How To Change Your Car's Air Filter

What Is A Car Air Filter, and What Does It Do?

Your vehicle's internal combustion engine requires air, fuel, and spark in specific quantities to generate power. The necessary air is drawn from outside the vehicle and passes through the air filter before entering the engine. Outside air, however, is filled with potential engine-damaging contaminants, including grains of sand, leaves, dirt, pollen, even bird feathers. The air filter's job—much like that of the fuel and the oil filter—is to trap these harmful contaminants and prevent them from being sucked into the engine where they can cause damage.

How Often Should You Replace Your Air Filter?

An air filter is a maintenance item that needs to be replaced regularly. Ideally, that's every 12,000 miles or 12 months—more often if the vehicle is driven regularly in a dusty environment. As contaminants build up in the air filter's paper or cotton barrier, it becomes increasingly difficult for air to flow through, which, in turn, can cause significant engine performance problems.

Warning Signs Your Air Filter May Be Dirty

Your vehicle's performance problems may all stem from a dirty or clogged air filter. Here are several warning signs to look for:

  • Decreased engine power, throttle response, or acceleration
  • Poor gas mileage
  • Misfiring or rough-idling engine
  • Gasoline smell
  • Black smoke
  • Check Engine light illuminated

Changing the air filter is quick and easy to do.

Ben with YouTube channel Gears and Gasoline demonstrates how to change the air filter in his 2012 Honda Civic in this short video.

Here are the steps to take:

  1. Find the inside hood release and pop the hood.
  2. Locate the hood catch lever and slide it to one side. Raise the hood and support it safely with the hood prop.
  3. Find the air filter box, which should be near the grille — it will probably have an air intake tube leading to it.
  4. Remove the air filter box's cover, which is usually held down with clamps or wingnuts.
  5. Remove the old air filter and vacuum out any debris (leaves, twigs, bugs, etc) that may have accumulated in the air filter box.
  6. Replace the air filter, being sure to position it exactly like the old one. Some filters may have an arrow that denotes the direction of air flow through the filter and box.
  7. Secure the lid, close the hood again and you're ready to go!

Changing your air filter is an easy job that can improve performance and fuel economy in just about any car. Have you changed your own air filter? Let us know in the comments.

Last updated November 26, 2019

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