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Understanding Mustang Cold Air Intakes & Ram Air Intakes

Written By: Andrew Cilio

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Replacing your restrictive stock air intake is an essential mod for all Mustang owners. By allowing more airflow you will see better gas mileage and improved performance, as well as better throttle response.

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Understand the difference between a cold air intake and a ram air intake for your Mustang, so you can choose the one that offers you the performance you want.

American Muscle

Mustang Intakes and Their Variants

The stock intake system was designed to be the quietest piece in the engine compartment. This is great for the driver because it decreases the amount of noise being put out, but it comes with a price. The location of the stock intake in the engine compartment means that the Mustang isn’t running as efficiently as it could be. There's a number of ways you can upgrade your pony's intake system, so never fear. But first there some things to cover.

  • Hot air is less dense than cold air and limits power
  • Aftermarket filters are useable and cleanable while being more efficient than the stock filter
  • Aftermarket tubes provide a more direct path for incoming air
  • Cold air and ram air intakes are two options each with their own pros and cons
  • Adding on a tune along with an intake will net more gains, but are not always necessary

The Risk of Heat and How to Counter It

Fender Well Cold Air Intake

If you’ve ever put your hand near a running or recently turned off engine, you know how hot they get. Now imagine that heat running through your stock air intake, into your engine, and through your exhaust pipes. Not a very nice picture, is it? The stock tube has a number of bends and turns, so the air doesn’t flow as freely as it could. The air itself is also heated by the engine which reduces its volume. The result is a less than ideal mixture in the combustion chamber. The further from maximum efficiency the mixture is, the bigger the decrease in power.

Replacing your stock intake with an aftermarket cold air intake (CAI) will take care of these issues by:

  • Relocating the air box from the engine compartment to the wheel well, so cooler air is being drawn in
  • The larger intake tube increases volume of air being drawn into the combustion chamber, which allows for better burn. Better burn means more power
  • The shape of the tube allows air to take a more direct route
  • The air filter is higher quality and less restrictive

Parts of a Mustang Cold Air Intake

Air Filter
Usually conical in shape, with grooves and folds. Some of the benefits of an aftermarket performance filter include:

  • Although smaller than the factory filter, it has more surface area which allows air to be drawn in from every direction
  • Most aftermarket filters are reusable, and only need cleaning every 30,000 to 50,000 miles. The stock air filter needs to be changed every 15,000 miles, and must be thrown away
  • Aftermarket filters draw in a higher volume of clean, cool air. Expect more power, improved acceleration, and even better gas mileage

Intake Tubes

  • Specially designed to straighten air flow as much as possible, while looking good in your engine compartment
  • Aftermarket pipes are typically mandrel-bent so there is no crimping of the pipe diameter at the bend

How Much Horsepower Will My Mustang Gain From A Cold Air Intake?

The question on everyone's mind is how much horsepower you'll gain from swapping your stock intake for an aftermarket one. There are manufacturer's that will promise a gain of 15-20 hp, but that's a bit of a stretch. 

  • The typical power increase is 5-10 hp

Mustang Ram Air Intakes

RAM air intake

Much like a cold air intake, a ram air intake (RAI) pulls in cooler air from outside the engine compartment. Unlike a CAI, though, the Ram Air on a Mustang uses a shorter tube, which causes the air to be pushed into the throttle body with much greater force. There is a larger volume of air which, in turn, leads to more engine power.

As you increase the speed of your Mustang, wind pressure is forced through the intake manifold and filter. It’s almost like having a turbo charger, but without the additional parts. The downside to the Ram Air is that it will not be very noticeable until you are traveling more than 35 miles per hour.

​Other than those differences, the Ram Air Intake is the same as a cold air intake. The power gains are also similar at a typical increase of 5 - 10 hp with a ram air intake.

Mustang Cold Air Intakes (CAI) Vs Ram Air Intakes (RAI)

Here is a quick Pros & Cons list to help you decide which is better for your mustang.

Ram Air Intake:

Also known as a Short ram intake. This type of intake uses the straightest possible tubing with a large filter with heat shield to get the maximum air flow. Does not go into the fenderwell.

  • Pros: Pulls in more air, usually cheaper due to less piping.
  • Cons: Air pulled in is warm from the engine compartment.

Cold Air Intake:

Uses a curved pipe to go in and sometimes down the inside of the fender to pull in air that is not heated by the engine. Uses a smaller filter than a Ram Air Intake and will not pull in the same volume of air as the Ram Air Intake.

The design of the cold air intake relocates the air filter to the coldest part of the engine compartment or through the inner fender to the wheel well. This allows the intake to pull colder, denser air into the motor. By pulling the colder air, combustion efficiency is increased, and in turn, creates more power. An added benefit of the efficiency in some cases is increased fuel mileage (typically 1-2 mpg).

  • Pros: Pulls in cold air for better combustion.
  • Cons: Pulls in less air, usually more expensive. 

Do I Need to Tune my Mustang if I Upgrade my Cold Air Intake?

  • 1987-2004 Mustangs - No tune is required, but strongly it is strongly recommended to maximize the performance.
  • 2005 Mustangs - Most will require a retune, but some are designed to be used without one. The intakes for the 2005 Mustangs that do not require a retune will not achieve as much increased power as the ones that do.