Changing your car’s air filter is one of the simplest and most important maintenance tasks you can perform, yet it’s easy to overlook. The air filter is your engine’s first line of defense against dirt, dust and other debris that can infiltrate the engine and wear out bearings, piston rings and other components.
Here’s how to change your car’s air filter. While these instructions apply to many vehicles, check your owner’s manual for instructions specific to your vehicle.
Time needed: 15 minutes.
How to Change the Air Filter in Your Car
- Locate the air box
Pop the hood and locate the air-filter housing. It’s typically a black plastic box that sits adjacent to the engine. You should also see a large air-intake hose attached to the side that leads to the engine.
- Remove the air-intake tube
On some vehicles, it helps to detach the air-intake hose from the air-filter housing to access the filter. Sometimes, however, you can remove the cover of the air-filter housing and fold it out of the way without removing the tube. If you need to remove the tube, simply loosen and slide the clamp off, then work the hose loose from the cover.
- Open the air-filter housing
Note the type of fastener used to secure the cover on the air-filter housing. Some vehicles use clamps you can typically slide loose by hand. Some use screws or bolts. Remove the fasteners and set the housing cover aside.
- Remove the old air filter
Pull the old air filter from the housing. If you see a lot of dirt and debris inside the pleats, it’s time to change the air filter. If it appears clean and you haven’t surpassed the manufacturer’s recommended service interval, you can probably reuse it. But, as long as you’ve come this far, it’s easier and better practice simply to change the air filter.
- Vacuum air-filter housing
Before installing the new air filter, vacuum any debris from the housing with a shop vac. It’s also a good idea to inspect the housing for cracks or damaged fasteners. Such damage can create vacuum leaks that affect performance and possibly allow dirty air to enter the engine. If you notice issues, replace the housing.
- Install the air filter and housing cover
Now, simply place the new filter inside the housing, making sure to orient it properly. Fasten the cover back on, taking care that it settles into place and fastens securely. Make sure the gasket around the filter isn’t pinched between the housing and the cover, which will create a vacuum leak and allow dirty air into the engine.
That’s all there is to it; a simple job you can do in about 15 minutes that goes a long way toward protecting your engine.
How often should I change my air filter?
Check the recommendations in your vehicle owner’s manual or follow the air-filter manufacturer’s recommendations.
Most automakers recommend changing the air filter every 12,000 miles (19,000 km) or once a year.
But, if you frequently drive in dusty conditions, your original equipment manufacturer (OEM) may recommend changing the air filter more frequently.
Why should I change my car’s air filter?
Your engine consumes far more air during combustion than fuel. We tend to overlook this fact since we don’t have to pay for the air the engine burns. Just like your car needs clean, high-quality fuel to run properly and last for years, it also needs clean air.
However, air can be surprisingly dirty, especially if you drive on gravel roads, work around construction sites or live in an agricultural area during harvest season. You air filter is your engine’s only defense against ingesting dirt, dust, leaves, bugs and other contaminants that lead to engine wear.
If the filter plugs with debris, it restricts airflow into the engine. You may soon notice reduced power, poor fuel economy and overall reduced performance. You may even trigger a check-engine light.
For that reason, it’s vital that you change your air filter according to the guidelines in your owner’s manual or on the air-filter label.