Car trouble is never fun, sometimes simply replacing a part can go a long way to keeping a simple issue from getting worse and causing costly damage down the road. If you are experiencing problems, you may want to consider your fuel filter as one possible cause. Knowing when to change your filter and doing it sooner rather than later can be an important part of keeping your vehicle running smoothly. Below you will find an overview of exactly what role your fuel filter plays and how to tell if it is starting to go bad.

What Does Your Fuel Filter Do?

No matter where it comes from, any gasoline that you pump in your car will likely contain natural impurities that could potentially cause damage to parts like the fuel injectors. As you might guess, a fuel filter simply acts as a barrier, keeping potentially damaging elements from playing havoc on the rest of your vehicle. Since it does undergo a lot of heavy use during the regular lifespan of your vehicle, it should not come as a shock that you may have to replace your filter in order to keep things running at their best.

How often to replace fuel filter can depend on a number of things. Fuel filters on older cars will often last one and a half to two years, but some can last longer. Some newer cars have “lifetime” filters that may be built into the fuel pump and do not need to be replace on a service interval. Check your owner’s manual to determine exactly how long the usefulness of your fuel filter lasts. If you end up with a tank of dirty fuel or start to notice symptoms that indicate the fuel you’re using is no longer being filtered properly, you may have to switch it out sooner than expected.

What Issues Can Come up When a Filter Goes Bad?

There can be a variety of minor issues that come up as a result of a bad fuel filter. If you experience these issues, replacing the fuel filter as soon as possible can be the best way to keep the problem from getting worse. Replacement can often mitigate any problems entirely. An important thing to look out for can be an engine that idles or runs with hesitations or changes in power. The engine may seem to sputter or otherwise run roughly, especially when you are accelerating quickly, driving uphill, or carrying a heavy load. Even if you don’t notice that the engine feels different, you may see that your vehicle is running at unusual RPMs, dropping or spiking for what seems like no reason. It is also worth noting that the problems may occur off-and-on rather than consistently and just because your car runs better sometimes doesn’t mean that the issue isn’t present.

Other, more subtle issues may also come up. You may find you get worse pedal response from your vehicle than usual. Your car may also be less powerful in general, and your Check Engine Light may turn on sporadically or remain on until the issue is fixed. More serious problems can include the engine failing to start at all or completely losing power and dying while in use. While not always related to the fuel filter, all of these issues can be serious indications that something isn’t right. If you are experiencing these issues, and especially if you are seeing a combination of them, the filter is a potential cause that is not to be overlooked.

How Do You Replace a Fuel Filter?

If you see signs you need to change your fuel filter, then it’s probably time to start thinking about whether you can replace it yourself or if you need some professional help. While the exact process for changing the filter can vary a lot depending on your vehicle, it is possible to switch it out yourself. One common location, as you might guess, is in the fuel tank itself, but the filter may also be located in the fuel lines. You should consult a professional opinion on which fuel filter will work best for you and further research may be needed to learn the exact process of switching your filter out. If you do not have a lot of experience with fuel system maintenance, it may be best to get help from a professional mechanic.

There is some cost involved with replacing your fuel filter, but it is important to remember that the money you put into fixing it can do a lot to prevent much more expensive damage from happening later on. If you plan to drive your vehicle for many years to come or if you want to be able to sell it for a good price, a faulty filter is not something to overlook. Fuel filters are made to be a replaceable part, and you shouldn’t be too surprised to have to get a new one at some time or another during the lifetime of your vehicle. The good news is that fuel filters can be a relatively affordable part, especially if you buy the parts and do the work yourself. A new filter can cost as low as around fifteen dollars in some cases, and even if you go to a pro, the costs of a replacement generally stays around $200.

Changing a fuel filter is a great time to clean your car’s gas tank too.

Keeping Up with Fuel Filter Maintenance

Fuel filter issues generally won’t cause major damage right away, but if left alone the problems resulting from them can become quite serious. If you start noticing problems with your engine running strangely and experience loss of power and poor gas mileage, the fuel filter is a likely suspect. Luckily, a new fuel filter should not cause too much of a dent in your bank account and you should find that a replacement quickly mitigates any issues you are experiencing. Following the recommended change intervals in your owner’s manual is key to maintain optimal vehicle health. Waiting until you are starting to experience issues with your fuel filter may cause bigger fuel delivery issues to deal with beyond a clogged filter.

Advice, how-to guides, and car care information featured on and AutoZone Advice & How-To’s are presented as helpful resources for general maintenance and automotive repairs from a general perspective only and should be used at your own risk. Information is accurate and true to the best of AutoZone’s knowledge, however, there may be omissions, errors or mistakes.

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