The pros and cons of sport air filters

What is a sport air filter

Give your car a breath of fresh air with a performance air filter.

Engines are a lot like humans – we all need air to work properly. Restrict the supply of air to your engine and it won’t work as well as it should, something that’s usually reflected in an increased fuel consumption. Engines need all the oxygen they can get for combustion, but they only want pure air, not all the other debris and tiny particles that can come with it. This is where an air filter comes in handy.

As the old saying goes, though, not all air filters are created equal. There are a variety to choose from, especially when it comes to performance or sport air filters for cars. Here we will give you all the information you need on what they are, how they work, and how to pick the best performance air filter for your car. 

What is an air filter?

Cone air filter

An air filter is what stops debris and dirt from entering your car’s engine through the intake manifold valves. 

Cars rely on an air-fuel mixture to power the engine and the cleaner the air is, the better it is for the engine. The air filter is going to ensure this is as clean as possible, removing not just large pieces of dirt and debris, but in some cases stopping particles which would imbalance the air-fuel mixture and lead to worse performance or ‘ignition lag’.

As well as making sure that the performance stays constant, a good air filter is going to make sure that fuel economy stays low. If the air taken in is not ‘pure’, then more fuel is going to be required to achieve the engine power required. Since the engine heats up as a part of the combustion process required to power the car, a constant flow of clean, fresh air also prevents your car from overheating.

All of the above are damaging to your car’s overall performance, but as well as this, air filters play a huge role in your car’s efficiency and lifespan. Dirt or other particles which get into your car’s engine can cause damage to the working parts and lead to some very costly repairs. 

Because of the work they do and that they have a limited capacity of collecting dirt, air filters can become blocked and stop air from passing through. In this case, they will need to be replaced. If you don’t replace it, your engine performance will start to decline and dirt and grime can also mix with the oil that is supplied to the engine, overtime wearing away the components of the engine.

Until the 1980s, air filters used to be round, paper elements, but manufacturers began using flat filters that funneled air to fuel-injected engines. This would ensure that systems stayed cool.

Often though, factory air boxes reduce power. The air inlet passages provide the engine with enough air to stay cool when operating, but they aren’t geared towards the best performance.

What is a sport air filter?

Sports air filter for cars

While most normal filters are made of paper and need to be replaced when they reach capacity, there are also special sports or performance filters. These slot into the original housing and never need replacing. While factory-installed air filters are designed primarily to stop dirt from entering the engine, a good performance air filter needs to find that perfect compromise of balancing filtration with airflow. The more air that enters the engine, the more power you can get. 

Because of this, in the search for increased power fitting a performance air filter is one of the simplest upgrades to make. As the filter is the first part of the inlet system, the amount of air it allows to enter the engine has a direct correlation with how much horsepower the engine can potentially produce. Allowing more air in by using a less restrictive sports air filter will, therefore, give your car the potential for increased power.

Most sports air filters are conical, meaning that they are sometimes referred to as cone air filters. This shape allows a greater surface area when taking in air, though some can also be wedge shaped. The filter element can be simply paper, but is more often cellular foam and designed to draw more air from cooler places than the factory air filter, thus keeping the engine cooler and helping you to achieve optimal performance. 

What are the advantages?

There are a lot of sports air filter benefits.

As briefly stated above, these filters don’t have to be replaced. Unlike the paper filters that can get clogged up quite easily and need to regularly be replaced, all you have to do with sport air filters is clean them about every two years or so. This is because they don’t get clogged as quickly or as easily because the filter has a greater surface area, yet they offer better air flow and better filtration of the air going into your engine. 

Since you never have to wonder when to change your cone air filter, you only need to think about how to clean the cone air filter and another advantage of this is that this is relatively simple.

Most filters recommend cleaning after around 10,000 miles as they can get quite dirty. There are a variety of filter cleaning kits available online that come with specific cleaners to use on your sport filter, as well as an oil to apply afterwards to keep it working as well as it can. These can just be soaked in the cleaning substance and then left to dry, while brushing as much of the dirt off in the process. Simple!

They are also going to improve your performance. If your engine is getting more air, then it can perform better. A question often asked by sceptics is do cone air filters actually work and the simple answer is yes. In fact, the best sport air filters can actually increase your horsepower by about 3 to 5 HP and increase your torque as well. 

Some more expensive units will also come with a cold air intake unit. This acts to pull air from the outside of the car instead to replace the hot used air inside the engine bay. This cold air is more dense and will therefore burn better, further improving the performance of your engine. The free-flowing inlet pipe also takes in less turbulent air that is moving faster and contains more oxygen than factory-installed air filters.

What are the disadvantages?

A sports air filter sounds louder than a normal air filter because the larger volume of air is less restricted. Though the increased air is necessary for performance, it is going to make your car roar a lot more than normal. It might not be particularly friendly when driving through sleepy villages at night, but it certainly makes your car sound a lot more dynamic. 

Another problem that has been noted is that because of the increased air intake, high-performance filters can actually expose your engine to more dirt and debris. This increased intake of foreign bodies can put more wear on the internal moving parts of the engine and potentially cause damage there, though this is fairly uncommon.

One final issue, especially with cold air intakes, is that water from the road (and with it mud and other forms of dirt) can splash up and soak your filter and water can even get into your engine. There are ways to avoid this, however, such as by buying a hydroshield and making sure to not drive through roads with high water levels. Getting a decent filter from a reputable brand and paying a fair price should actually put an end to all of these problems. As with so many automotive parts, the more you spend, the less risk there is to your engine. 

How to install a sport air filter

How to install sport air filter

Installing or removing a sports air filter to clean is a relatively simple process.

 Open the boot to expose the engine compartment  and the air filter should be located either in the engine cover itself or in a separate housing, though this will of course vary depending on the car and filter manufacturers.

 Check your car manual if you aren’t sure where it is. Unscrew the fastenings or open the clips to your old air filter. You have to simply attach your new replacement cone air filter where the old air filter was. Most universal sports air filters have a clip or screw that holds them in place and will come with instructions on how to attach them.
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