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How Often to Change Air Filter in a Car

It all depends on the distance you drive (and a few other factors).

A dirty filter lets polluting and allergen particles, dust, sand, and other debris, into the motor and car. Over time, they can result in motor damage and health complications. That’s why you need to change air filters when necessary.

How often to change (or wash) your air filters in your car depends on multiple factors.

The distance traveled, your vehicle’s specifications, and the environmental conditions in which you drive all play a role in your filters’ durability. Besides mileage, we’ll share several tips indicating when it’s time to replace the filter.

What Are Car Air Filters For?

A car typically comes with two air filters — one for the engine and one for the cabin.

The screens are made of breathable material, such as paper, cotton, or foam. Their primary role is to trap sand, pollution, dust, pollen, and even mold before they reach you or the engine.

Engine Filters

The air quality entering the motor plays a crucial role in your engine’s performance. Without screens, these particles would find their way in, damaging the engine’s cylinder walls and pistons (1).

Cabin Filters

Whether inside your home or driving your car, air pollution can lead to cardiovascular and respiratory disease (2). To put it bluntly, it kills millions of people yearly.

High-efficiency cabin air filters — such as HEPA filters — are useful in this area. They can capture 99.97 percent or more of all particles 0.3-microns or larger, significantly protecting drivers’ health (3).

How Often to Change Engine Air Filter

Although there is no set and universal schedule, here are some useful guidelines.

Driving Frequency

How often you change your car’s air filter depends on how frequently you drive. Generally speaking, you should replace it every 30,000 miles.

The brittle material can tear over time and let debris in. Regardless of miles, however, you should change the screen every three years.

Your Vehicle’s Model

Every manufacturer may have a different recommendation when it comes to filter maintenance. Check your vehicle’s manual.

For instance, Chevrolet recommends filter maintenance every 45,000 miles. On the other hand, Ford advises changing one every 30,000 miles (4).

Driving Conditions

Certain factors will increase the frequency of filter changes. Hyundai suggests changing it every 15,000 miles when driving on unpaved roads, in hot weather, or in high traffic conditions. Driving in a highly polluted environment also falls into this category.

Clues to Look Out For

If you haven’t kept track of your driving distance, here are some other helpful tips.

1. Lack of Power

A clogged filter can cause ignition issues, and your vehicle may take some time to start.

You won’t burn more gas, but a dirty filter can affect acceleration power. A clean filter can improve acceleration time by six to 11 percent (5). So if you feel that your car is slow to gain momentum, this could be a sign your screen needs changing.

Remember that decreased power happens gradually; you may not notice it immediately.

2. Visual Inspection

If you notice any other color but white or grey on the screen, it’s a clear sign it needs to be replaced.

Most car owners change the engine oil every 3,000 to 15,000 miles, depending on the vehicle’s make. Whether done professionally or on your own, it’s usually a good idea to check all filters simultaneously.

3. Black Smoke

To work smoothly, a motor needs about 14.7 pounds of air to fuel one pound of gas (6). If the vehicle doesn’t have enough air, the fuel will create a dark residue, leading your exhaust to deliver a thick black smoke (7).

This is a sign that your engine is receiving an improper amount of air and oxygen, and you should check the air filter.

How Often to Change Cabin Air Filter

You should replace cabin air filters yearly or every 12,000 to 30,000 miles. This also depends on the uses and conditions we’ve previously described. Here are some indications you might need to change your cabin filter:

  • Bad smells in the cabin.
  • Reduced airflow through the cooling or ventilation system.
  • Noisy air circulation.
  • Suffering from allergies or other respiratory conditions while driving.

How to Change an Air Filter

A car dealership can replace the filters for you. However, the engine and cabin filters are easy to check and replace when needed.

Engine Air Filter

This filter is generally found under the hood, inside a filter box. While you can access some by simply unlocking the box, other models will require a screwdriver. When purchasing a new screen, ensure it fits the box’s measurements.

Cabin Air Filter

In most cars, the cabin air filter is often placed either behind the glove box or under the dashboard. It may take a bit longer to change the first time, but overall, it is an easy process.

Filtering Down

Both the engine and cabin air filters are essential to keep your vehicle and lungs performing well. How often to change your car’s air filter depends on the distance driven. Some visual indicators can, however, give you hints on whether the screen needs to be changed.

Note that not all filters must be replaced; some models can be washable and, therefore, more eco-friendly. If you’re going for a one-time-use filter, don’t throw it away — many dealers can recycle them. Whichever screen you select, make sure it’ll fit its dedicated emplacement.

If you don’t feel comfortable changing filters, or lack time, bring your car to your mechanic. They will be able to change them for you.

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About the Author

Matthew Sullivan

Matthew is a freelance writer with several years of experience in DIY and HVAC. For as long as he can remember, Matthew has always found great pleasure in taking things apart and learning how to put them back together.