How to Clean Your Car’s Air Filter

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Cleaning your car’s air filter is essential to keeping it running smoothly. Car owners often don’t know how important maintaining their filter is, and they end up paying for expensive repairs when their vehicle breaks down from neglected maintenance.

In order to keep the engine in good condition, we must clean the air filter every now and then. What’s more, changing your vehicle’s air filter is one of the easiest and jobs you can do at home. All that’s needed to complete this task are a few basic tools, which makes it accessible for anyone with an interest in vehicle maintenance. This guide will show you how!

What exactly is a car air filter?

In today’s cars, there are four main filters. Cabin filters are made to catch the dust and contaminants in the air before it enters the space occupied by the driver and passengers. The engine oil filter catches impurities, as well as dirt from your car’s motor oil. Fuel filters help clean up fuel so it is free of debris that would otherwise create wear on internal components such as pistons or cams. Air Filters prevent dust and contaminants from getting into your car’s engine.

In this article we will focus on the Air Filter as this is the one most often needing to be replaced by car owners.

The most common type found on cars today are known as “paper” filters which last around 12 -18 months under normal use conditions before needing replacement. These filters are made of cellulose fibers which trap dust and other debris as small as two microns.

How do you know if your air filter needs replacing?

It’s easy to forget about the air filter, but you are putting your engine at risk if it is not replaced or cleaned as recommended by the manufacturer. You might notice issues with fuel economy or power, or unusual sounds. There could also be a misfiring of cylinders when starting the car due to the lack of enough oxygen in the combustion chamber caused by old clogged-up filters.

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How to clean your car engine filter

Remove the filter

The air filter is usually located near the engine compartment. Depending on the age, make and model of your vehicle, you may need to open up the housing which may or may not require a screwdriver.

Clean the filter with a vacuum cleaner

Use a small handheld vacuum cleaner to clean the filter. Clean it from both sides and in between pleats if needed. Use a microfibre towel to gently wipe any areas that are still dirty.

Wash in water

Performance air filters such as K&N filters are made to withstand some water. If your filter is of this sort then it will be a sponge or gauze material. If you have this type of filter you can gently wash it in warm soapy water before rinsing and drying. Never use strong detergent because doing either may damage the fibers which keep airflow as smooth and clean as possible.

Consider replacement

If you have a standard paper filter and it is looking very dirty, it’s probably time for replacement, especially given the reasonably low cost of new filters.

Car Air Filter FAQ

What are the symptoms of a bad air filter?

Some of the more common symptoms are a car that is running poorly, excessive gas consumption and decreased acceleration.

How often should you change your air filter?

It depends on how much you drive the vehicle as well as its age. A typical recommendation is every 12 months or 15,000 miles (24,000 KM), whichever comes first.

What does an air filter do in your car?

Car air filters sit within the engine and prevents dust and contaminants from entering into your car’s most vital parts.

Do K&N Filters Really Work?

K&N Filters are popular because they’re designed to filter out engine air particles more efficiently than other brands, while also providing increased airflow and thus delivering performance benefits to your vehicle.

How much does a car air filter cost?

A new paper OEM air filter will cost around $30 while performance filters can cost up to $1,000 for a K&N induction kit.

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Mike Jarvis

Mike is an automotive writer with a life-long passion for all things with four wheels.