The 5.3L Vortec engine in your Chevrolet or GMC truck is regarded as one of the more reliable truck engines. There are many different modifications you can make to your engine for better performance, increased fuel mileage, and a better sound. The first thing most people do is add an aftermarket cold air intake. We will take a look at the best cold air intake for 5.3L Vortec engines and show you why we think K&N cold air intake systems are the best choice.
Best Cold Air Intake for 5.3L Vortec – Top Picks:
|K&N 57-3050||K&N 63-3082||Spectre 9918||RTunes Intake Kit||Million Parts 4”||MooSun MS-06880|
|OEM Part Number||57-3050||63-3082||9918||HI-CD-03BL||MP-AIK-002||MS-06880|
|Torque Increase||11.67 ft. lbs. of torque||8.47 ft. lbs. of torque||No data||No data||No data||6-10%|
|Horsepower increase||11.92 hp||10.68 HP||No data||No data||No data||5-10%|
|Airflow increase||up to 50%||up to 50%||up to 50%||No data||No data||113%|
|Filter Type||Washable and reusable||Washable and reusable||pre-oiled HPR||Washable and reusable||No data||Reusable and washable|
|Vehicle applications year||2005-2007||2014-2020||2009-2014||2009-2014||1999-2006||1999-2006|
|Price||Find on Amazon||Find on Amazon||Find on Amazon||Find on Amazon||Find on Amazon||Find on Amazon|
Cold air intake kits are an easy way to increase the horsepower and torque your engine is capable of making while improving fuel mileage. A good air intake kit will not only improve performance, it will make your engine compartment look much better. Unfortunately, many of the products on the market are poorly designed, don’t provide any performance increase, and can cause your vehicle to fail emissions testing or void your factory warranty. We will show you why K&N air filters and cold air intake systems are our favorite choices.
Top Pick: K&N 57-3050
Our top pick for cold air intake kits for the 5.3l Vortec is this system from K&N. This kit includes the phenolic plastic air tubing, phenolic heat shield, hardware, and of course, the legendary K&N cotton-gauze washable, reusable air filter. You’ll have a hard time finding any product on the market at any price that offers everything you’ll get from this kit. K&N engineers this for performance gains, not appearance so if it’s the shiny metal pipe you want to look at, this one isn’t for you.
Instead of a shiny metal pipe, you get noticeable increases in power output. K&N measures this kit on a stock engine and finds that it provides a boost of 11.92 horsepower on a stock engine. That’s a massive increase from a bolt-on part that you’ll feel in the seat of your pants when you accelerate up a hill or maneuver to pass another vehicle.
K&N air filters are more expensive than many other options, but you should also consider that you’ll never need to buy another air filter for your truck again. These filters can be washed in soapy water, dried, and have the special oil-coating reapplied in minutes for a brand-new air filter experience without the expense.
This is one of the only kits on the market that is street-legal in all 50 states. It includes a C.A.R.B. E.O. number and the required label to inform the smog technician on how to run the tests. Most kits that are on the market will have to be removed and have the stock equipment put back in to pass smog which is both a huge hassle and really bad decision making from an environmental perspective. You shouldn’t be cheating the smog laws.
- Makes for an ideal upgrade from the factory air box and filter
- Noticeable performance increase
- Legal in all 50 states
- K&N is legendary, so people will know you’ve got the best just by looking
- Somewhat more expensive than some options particularly for drivers who aren’t interested in fuel mileage or performance and just want a shiny pipe
Just like adding power and performance to the 5.3l Vortec engine, K&N offers a nearly identical kit designed to fit the 5.3l EcoTech3 V8 built after the Vortec ended production in 2013. This kit is available in three varieties to suit your needs perfectly and help your Suburban, Tahoe, or 1500 pickup get better gas mileage and accelerate quicker.
The 63-3082 kit uses the same conical air filter from the Vortec-designed kit but uses a roto-molded plastic hose kit to mate up with the unique intake manifold of the EcoTech3 engines. The cotton-gauze filter uses an oil bath to provide up to 100,000 miles of maintenance-free service.
K&N offers this kit in three designs, one of which carries a CARB EO number so that you can use it on pollution-controlled vehicles. It is also available in the exclusive “Blackhawk” design if you are looking for a slick, custom all-black kit to dress up your Denali. The roto-mold and Blackhawk editions are not legal on smog controlled vehicles in California.
You should keep in mind that oil-bath filters must “run-in” for a hundred miles or so until you’ll see the peak performance. After having driven on your K&N filter for a little while, you’ll see fuel mileage increases over stock.
Best Appearance Kit: Spectre 9918
Even though this kit looks a lot like the designs from K&N for the Vortec V8, it is an inferior product. Don’t expect to get horsepower or fuel mileage gains with this one, it isn’t engineered for that purpose. Instead, this one is simply designed to replace your ugly factory air box with a shiny metal pipe and a performance-look air filter.
THe air filter is a synthetic gauze and wire assembly that uses a similar oil-bath preparation to the K&N filters. It is cleanable and reusable but doesn’t have the testing to back up the claims of performance gains. Metal pipe kits tend to look better than phenolic plastic, but don’t work as well since the metal retains and absorbs heat faster than phenolic, defeating the purpose of a cold air intake.
This kit doesn’t always install easily and most people had to make modifications to the kit and to their truck in order to get it to fit and align correctly with the MAF sensor. It isn’t legal to install in California due to a lack of approval for smog emissions. Once properly installed and modified to fit, you shouldn’t have problems with air leaks and check engine light codes.
- Shiny metal pipe looks cool
- Unlikely to improve power and probably reduces performance slightly
- Not CARB certified and may cause your vehicle to fail emissions testing in any state
- Most installers had to modify mounting brackets to install
- Thin metal tube may increase intake air temperature rather than decrease it as intended
RTunes Intake Kit
Essentially a copy of the Spectre kit, this setup from RTunes Racing serves the purpose of looking decent, but probably won’t improve performance or fuel mileage for the same reason the Spectre kit won’t. It’s basically just a way to replace the ugly black plastic housing General Motors installed on your truck with a shiny metal pipe. The free-flowing design will improve the sound of your intake, but there is no testing to verify whether performance gains are actual or if that’s just some marketing to try and sell you a part.
This design shares the same flaws as the Spectre system in that it rarely fits without modification. Quality control is vastly lower than products offered by K&N, which is reflected in the 50% price difference. Plan on spending some time cleaning up poorly designed mounts and altering the fit of the air filter to get it aligned properly.
Once installed, this kit looks like a performance part you’d see on a race car. It’s shiny and better looking than the factory parts. The air filter is washable and reusable. It’s probably made of cotton or a synthetic cotton with wire, but the manufacturer doesn’t include those details. Whereas K&N filters can run as much as 100,000 miles without maintenance, this one is only good for 5,000 miles. You’ll quickly use up the savings purchasing oil and cleaning supplies over simply buying a good quality product.
- Shiny metal pipe looks like a performance part from a race car
- Rarely fits correctly due to poor quality control standards
- Frequently shipped with extensive damage to the shiny metal pipe
- Illegal for use in California, may cause your vehicle to fail emissions testing in all 50 states
Best Budget Replacement: Million Parts 4” Air Intake
Going with the philosophy that bigger is always better, this kit is a huge change from the factory piping, even if that oversize pipe doesn’t really do much. The reason is simple: the MAF sensor is the choke point. A bigger inlet will only supply air to the MAF, not force air through it. But, for around $50, this kit at least looks better than the factory design and only costs about as much as the replacement filter.
The manufacturer isn’t exactly sure what metal the pipe is made from. It is listed as both alloy steel and anodized aluminum, which is of course impossible. Either way, most people who bought this kit get a metal pipe that is bent, dinged, scratched, and damaged right out of the box. People often cover the intake pipe with heat tape to cover up the damages which may actually improve performance by insulating the intake pipe from heat.
Like other inexpensive kits, this one rarely fits without modification. The oversize pipe can cause interference between the pipe and other engine components. Brackets and mounting locations are inconsistent and often don’t line up, so be prepared to redrill the mounting.
- Nearly as inexpensive as a replacement air filter
- Illegal for use on pollution-controlled vehicles in California
MooSun Air Intake Kit
This is another super-budget option that claims to provide a power increase but can’t back the claim with evidence. Instead, you’ll get a shiny metal pipe and an oversized air filter. The filter size is the biggest challenge, since this kit will only fit certain engines and often will require modification to fit despite being advertised as direct fit.
The air filter is a paper design that is washable, but doesn’t use oil. Functionally, it’ll give you the same performance as the factory parts. The metal pipe is alloy steel so you’ll need to keep it cleaned and polished or it will rust. Many people found the pipe to be a little too short when installing, leading to the need to modify the heat shield and mounting brackets.
Most installers had to modify the brackets and mounting points along with other components to make this product fit. It doesn’t have provisions for the mass airflow sensor or intake sensor locations, so you’ll need to figure out how to work around those critical engine components to get this one to work for you.
- The best thing about this part is that it isn’t expensive
- Rarely fits as intended
- No performance proof
- Not smog-legal and doesn’t provide factory locations for sensors
- Often damaged in transit including rust, dings, scratches, and bent plastic parts
We love K&N air filters for the simple reason that they do what they promise and they back up their claims with proof. No one else on the market is offering you that information. Yes, K&N is more expensive than most other kits. The cold air intake kits from K&N fit perfectly, work very well, and have an outstanding reputation for actual performance gains. Their kits don’t have the shiny metal pipe that others do, and it’s for a reason- shiny metal pipes aren’t going to insulate the air temperature, leading to a decrease in performance from factory. The K&N 57-3050 is the best cold air intake for 5.3l Vortec engines (>>> Check on Amazon).
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