More airflow, better protection against contaminants, and a modest performance boost – that’s what you can expect to get from an aftermarket cold air intake. Yes, the list of perks is pretty impressive, and that’s exactly why most experts are calling CAI systems one of the best investments for a truck driver. Today, our focus will be on third-party kits for the Sierra 1500.
I spent two weeks testing 30+ systems on my own truck. So, rest assured that you’ll find the Best cold air intake for GMC Sierra 1500 in the following list. Pay extra attention to the best features, pros, cons, and expert verdicts to learn more about each product. That way, it will be much easier to get the best bang for the buck. Alright, without further ado, let’s get down to business!
Comparison Table – Best Cold Air Intake for GMC Sierra 1500 Review
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Best Cold Air Intake for GMC Sierra 1500 Review
1. K&N 63-3082 – Best Cold Air Intake for 2014 GMC Sierra 1500
The very purpose of a cold intake system is to boost the airflow inside of the combustion chamber, and that’s exactly what K&N does. With this kit, you’ll get up to 50% more airflow, which is quite an impressive result. It was rigorously dyno-tested for GMC’s Sierra 1500 truck and doesn’t require any tuning/programming to deliver its best performance. The included filter and air box are pretty great as well.
With K&N, you’ve got dozens of styles and configurations to choose from. I’m talking about various coatings and materials that fit different trucks. And, no matter which CAI you end up with, the company will protect it with the famous longevity guarantee. So, is there something that I didn’t like about this product? Yes, one thing: the included NPT vent fittings are rather cheap and not at all reliable.
You can’t go wrong with the K&N cold air intake, because it delivers smooth performance and doesn’t have any big cons. With it, you’ll see a significant airflow boost, along with minor powertrain gains. The ultra-longevity guarantee, in turn, is even more reason to consider this kit.
2. Volant – Best Cold Air Intake for 2014 GMC Sierra 1500 5.3
Sierra drivers looking for brick-strong protection against dust, debris, and pollen will like what Volant has to offer. This CAI comes packed with a premium-quality, five-layered cotton filter that serves as an impenetrable wall against contaminants. I also want to mention the high-performance silicon connectors and steel clamps. They boast well-above-average thermal stability and serve for a long time.
Add fast delivery across the States, and you’ll see why Volant deserves to be on the list. There is one downside, though, and it has to do with QC and QA. Some buyers complain about missing parts (like a grommet, breather hose, or fittings). In other cases, the holes don’t line up with the factory mounting spots. This is only reported by a small number of customers, of course, but is still a con.
To avoid premature engine failure you gotta protect it against pollutants. With Volant, that won’t be an issue, as it comes packed with a top-of-the-line filter. The connectors and clamps are also of the highest quality. QC can be an issue, but that’s compensated by swift deliveries.
3. Rough Country Cold Air Intake
This right here is the most affordable intake kit on the list. If you’re not ready to invest big bucks into a CAI (yet), RC could be a perfect pick for you. What does Rough Country have to offer, though? Is this product on par with the competition? I’m happy to say that yes, it delivers an impressive performance, especially considering how cheap it is. The material quality isn’t very impressive, but you get what you pay for.
I was, however, really impressed by the improvements on the HP and torque side. You can instantly feel the changes, as Sierra will struggle a lot less on rough terrain. Uphill performance and throttle response will also be perfected, which, again, leads to smoother ride quality. So, overall, Rough Country is an excellent choice for someone on a tight budget looking to get free gains.
Despite the so-so engineering, Rough Country is a sure pick, and not only because of the affordable price. This intake kit is great at maximizing Sierra 1500’s powertrain. I’m talking about extra “horses”, torque, and better acceleration. An airflow boost is also a part of the picture, of course.
4. aFe Power Momentum Performance Intake System
This applies to any aftermarket gear out there, but for cold air intake systems, the build/material quality is incredibly important. The tubes need to be mandrel-bent, roto-molded and crafted from aluminum or steel to be able to deliver steady performance for many years. That’s exactly what you’ll get with aFe. This is a pretty expensive kit, but it does compensate for that with premium tubing, filtering, and housing.
Speaking of the air box, it’s a smooth, one-piece construction. On top of that, it has a handy sight window (for checking on the intake system) and an extra air scoop. And if you want to seal the box shut, the included urethane plug will help with that. The Power Momentum GT CAI is 50-state legal, by the way, which can’t be said about most air intake kits.
What’s the biggest drawback here? The steep price, obviously. However, this con is “overpowered” by the pros - premium engineering quality, materials, a low-restriction, high-volume air box, and efficient filtering. Street-legal in 50 states, this kit is a bargain if you’ve got the budget for it.
5. Spectre Performance – Best Cold Air Intake Kits for GMC Sierra 1500
Last, but not least, let’s check out what Spectre has to offer. They specialize in reasonably-priced, flexible, and user-friendly parts, and this CAI system is a great example of that. First of all, it is very easy to install. The whole process will take +/- an hour. And, it features a versatile, easily adjustable design that fits a wide range of GMC vehicles, including the Sierra 1500 truck.
The exhaust tone also deserves our attention. Spectre transforms the limited, restrictive factory humming into a mighty growl. I do have to also mention, though, that this kit is built in China. That means (slightly) longer delivery dates and modest-quality clamps and O rings. On the bright side, the overall manufacturing quality is more than solid. And, again, you won’t have to pay a top dollar for this product.
The Spectre cold air intake system is one of the best picks for Sierra 1500. It doesn’t take a mechanical degree to install, changes the exhaust sound for the better, and is almost as affordable as the Rough Country kit. Produced in China, it will be a worthy investment for your truck.
What’s the Purpose of a CAI? How can the Sierra 1500 Truck Benefit from it?
Cold air intake systems were designed with a single purpose in mind: to maximize the airflow inside of the combustion chamber. When pushed to the limit, the engine tends to overheat, which could (potentially) lead to premature breakdown. For a big, capable, and rough-tough truck like the Sierra, an aftermarket CAI is a must, because the stock gear lacks stability and is quite limited.
So, the #1 benefit would be a boost in airflow (up to 50%, as we already learned). The large, mandrel-bent, and non-restrictive tubes are significantly more efficient at maintaining the temperature within operational levels. And if the intake kit includes an airbox, it will keep hot air out, while keeping cold air in. As a bonus, you’ll get powertrain gains (learn more about that in the Buyer’s Guide).
Do I Need a Tuner for a New GMC Sierra 1500 Cold Air Intake System?
The answer is no, you don’t HAVE to buy a tuner to make an aftermarket air intake kit work. The vast majority of modern-day CAI systems are dyno-tested for specific vehicles. That means they fit the motor, manifold, exhaust system, and transmission perfectly and deliver their best performance from the get-go. With that said, if you want to squeeze all the juices out of your setup, a tuner might be a worthy purchase.
One of the best things about these devices – they’re great at calibrating various systems and bringing them together. This is especially true if you have third-party gear installed. Besides, tuners (AKA programmers) can clear error codes, help you find flaws in different modules/parts, and have lots of monitoring features. Overall, tuners are quite useful and help engines, exhaust systems, and air intakes reach their true potential.
How Often Should I Replace the Cold Air Intake Filters On GMC Sierra 1500?
This largely depends on what kind of filters the CAI includes. If it’s a poor-quality stock paper filter, it won’t last more than two-three months. Disposable filters, in turn, usually go on for 15K miles (that’s +/- 12 months). However, I strongly recommend using reusable units instead. In the long run, they will be quite a beneficial investment. Besides, maintenance won’t take you much effort. All you gotta do is clean them with water and soap.
Cleanable filters can go on for 50K miles with zero maintenance. Premium-quality units serve for up to 100K miles and take even less time to clean and put back into the truck. Regardless of the filter type, it’s always a good idea to “keep your eyes open” and check on it now and then to make sure it’s still going strong. A clogged filter can lead to all kinds of unwanted consequences like engine failure.
How Do Cold Intakes Help the Engine? Why are they so Important?
We covered this topic partially when talking about the benefits a CAI brings to Sierra. Overheating is a very big issue; statistically, it’s the most common cause of engine problems. Now, in a factory setup, the tubes and the filter sit pretty low in the hood (to make them as silent as possible). That has a negative effect on efficiency. In contrast, aftermarket kits place the gear on top of everything.
You can easily see it when the hood is popped. On top of that, they “feed” colder, denser, and oxygen-rich air into the combustion chamber. The air moves significantly faster through cold air intake tubes, and that’s how these systems are more effective compared to factory gear. You simply won’t be able to get as much air flowing through the motor with a restrictive stock set.
What Happens when you Use Low-Quality Air Intakes?
Nothing good, obviously! The most common side effect of going with a low-quality cold air intake is a lack of noticeable improvements. Essentially, it will be just as limited as the stock gear, and you’ll waste time (and money, if you pay a mechanic) on the installation. On top of that, cheap CAI systems can be pretty dangerous for your truck. Let’s take hydro locking, for example. It’s when water leaks into the filter.
That causes serious damage to the rods and pistons. When left untreated, this might even damage the entire engine. Air rolls are another big issue that mostly happens with low-priced intake systems. When the intake tube doesn’t work properly, it interferes with the air sensor. As a result, the sensor sets a wrong air-to-fuel ratio, which drops overall performance, making the Sierra less fuel-efficient.
How much should you pay for an aftermarket air intake kit to get a perfect price-quality balance? How do you ensure fast, hassle-free installation on your truck? What’s the average expected performance boost with a new CAI? Do you need to check the package before buying a new system, or not? These are some of the questions that you’ll find answers to in this guide!
#1: Easy Fit/Trouble-Free Installation
Mechanics charge a lot for installing a brand-new air intake kit, especially if they have to also remove the factory gear. So, if you manage to do this on your own, that will save you $100-200, or even more. And the easiest way to make sure the process won’t turn into one big headache is to check the specifications. There, you’ll find all the necessary info on the supported vehicles.
If you see the Sierra 1500 truck on that list (it needs to be the exact generation, model year, and engine), that means it will be (relatively) easy to install. CNC manufacturing and 3D scanning, in turn, make the process even less stressful. This technology is used to make the air intake kit 100% compatible and fit like an OEM part. You won’t have to do any drilling or trimming!
#2: A Proper Airflow + Filtering
The best cold intake systems provide a 50% boost to airflow. You might think that’s not much, but in real-world tests, even a 20% increase makes all the difference in the world. Filtering is another important thing to keep in mind. Ideally, I would recommend only buying a CAI kit with 99% efficiency against contaminants, but a 96-98% filter will also be a big improvement over the stock gear.
#3: Average Performance Gains
You can’t know for sure how big or small the powertrain boost will be. On average, an additional max output of 15-20 HP and torque is an excellent result. A performance-oriented air intake kit can probably give you an even bigger gain, but it will lack in other areas. Fuel efficiency will see a similarly modest improvement; yet, the long-run benefits will be much greater (+/-$100-150 saved on gas money in a year).
#4: Pricing, Packaging, Warranties
For the Sierra truck, you can get your hands on a solid-quality CAI for ~150 US dollars. That’s a pretty fair deal. The kit will provide a noticeable boost to airflow (maybe not 50%, but you should expect at least a 30% increase) and slight performance gains. For bigger powertrain improvements, you’ll have to pay $100. Finally, a set that ensures easy fitment and is protected by a warranty will cost +/- $350-400.
As for the package, see that it includes all the necessary installation hardware. I’m talking about the bolts, nuts, clamps, fittings, hoses, and more. A detailed user manual would also be great. When stuck during the installation, the guide will be much appreciated. Warranty-wise, nothing can beat K&N’s longevity guarantee, but a two-year deal should give you peace of mind as well.
Engines are pretty expensive: fixing them can cost up to 10K US dollars! Now, overheating is the #1 cause of motor breakdown. That’s exactly why you shouldn’t go cheap with the cooling system. Most drivers only care about the radiator and the coolant. However, it’s the cold air intake that’s doing most of the heavy lifting. And, sadly, the factory kits aren’t always capable of “keeping up” with the engines.
That leads to premature failure. The good news is – CAI systems are available at a reasonable price and serve for many years. If you’re on a limited budget, go with Rough Country. K&N, in turn, is backed by a market-leading warranty, while Spectre takes zero effort to install. Finally, aFe is 50-state legal and Volant boasts premium hardware. Go ahead and take your pick!