If you were to think of your vehicle as a living creature, the air filter would act similarly to the lungs, taking in and filtering out the oxygen used to power the engine. As is true with humans, if your engine has limited access to clean oxygen or is getting clogged with pollen, dirt, and debris, the vehicle will start to lose performance and deteriorate before it could eventually die altogether. By regularly checking and either cleaning or replacing your air filter, however, you can minimize the amount of dirt and debris entering your engine and oil, and the steady supply of clean air will help to ensure your vehicle performs at its best.
Although they may not look like much, modern air filters can actually filter out up to about 98% of the dust, dirt, pollen, debris, and other contaminants from the air your engine sucks in, and a good air filter can catch debris as small as 5.5 microns in diameter; For reference, a human hair is about 50 microns in diameter. Without your air filter there to remove all the exhaust and debris from the environment, those sediments and other gunk can get into your oil and quickly and drastically wear down the parts inside your engine like the valves, piston rings, cylinder walls and more. Not only could you end up with a badly damaged engine without an air filter, but you could actually end up with some dirty lungs yourself. Without a cabin air filter, or if your cabin air filter is dirty and ineffective, your vehicle’s air conditioning can suck in all that dust, exhaust, pollen, and so on from the air outside and blast it inside your car. Not only is that dirty and a potential threat to your health, but at the very least that could introduce unwanted and unflattering smells from outside into your car.
Now that you know the importance of maintaining a clean air filter, the question is how to tell when it’s time to clean or replace your current one. Luckily, there are plenty of indicators that can help you tell whether or not your air filter needs attention.
Checking Your Filter
If you’re not too heavy of a driver and don’t spend a lot of time stuck in traffic or driving in busy cities, you can probably get away with simply replacing your air filter every 10,000 – 12,000 miles as is most commonly recommended, or according to the schedule that may be found in your owner’s manual. Unfortunately for many drivers, however, you most likely use your car on a daily basis or find yourself in exhaust-filled traffic at least somewhat regularly. Factors like that which can expose your car and engine to excessive pollution and dirty air may bring the need for more frequent air filter maintenance or replacement. Luckily, most oil change and quick-lube shops will check your air filter for you when you come in for routine service, and they can replace yours if it’s in bad shape. If they don’t, or if you want to check and change your air filters yourself to save money, you’ll be happy to hear they’re usually easily accessible and can be quickly replaced.
Most older air filters were large ring-shaped filters mounted on the top of the engine, easily accessible and held in place by a bolt or two. Modern air filters, however, are usually part of a complicated air filtration system and are housed in a box. Luckily for you, these boxes are often easy to spot and access, and frequently are simply held shut by a few clamps. The box usually is connected to a large round, black air intake tube that’s fairly easy to spot under the hood. Once unclamped and opened up, you’ll most likely find a rectangular, pleated air filter inside. You can easily gauge the condition of your air filter by looking at it – new, clean air filters are white in color and don’t have any dirt, bugs, leaves, or any other debris caught in the folds. If yours does, you can either clean it or replace it depending on how bad it looks and your budget. If you choose to clean it, you can either use a vacuum to suck the debris out or use a water and soap solution to clean the filter. If you choose the wet option, be sure the filter is completely dry before you replace it, or you can risk damaging your engine. Before you install the newly cleaned or replacement air filter, make sure to clean out the area it sits in of any excess dirt or debris.
Finally, you’ll be able to tell when your air filter is in really bad shape by the effects it can have on your vehicle’s performance. A severely clogged air filter can restrict the amount of air that gets to your engine, making it work harder and much less efficiently. In fact, your air filter could cause you to lose up to 10% of your fuel economy if it’s not properly maintained! Other telltale signs of a nasty air filter are uneven or slow accelerations, rough idling, and black exhaust upon acceleration. If you’re experiencing any of these symptoms, it’s probably best you check and replace your air filter as soon as possible.
Overall, although it’s a cheap and seemingly-simple part in your engine, the air filter is a major factor in the overall health and performance of your car. Without an air filter, you can risk serious engine damage and even harm your health. With a dirty, clogged air filter, you could see a steep decline in your vehicle’s performance. Luckily, with a few minutes of your time and a little know-how, you can keep your air filter clean and car running strong without breaking the bank!
If you’re in need of a new air filter, or if you want someone to take care of checking and installing your air filter for you, stop by Holbrook Auto Parts! They have the parts, knowledge, and prices you need to keep you and your car On the Move!
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