How Often Should You Change Your Vehicle’s Air Filters?

There are two types of air filters in your car. Your vehicle’s engine needs high volumes of clean air to mix with atomized fuel to burn efficiently, and the engine air filter is bound to get dirty from time to time. Similarly, your cabin air filter will need to be replaced occasionally, although its role is to keep the air inside your car’s cabin clean and fresh.

The average engine air filter cost is only $10 to $25 and a cabin air filter is around the same price. However, they’re both often neglected to the point that it causes symptoms to show up. How often should you change the engine air filter and cabin air filter, and how easy is it to change? Here’s what you should know about replacing car air filters.

How long does an air filter last?

An engine air filter’s job is to keep the engine clean by trapping contaminants before they can enter. They’re made of pleated material, often a blend of natural and synthetic fibers, and they’re sometimes reinforced. The material is intended to capture particles measured in microns, sometimes down to 5 or 10 microns, so they don’t enter the engine and damage parts. They also need to be free flowing enough that the air isn’t restricted entering the engine.

Over time, the engine air filter becomes clogged and less effective. That’s why it’s important to change your car’s air filter regularly. Depending on your driving habits, you should change your air filter every 12 months or 12,000 miles. If you do a lot of stop-and-go driving in a dusty or polluted area, you’ll need to change it more often. To save yourself some money, you can even do it yourself. Just be sure to buy the right filter for your car and follow the instructions to swap it out.

Cabin air filters should be changed at roughly the same intervals. Like the filter for engine air, they can get clogged with bugs, dirt, pollen, leaves, and other environmental particles. They can also get saturated by water and develop mold or mildew that can stink up your car. Changing it annually is always a good practice.

how often to change air filters

When should you change an air filter?

Aside from the time and mileage recommendation, there can be other reasons to change your air filters. Here are some symptoms that can alert you to an issue that requires attention.

Symptoms of a dirty engine air filter

Along with how often to change air filters, a dirty air filter can cause a number of problems that will affect your vehicle’s reliability as well as your confidence at the wheel. They can include:

  • Reduced fuel economy.
  • Engine misfires.
  • Increased emissions.
  • Hissing noise from under the hood at idle.
  • Engine damage if it’s left unaddressed. 
  • Check Engine Light on.
  • Your car is idling rough.
  • Slow acceleration.

By paying attention to these signs, you can ensure that your air filter is always clean, and your engine is always running smoothly.

Signs your cabin air filter is dirty

Cabin filters are an important part of your vehicle’s ventilation system, and they help to keep the air inside your cabin clean and free of pollen, dust, and other airborne contaminants. Over time, however, cabin filters can become clogged with dirt and debris, reducing their effectiveness, and potentially causing cabin air quality to deteriorate. If you notice that your cabin air quality has gone down, there is a putrid or rotten odor coming from the vents, or there is less air blowing from your dash vents, it may be time to replace your cabin air filter.

How to replace an air filter

Neither an engine air filter nor cabin air filter is a complicated job to exchange. In most cases, you don’t need any tools, or at most you will need a screwdriver to remove a duct or cover.

Replacing an engine air filter

Replacing your engine air filter is a simple task that you can do at home with just a few tools. Most cars will have the filter located in the engine bay, and it will be housed in a rectangular box. Once you have located the filter, open the box, and remove the old filter. Be sure to dispose of it properly; most filters can be recycled. To install the new filter, simply insert it into the box and close the lid. By replacing your filter regularly, you can help to keep your engine running smoothly and improve fuel efficiency.

How to replace a cabin air filter

Replacing a cabin air filter is typically a straightforward process, but the exact steps may vary depending on your vehicle’s make and model. In most cases, the cabin air filter is located behind the glove compartment or under the hood, and it can be accessed by opening the panel and removing the old filter. Once the old filter has been removed, simply insert the new filter in its place and close the panel. With a fresh cabin air filter in place, your vehicle’s cabin will be refreshed and free of any unwanted contaminants.

Buy your air filter replacement at an AutoZone near you today and help you and your engine breathe better. Not sure which filter fits your car or how often to change car air filters? Shop with your vehicle information for an exact fit or ask an associate for assistance.

If you decide that it’s too big a job to tackle on your own, let AutoZone help you find qualified professional mechanics through our Shop Referral Program. 

Frequently Asked Questions

How do I know if my air filter needs changing?

A dirty engine air filter will cause symptoms when it is dirty enough including a rough run, poor fuel economy, and even a Check Engine Light. A cabin air filter will often have less air from the vents or an unpleasant smell coming through them.

How long does the average car air filter last?

Typically, you can expect an air filter to last around one year or 12,000 miles (about 19312.13 km).

How much does an air filter cost?

An average air filter will cost around $10 to $25, although select filters can range in price to well over $100.

How do I check my car air filter?

Hold your air filter up to the light. If you cannot see light through the pleats, it is dirty and needs to be changed.

Is engine filter same as air filter?

An engine filter is one type of air filter, yes. However, engine filter can also refer to an oil filter while an air filter can also refer to a cabin air filter.

Does changing air filter improve performance?

If your engine air filter is very dirty, then replacing it can certainly help to restore your car’s previous performance.

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