5.3 vortec cold air intake S&B
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5.3 Vortec Cold Air Intake Upgrade Guide

Jake Mayock

Meet Chandler

Chandler is a leading content writer for 8020 Media. Outside of writing truck related GM content for Chevy Trucks he creates a lot of articles around LS engines over on TuningPro. Chandler is a gearhead with tons of hands-on experience. Furthermore, he has a masters degree in history that makes him invaluable in crafting high-quality, well-researched articles on both classic and modern Chevy trucks.

The 5.3 Vortec V8 engine inside General Motors’ 1999-2013 light duty trucks and SUVs is one of the most popular engines to modify. From the factory, GM rated the engine at 275-325 horsepower and 315-350 lb-ft of torque. It was an extremely popular engine choice, and buyers loved it for its performance and reliability. Yet, pretty much as soon as the engine came out, people started to modify it. One of the most popular upgrades is a 5.3 Vortec cold air intake. 

Cold air intakes won’t add a ton of power to the Vortec 5300. Still, they will marginally improve performance, add to the aesthetics, and sound great. In addition, if you have more mods, like an exhaust or forced induction, an upgraded 5.3 Vortec intake will allow you to maximize your gains. Read on for the best 5.3 Vortec cold air intakes for your GMC/Chevy/Cadillac truck or SUV. Make sure to check out our other 5.3 Vortec content, including our Vortec 5300 engine guide, Vortec 5300 ultimate mod guide, Vortec 5300 common problems guide, and our fuel economy improvement guide for the 5.3 Vortec.

5.3 Vortec Cold Air Intake Basics

5.3 vortec cold air intake S&B
5.3 Vortec Cold Air Intake by S&B

First, let’s start off with the basics. The Vortec 5300 is a 5.3 liter engine from GM’s third and fourth generations of small-block V8s. It has an overhead valve (OHV) valve train with a single in-block camshaft. All versions are naturally aspirated from the factory. Depending on the model and year, GM rated the engine at 275-325 horsepower and 315-350 lb-ft of torque. All versions have aluminum cylinder heads, but there are both cast iron and aluminum blocks.

The 5.3 Vortec quickly earned a reputation for solid dependability and reliability, and is also known for being capable of making some pretty good power. Previously, we looked at cold air intakes in our Vortec 5300 ultimate mod guide, and we mentioned them as one of the most popular mods. They won’t add the power of an exhaust, but they can still be nice upgrades to start off with. 

It’s important to mention that technically, the OEM intake is already considered a cold air intake. A cold air intake just means the filter is routed away from the engine bay and towards the fenders. Which the OEM airbox does. That makes the real purpose behind upgrading the 5.3 Vortec intake to be increasing airflow and reducing restriction. 

By offering airflow an easier and larger path to the engine, the engine can ultimately take in more air faster. This allows for a higher rate of combustion, which improves both horsepower and torque. The gains from an upgraded intake alone won’t be too substantial, but most people notice a little more pickup and acceleration after install.

GM Cold Air Intakes vs Short Ram & Open vs Closed Systems

There are a couple of different types of upgraded 5.3 Vortec intakes on the market. The two most common types are known as cold air intakes or short ram intakes. As we mentioned, cold air intakes simply route the air filter away from the engine bay towards the fender. The purpose of this is so the intake can grab in cooler air from outside the engine bay. Colder air from outside has more oxygen than the hotter air directly under the hood. More oxygen and a higher velocity of airflow means a higher rate of combustion, resulting in more power. 

In contrast, there are also other types known as short ram intakes. The purpose of a short ram intake is to have as little space between the air filter and the throttle body. This ensures the highest velocity of airflow due to lowest restriction. The downside of a short ram intake is the lack of temperature reduction, as it’s pulling in air from directly above the engine in most cases. 

Usually, a cold air intake will make a little bit more power than a short ram intake. Still, it really only becomes noticeable at higher power levels. If an intake is your only mod, chances are a short ram and cold air will perform pretty much the same. 

Your other consideration is to get either an open or closed system. Open systems have the air filter exposed in the engine bay, whereas closed systems use an air box to surround the filter. The purpose of the airbox is to act as a heat shield and reduce intake temperatures, and also to protect the filter media from debris inside the engine bay. For the most part, open and closed systems will perform the same in terms of performance. 

GM 5.3 Cold Air Intake Benefits

The top benefits of adding a 5.3 Vortec cold air intake are:

  • +5-15 horsepower and torque
  • Decreased intake temperatures
  • Increased air flow and air velocity
  • Improved throttle response
  • Increased fuel economy

There are several different benefits to installing a 5.3 Vortec cold air intake in your truck, SUV, or van. The most obvious is the increase in power. While it’s not dramatic, most intakes show dyno gains of around 5-15 horsepower and torque. Most of this comes from the lack of restriction and larger piping, but decreased temperatures can also play a role. Additionally, if you continue to add other mods, like an exhaust or even a supercharger, an upgraded intake will allow you to maximize those gains. 

Besides just seeing an increase in peak power, you will probably also notice that the throttle is more responsive overall. Once again, the change won’t be groundbreaking, but you’ll probably feel pushed back in your seat a bit more once you really stomp on the gas.

Finally, you might see a small increase in gas mileage from an upgraded intake. The lack of restriction and increase in air flow will help allow for more power with less throttle, allowing you to save a few bucks at the pump every few tanks. However, it’s also important to realize that more air also means more fuel is required to maintain the correct air-to-fuel ratio. So under heavy throttle, you’ll probably see less fuel economy as power increases. 

Best 5.3 Vortec Cold Air Intakes

Volant Cold Air Intake for 5.3 Vortec
Volant Cold Air Intake for 5.3 Vortec

The top 5.3 Vortec cold air intakes are:

  • S&B Cold Air Intake
  • Volant Closed Intake with scoop
  • aFe Power Momentum GT Pro Intake

1) S&B 5.3 GM Cold Air Intake

First up on our list are S&B’s cold air intake systems. S&B has intakes for the 1999–2007 Silverado/Sierra 1500 and 2007–2008 Tahoe/Yukon, for the 2007–2008 Silverado/Sierra 1500, and for the 2009–2013 Silverado/Sierra/Tahoe/Yukon/Suburban/Escalade. All of the S&B systems are closed-box cold air intake style, and the air boxes have transparent tops so you can see the filter. There are both dry-flow and oiled cotton filters, but we always suggest going with a dry filter element when available. 

The airflow improvement compared with stock ranges from 28-45%, meaning they flow a substantial amount more than the OEM boxes. The designs are a little bit different for each year, but they place the filter in the same place where the OEM airbox was located. S&B has been a leader in the cold air intake game for several years, and their products are very popular in the truck community. Even many non-S&B kits use S&B’s filters due to their high quality. This is definitely a quality intake, and will make your truck sound great.

2) Volant Closed Box Intake with Scoop for GM 5.3

Next up on our list are the Volant closed box intakes with induction scoops. Volant is another widely popular brand for GM trucks and SUVs, and their 5.3 Vortec units are solid. Volant makes three separate intakes, for the 1999–2007 Chevy/GM trucks & SUVs, 2007–2008 Silverado/Sierra 1500, and for the 2009–2014 Chevy/GM trucks & SUVs. All of them will outflow the factory unit and are cold air intake style. They also include an induction scoop to help draw in cold air from as low as possible in the engine bay. 

Like the S&Bs, all of them are closed box units with multiple choices for air filters, including dry, oiled, and their proprietary PowerCore. The top option is the PowerCore filter. All of them use a high-velocity venturi-style filter adapter to reduce airflow turbulence and allow for smooth MAF readings. The Volant 5.3 Vortec cold air intakes are very popular and look slick, with the early ones being available with a transparent top for the air box. 

3) aFe Power GM 5.3 Momentum GT Pro Intake

Our final recommendation is the aFe Power Momentum GT Pro intakes. AFe is another popular manufacturer of GM intakes, and they have three separate versions for the 1999–2007 Chevy/GM trucks & SUVs, 2007–2008 Chevy/GM trucks & SUVs, and for the 2009–2013 Silverado/Sierra. The construction is pretty similar to both the Volant and the S&B, though the air box appears to fit a bit tighter. There is also a second opening on the Momentum GT air box that also helps improve cooling.

According to the manufacturer, the Momentum GT outflows the OEM intake by 19-66% depending on the version. The models for the pre-2008 trucks showed the biggest increase. Power increases range from 8-15 horsepower and 11 to a somewhat dubious 34 lb-ft of torque. The aFe Momentum GT is a solid intake that will probably perform on par with both the Volant and the S&B. 

5.3 Vortec Cold Air Intake FAQ

What does a cold air intake do for a 5.3 Vortec?

A 5.3 Vortec cold air intake will improve horsepower, torque, throttle response, and make the engine much louder. It will also make the engine bay look better, and is a very easy modification to make.

How much HP does a cold air intake add to a 5.3 Vortec V8?

A 5.3 Vortec cold air intake will add 5-15 horsepower and torque over stock. This is mainly achieved through less restrictive and larger tubing, which aids airflow and velocity into the engine. 

What is the best 5.3 Vortec cold air intake?

The best 5.3 Vortec cold air intakes are from S&B, Volant, and the aFe Power Momentum GT. All of these intakes will improve horsepower and torque while potentially decreasing intake temperatures. 

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