Air intakes are critical engine parts. Also called induction systems, they pull air through intake manifolds, into engine cylinders. The air mixes with gas, spark plugs ignite both, and they burn, producing the power engines run on. Cold air intakes are variants: relocating the engine air filter to above a wheel well or near a fender -- in other words, just outside the engine compartment -- they can draw in cooler and denser air. This can slightly improve an engine's power output.
How an air intake works is a process that starts with air passing through that engine filter, which gets rid of many of its contaminants. Air levels then get regulated by parts like a mass airflow sensor, an air metering system, and oxygen sensors. Together, they monitor both air movement and exhaust levels and feed that info back to an engine control unit (ECU).
If any of these parts stops working right, though, more problems follow. A lit Check Engine light will tell you that you've got general performance issues, but if you're experiencing abnormally fast engine rev or unusually fast or slow idling, it can indicate an air intake system failure. To figure out what's going on, plug in a code reader and run a careful inspection.
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