Body: Connected to the intake tube on the opposite end from the air filter, the throttle body regulates airflow into the intake manifold, where air is then distributed to the cylinders.

Now that you can speak air intake jive, we’ll talk about how to choose the right air intake for your vehicle. That’s in our next installment of air intake tech—check back soon!

Author: David Fuller

David Fuller is OnAllCylinders' managing editor. During his 20-year career in the auto industry, he has covered a variety of races, shows, and industry events and has authored articles for multiple magazines. He has also partnered with mainstream and trade publications on a wide range of editorial projects. In 2012, he helped establish OnAllCylinders, where he enjoys covering all facets of hot rodding and racing.