Filters: Fuel, Engine Air and Cabin Air Filters

Filters play a crucial role in the efficiency and performance of your vehicle as they separate the good from the bad, whether it be air or fluids such as oil and gas. Every filter needs to be as clean as possible to prevent dirt particles or other contaminants from entering your fuel, engine or air conditioning systems. Filters can and do become clogged and contaminated – even from normal use.  To protect all of the systems in your vehicle, changing dirty filters is essential and will provide for a safer and longer vehicle ownership experience.

Fuel Filter – The fuel filter is located between your fuel tank and your fuel pump.  The filter is in place to remove any impurities that could clog your fuel injectors.  If contaminants get into the fuel injectors the engine may malfunction or deteriorate in performance.  Impurities can be anything from rust, to dirt and water as all of these are present in fuel.  When fuel filters are clogged the engine will either stop running or fail to start, as sufficient fuel will not be able to get to the engine.

Depending on your car type, you may be able to change it yourself as some are located in easy-to-access locations and others are very complicated.  If you are unsure, take it to an auto mechanic and have them change it.  If you can access your fuel filter easily, you may want to change it yourself and there are several online videos demonstrating various safety precautions and steps to perform this maintenance procedure.  Just search “fuel filter change”.

Engine Air Filter – The air filter acts similar to the fuel filter but instead it filters the air coming into your engine. Any engine that runs by internal combustion of fuel requires air to operate. That's because without air, specifically oxygen, fuels like gasoline and diesel can't burn and provide the explosive force to power the engine.  And not just any old air will do. In modern automobiles, the air must be cleaned before it gets sucked into the engine's air intake plenum and combustion chambers. If not, you run the risk of dust, dirt and debris quickly fouling up the engine, causing poor performance and potentially shortening the life of the engine. Foreign particles act as abrasives on the metal parts of an engine, wearing away at engine bearings, piston rings and cylinders.

In addition, modern engines rely on a precise ratio of air to fuel. When the engine is starved of air, the fuel mix is said to run too "rich," which in effect puts added strain on the engine and decreases MPG.

You should refer to your owner’s manual for proper intervals to change the air filter, however, know that there is a big difference in change intervals for vehicles driven in i) dusty conditions versus ii) clean air conditions.  The real issue is to determine whether the air filter is clean, moderately dirty or heavily soiled and does it have the ability to continue to “filter the air” and allow sufficient clean air to enter the engine or not.

Air filters are frequently cited by auto-mechanics as needing to be replaced, and luckily, it is quite simple to replace these filters.  The filter is usually attached to the front or top of the engine in a black plastic casing. Simply open the casing and remove the filter (sometimes held in by easily removable clips).   If the paper looks off-colored or extremely dirty it is time to be replaced.  They are relatively inexpensive, and can be replaced yourself or have it replaced at your next oil change. 

Cabin Air Filter – The cabin air filter also filters air but instead of engine air, it filters air coming into the cabin of the car so the passengers have clean, breathable air.  Just as with engine air filters, the change interval depends on whether the vehicle has been driven in dirty/dusty/pollen-filled air conditions or in clean air conditions.  Many say Cabin Air Filters should be changed every 12,000-15,000 miles or longer and it is a good idea to inspect them annually.  Depending on the car model, cabin air filters can be easy to change.  Check the owner’s manual and see if it is behind the glove box because if so, simply popping the glove box out can give you access to replace the filter.  If it is located in the dashboard, you may want an auto technician to make the change for you.
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