How Often to Change Air Filter in a Car

No, you’re not the first to ask. Let’s get this straightened out.

The benefits and importance of car filters are often underestimated. A dirty filter lets polluting and allergen particles, as well as dust, sand, and other debris, into the motor and car. Over time, they can result in motor damage and health complications.

Cabin and engine screens are simple to inspect and replace when needed. Some are even multi-use and can be washed. How often to change 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. Both are equally important, and keeping a close eye on their condition is critical for the good function of your car.

The screens are made of breathable material, such as paper, cotton or foam (1). 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 key role in your engine’s performance. Without screens, these particles would find their way in, damaging the engine’s cylinder walls and pistons (2)

Cabin Filters

Whether inside your home or driving your car, air pollution kills millions of people yearly. Over time, it leads to cardiovascular and respiratory diseases (3).

High-efficiency cabin air filters — such as HEPA filters — are useful in this area. They’re able to capture 90 percent or more of all particles 0.3-microns or larger, significantly protecting drivers’ health (4).

How Often to Change Engine Air Filter

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

Driving Frequency

How often to change the air filter in your car depends on how frequently you drive. Generally speaking, it should be replaced every 30,000 miles.

The brittle material can tear over time and let debris in. Regardless of use, however, the screen should be changed every three years.

Your Vehicle’s Model

Every manufacturer may have a different recommendation when it comes to filter maintenance. They’re usually found inside your vehicle’s manual. For instance, Chevrolet recommends filter maintenance every 45,000 miles. Ford, on the other hand, advises changing one every 30,000 miles (5).

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 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 distance driven, 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. But unlike many might think, a dirty filter doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ll be burning more gas.

It does, however, decrease acceleration power by 6 to 8 percent (6). So if you feel that your car is slow to gain momentum, this could be a sign your screen needs changing.

Keep in mind, though, that it generally happens gradually; you may not notice it right away.

2. Visual Inspection

A quick look at the filter can give you some clues it’s time for a new one. If you notice any other color but white or grey on the screen, it’s a clear sign it needs to be replaced (7).

Most car owners change the engine oil’s every 3,000 to 15,000 miles, depending on the vehicle’s make (8). Whether done professionally or on your own, it’s usually a good idea to check all filters at the same time.

3. Black Smoke

A motor needs about 2,641 gallons of air to fuel one 0.3 gallons of gas to work smoothly. The fuel will then create a dark residue, leading your exhaust to deliver a thick and black smoke (9).

This is a sign that your engine is receiving the proper amount of air and oxygen, and the air filter should be checked.

How Often to Change Cabin Air Filter

Typically, cabin air filters should be replaced on a yearly basis or every 12,000 to 30,000 miles. This filter 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 will be able to replace the filters. Regardless, however, both 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 some of them can be accessed by simply unlocking the box, other models will require a screwdriver. When purchasing a new screen, ensure that it’ll fit 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, accessible to most.

Filtering Down

Both the engine and cabin air filters are essential to keep your vehicle and lungs performing well. How often to change the air filter in your car is dependent 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 have to 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.