The engine air filter in your car keeps contaminants out of your engine while providing the air it needs to run. Keeping this filter clean gives you optimal performance and efficiency, while a filter clogged with excessive dirt and debris will sap acceleration and can even make fuel economy slightly worse.
So, how often should you replace this important part?
How Often Should You Change Your Air Filter in Your Car?
Different car manufacturers have different recommendations on how often you should change the filter in your airbox, but there’s a consensus that a disposable filter is good for about 30,000 miles in regular driving conditions. It should be changed more often if you drive in particularly harsh conditions like in heavy traffic in hot weather, on unpaved roads or if you do a lot of off-roading. Even then, the filter can go about 15,000 miles between replacements.
Some shops might try to talk you into getting a new air filter with every oil change, but that’s way more often than you really need a new one. It might not seem like a big deal since air filters are usually pretty cheap and replacing them isn’t a big job, but a polite "no thanks" can help you avoid getting nickel-and-dimed.
Can I Replace the Air Filter Myself?
Yes, this is one car maintenance job that is very easy for just about anyone to do in their own garage. Most engine air filters are very easy to access under the hood. If you’re not sure where it is, consult the owner’s manual which should make it clear where it is and how to replace it. If you’re having a hard time finding the information you need in the manual, a quick online search using your car’s year, make and model should give you the answers you’re looking for. Checking the manual or consulting the web will also tell you the part number for the filter to use in your engine.
Start by simply opening the air box, which can usually be done by removing a few screws with a screwdriver or sometimes with no tools at all. When the airbox is open, you’ll see there’s either a flat, rectangular filter or a round, cone-shaped filter. A flat filter can usually be removed by hand, and a cone-shaped filter will usually be secured with a hose clamp that can be loosened and tightened with a screwdriver. From there, simply take out the old one and put in the new one, close the airbox back up and you’re done for the next 30,000 or so miles.
If you’re not sure how long it’s been since you’ve gotten a new air filter, it doesn’t hurt to do a quick visual inspection of the one you’re currently using. You don’t need to be a mechanic to be able to tell if a filter is worn out. If it looks really dirty and worn out and you don’t know how many miles are on it, it’s better to be safe than sorry and just replace it, especially since it’s a low-cost maintenance item and replacing it early doesn’t hurt anything.
What About Reusable Air Filters?
Some high-performance aftermarket air filters from brands like K&N and Injen claim that they’re good for the life of your car but need to be cleaned every so often to remain effective. These filters use more durable materials than regular disposable air filters to live up to their claim of never needing to be replaced. They also make claims about improving airflow resulting in improved engine performance without sacrificing proper air filtration.
If you use one of these reusable air filters in your car, make sure you’re cleaning it as often as the manufacturer of the filter recommends. Some of these aftermarket brands offer their own cleaning kit specifically designed for their air filters, and it’s not a bad idea to keep that kit in your garage to ensure you’re using chemicals that are safe to use on your filter.
It’s safe for most drivers to go about 30,000 miles between air filter replacements. If you’re driving in harsh conditions that throw a lot of dirt and debris at your car like in off-road driving, then you’ll want to adjust that number to about 15,000 miles. If you’re using a reusable aftermarket filter, follow the manufacturer’s instructions closely on how to keep it clean and effective.