Installing a cold air intake (CAI) can enhance your vehicle’s performance by increasing horsepower, improving fuel efficiency, and enhancing engine sound. However, if you reside in California, it’s important to be aware of state regulations regarding aftermarket vehicle modifications. In this comprehensive guide, we’ll explore the process of legally installing a cold air intake in California, covering regulations, benefits, and installation tips.

Understanding Cold Air Intakes

1. What is a Cold Air Intake?

A cold air intake is a performance upgrade for vehicles that replaces the factory air intake system with a larger, more free-flowing intake pipe and a high-flow air filter. The primary goal of a cold air intake is to deliver cooler, denser air to the engine, resulting in improved combustion and increased horsepower.

2. Benefits of Cold Air Intakes

  • Increased Horsepower: Cold air intakes can improve airflow to the engine, resulting in increased horsepower and torque.
  • Improved Fuel Efficiency: By delivering cooler air to the engine, cold air intakes can improve fuel combustion efficiency and fuel economy.
  • Enhanced Engine Sound: Many drivers enjoy the deeper engine sound produced by a cold air intake, especially at higher RPMs.

Legal Considerations in California

1. California Air Resources Board (CARB) Compliance

In California, all aftermarket engine modifications, including cold air intakes, must comply with regulations set forth by the California Air Resources Board (CARB). This means that any cold air intake installed in California must be CARB-compliant and have an Executive Order (EO) number issued by CARB.

2. CARB-Compliant Cold Air Intakes

When purchasing a cold air intake for your vehicle in California, be sure to look for products that are CARB-compliant and have been granted an EO number by CARB. These intakes have undergone testing to ensure they meet California’s emissions standards and are legal for use in the state.

Steps to Installing a Cold Air Intake in California

1. Research CARB-Compliant Intakes

Begin by researching CARB-compliant cold air intake options for your specific make and model of vehicle. Look for products from reputable manufacturers that have been tested and approved by CARB.

2. Purchase a CARB-Compliant Intake

Once you’ve identified a CARB-compliant cold air intake that meets your needs, purchase the intake from a reputable retailer or authorized dealer. Be sure to retain documentation, including the product’s EO number and CARB compliance certificate.

3. Professional Installation

To ensure proper installation and compliance with CARB regulations, consider having your CARB-compliant cold air intake professionally installed by a certified mechanic or automotive technician. This can help avoid potential issues and ensure optimal performance.

Benefits of Installing a CARB-Compliant Cold Air Intake

1. Legal Compliance

By installing a CARB-compliant cold air intake, you can rest assured that your vehicle remains compliant with California’s emissions regulations, avoiding potential fines or penalties associated with non-compliant modifications.

2. Performance Enhancement

In addition to legal compliance, CARB-compliant cold air intakes offer the same performance benefits as non-compliant intakes, including increased horsepower, improved fuel efficiency, and enhanced engine sound.

3. Peace of Mind

Choosing a CARB-compliant cold air intake provides peace of mind knowing that your vehicle meets state emissions standards while still enjoying the performance benefits of aftermarket modifications.


Installing a cold air intake can be a rewarding upgrade for your vehicle, providing increased performance and engine sound. However, if you reside in California, it’s important to ensure that any modifications comply with state emissions regulations. By following the steps outlined in this guide and choosing a CARB-compliant cold air intake, you can enjoy the benefits of improved performance while remaining in legal compliance.

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