Auto Repair Q&A



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Air Filter Systems

Typical engine air filter - wikimedia

Every car has at least one air filter - some have two or more. These filters need regular cleaning or replacement, depending on the filter type. This maintenance usually happens during an oil change or tune up.

Most vehicle manufacturers and filter suppliers recommend that the air filter in the vehicle's engine air intake system be checked at every oil change interval. This filter is usually located between the air intake hose (typically a solid plastic tube) and the intake manifold on the engine. Engines using a carburetor will have it on top of the carb, often in a round, circular tray that sits atop the carburetor housing.
Typical paper air intake filter (Wikimedia)
The majority of the air intake filters in automotive are paper-based weaves and corrugations. They will generally have a "clean side" on which a gasket is located and a "dirty side."

Inspection of the filter involves removing it and visually looking for heavy buildup of dirt or grime on the filter's "dirty side."

Most air filter replacements for the engine's air intake require no tools to remove and replace, though some may require a screwdriver. Paper filters generally require replacement every 8,000-12,000 miles, depending on the conditions in which the vehicle is driven.

Other filters on a typical vehicle will be cabin air filters for cleaning the air going into the vents that blow into the passenger cabin of the vehicle. These can be located in a number of areas on the car, depending on design, but often reside near the engine's air intake filter. Replacement intervals will vary.

Replacing the air intake filter is an important part of upkeep on a vehicle's economy, power, and longevity. Dirty filters cause air restrictions that lower fuel burn rates and lead to decreased fuel efficiency and power. If left too long, this can lead to other issues in the vehicle's operation. Without a filter, however, the vehicle will eventually succumb to excess engine wear due to the high number of particulates that enter the air intake to be burned with the fuel.

Paper air filters typically cost less than $20 and require no tools or expertise to replace. They are the easiest of do-it-yourself maintenance items on your car.