The game changed in the mid-1980s.

That’s when electronic fuel injection really took over the automotive world. The venerable old carburetor was on its way out (at least on factory vehicles), and a brave new world dominated by ECUs and individual fuel injectors was dawning.

Before long, aftermarket parts manufacturers were developing new parts to make electronic fuel injection perform better. New fuel injector technology, higher-flowing throttle bodies, fuel rails, and tuners could be had. Often the first thing any car or truck owner would upgrade was the air intake. A high performance air intake kit delivers instant horsepower gains, enhanced throttle response, and sometimes even an increase in fuel economy. And in just a 15 minutes to a half-hour of installation time, it can make the most novice gearhead feel like a DIY champion! Plus, air intake kits are often the gateway to even bigger performance upgrades in the future.

No wonder air intake kits are one of the top-selling truck accessories today!

How to Choose an Air Intake for Your Truck

If you’re looking to jump on the air intake bandwagon, there are a few considerations before choosing your intake kit. There are two basic types of performance air intake kits: standard and cold air. Both styles replace the stock air intake tube with a wider pipe that has fewer bends. This allows a larger, smoother volume of air to reach your engine at greater velocity.

The difference between standard and cold air intakes is the location of the air box. Standard performance air intake kits locate the air box and filter within the engine compartment at or near the stock location. Cold air intake kits relocate the air box and filter outside of the engine compartment, usually near the fenderwell, allowing the engine to breathe in colder, denser air for even more power potential.

Standard vs. Cold Air

Choose a standard air intake kit for:

  • The absolute easiest installation
  • The least-expensive option
  • Easy access to the air filter (for cleaning)
  • For driving in high water or mud

Choose a cold air intake kit for:

  • Maximum power gains
  • The coldest, densest airflow
  • A slightly more involved installation

Another decision involves the type of intake tube. Performance intake kits are available with your choice of specialized plastic/composite intake tubes or with metal/aluminum tubes. Neither style offers a significant performance advantage over the other, although metal tubes may run slightly hotter than the plastic versions.

Plastic vs. Metal Tube

Choose a plastic intake tube for:

  • The least-expensive option
  • Subdued style that blends with the engine compartment

Choose a metal intake tube for:

  • Maximum styling for your engine compartment

Universal vs. Direct-Fit Systems

The majority of air intake kits for trucks are direct-fit, so it comes down to finding a kit that’s designed for your truck and/or engine. Most direct-fit kits are pre-tuned by the manufacturer to work with your application, and installation is simple.

Know the Terminology

Air intake kits aren’t the most technical upgrade.

However, you may want to familiarize yourself with some of the terms associated with air intakes, so you can make a wise choice for your rig. Check out our air intake glossary to learn the lingo and become the most educated shopper possible.

Guide to Truck Air Intake Kits

There are a multitude of styles and brands from which to choose. Here a few examples that use different design methods to enhance the performance of trucks.

K&N 63 Series Aircharger High Performance Air Intakes

K&N 63 Series Aircharger High Performance Air Intakes for Trucks

This popular kit features the largest possible conical air filter that can fit into your engine compartment. It comes with a heat-shield, which lowers the air temperatures entering the intake for extra power gains. The intake tube is made from high density polyethylene, which has been rotationally molded to reduce air turbulence.

Volant Cool Air Intake Systems

Volant Cool Air Intake Systems for Trucks

Volant goes through the added step of including a closed air box to help keep the incoming air cooler. Like the Aircharger kit above, it utilizes a molded polyethylene air duct to help maintain that cool air and give it the best possible path to your engine.

Airaid SynthaFlow Classic Intake Systems

Airaid SynthaFlow Classic Intake Systems for Trucks

Airaid focuses its attention on the air filter to maximize performance. The filter is handmade with multiple layers of cotton gauze, giving it good filtering without sacrificing airflow. The powdercoated tube moves the air inlet to a location that draws in cool air and fosters better throttle response.

aFe Magnum Force Stage 2 Pro Dry S Air Intake Systems

aFe Magnum Force Stage 2 Pro Dry S Air Intake Systems for Trucks

This system includes a powdercoated heat shield, which encloses the air filter on multiple sides and keeps the air charge as cool as possible. It also comes with a heat-insulating molded plastic tube that runs at a better angle and pathway than your truck’s stock intake tube. That makes greater airflow velocity with less restriction.

Airaid U-Build Master Kit I Intake Systems

Airaid U-Build Master Kit I Intake Systems for Trucks

Think you can do better than the manufacturers? This kit includes everything you need to custom build and route your air intake system for maximum performance. You get multiple sections of plastic tubes and bends, a conical air filter, and all necessary mounting hardware.

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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.