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Maintaining Your Vehicle’s Assortment of Filters

You might not think of yourself as an auto mechanic However, one of the most beneficial car maintenance steps a driver can make is also one of the easiest:

Clean or change your air filter.

Keeping all of your vehicle’s filters clean—air filter, cabin filter, oil filter and fuel filter. They provide a big boost to its overall health and performance. And caring for your air filter is one maintenance task that just about anyone can handle.

It’s so simple; a complete novice can handle the task in 10 minutes or less. Yet this simple act of cleaning or changing your air filter does so much good for your vehicle:

  1. Better gas mileage: Studies indicate a clean air filter can improve a vehicle’s fuel efficiency by 10~15 percent.
  2. Longer engine life: A clean filter means an engine does not have to work as hard to circulate air. By trapping dust, dirt and debris, a clean air filter saves internal engine parts such as cylinders and pistons unnecessary wear.
  3. Improved acceleration: In modern fuel-injection cars, engine responsiveness has been estimated to be increased by up 10 percent when it is operating with a clean, unobstructed air filter.
  4. Reduced emissions: If an air filter is clogged, an engine struggles to breath. That can affect a vehicle’s emission control system. An unbalanced air-fuel mixture caused by a dirty air filter and affect spark plugs and result in hesitation or rough idling.

air filter


How do you handle the task? In modern vehicles, air filters are usually on the top or side of the engine, rectangular, and contained in a plastic housing kept closed by a couple of clips or screws. Pop open the housing and inspect the filter, usually made up of pleated paper chambers.

It’s smart to periodically clean your air filter between full replacements. Mildly dirty air filters may not need to be replaced. Simply tap the filter by one of its edges a few times to knock dirt and dust out. Or use air hose (the type used to fill tires) and blow air toward the outside of the filter. You can also run a hand vacuum over the filter’s surface. Then simply put it back in place.

If an air filter, which is usually white or off-white when new, is discolored by dirt and dust, or if it has been in use more than 15,000 miles, it’s probably time to replace it. They can be purchased at any auto parts store. Refer to a filter catalog stores carry that identify the correct filter number for your specific vehicle. Pop open the filter housing, pull out the old filter (it simply sits in its housing without any attachments) and slip in the new filter. You’re good to go.

air filter

The cabin filter (sometimes called an air conditioner filter) is part of a vehicle’s ventilation system. It keeps dust, particulates, and allergens out of your vehicle’s passenger compartment. Air is always flowing into your cabin as you drive, so the cabin filter is always at work, whether or not your vehicle’s air conditioner or heater is in use. Replacing it enhances your air conditioner’s performance.

Manufacturers suggest changing these filters every 12k to 15k miles. You can do it more often if you live in an area known for above-average pollen production. People often found filters on the passenger side under the dashboard, close to the cabin under the hood, or in the area near where a passenger’s feet rest.

cabin air filter

Two types of cabin filters exist: standard particulate models and those that add activated charcoal. Both filter out dust and pollen. Filters with activated charcoal also capture gasses and odors.

If your cabin filter is located behind your glove compartment, a portable light will be very helpful during the procedure. In addition to screwdrivers and wrenches, add a light to your tool mix. Consider one of the choices from autoAssist’s highly ranked collection of portable lights: the Rechargeable LED WorkLight, the COB LED Slide WorkLight, or the COB LED Floodlight.

After removing the glove box frame, look for the door to the cabin filter’s plastic housing. You should find it by checking your owner’s manual. Cabin filters in this under-dash area are typically the easiest to replace on your own. Before installing a replacement filter, inspect the filter housing with your light. If it’s dusty, vacuum the housing to make it as clean as possible. Then reassemble all the parts and begin to breathe easier.

Changing an oil filter and fuel filter are tasks often better suited to mechanically-minded people. If that includes you, your filter-changing toolkit should include all the basics (screwdrivers, wrenches, filter wrenches) and a good light for working under the hood. Look for lights with a hook (such as the autoAssist Rechargeable LED WorkLight), one with a strong magnetic base (the autoAssist COB LED Slide WorkLight) or one that casts an abundant amount of light into a garage-size workspace (the autoAssist COB LED Floodlight).

change air filter autoassist LED worklight

You should regularly changing your oil filter between every 3k and 5k miles for most vehicles. It keeps your engine’s internal parts lubricated and its oil supply free of dirt and debris.  Both of which boost gas mileage and engine longevity.

Typically you replace your oil filter during a routine oil change. If you’re trying it for the first time, be aware that the old filter can contain hot oil when you remove it. Position your oil pan under the old filter and exercise caution when you use your filter wrench to disconnect it. Clean the engine’s mounting surface with a rag and verify the old filter’s gasket is not still stuck in place.

fuel filter

With the new filter, apply a light coating of new oil on its rubber seal, make sure the seal is properly seated and screw it in place by hand. It typically is not necessary to use the filter wrench to secure the new filter in place.

Changing a fuel filter (recommended every two years or 24,000 miles) is often best left to a specialist, but a competent do-it-yourselfer can handle the task. Use your owner’s manual to verify its location, usually under the hood or under the car near the gas tank.

You will need to disable the electric fuel pump, which itself can be a complex task. This releases pressure in the fuel line so it is safe to disconnect the old fuel filter.

But before you disconnect anything, inspect the old and new filters. Look for arrows on both filters that indicate the direction of fuel flow. If the new filter lacks an arrow, look at what direction the old filter uses and replicate that orientation when installing the new filter. Your toolkit for this process should also include a good light for working in tight spaces.

Keeping filters fresh and clean will keep your car healthy and productive. Maintaining your air filter is a simple task any driver can manage. Give it a try and enjoy the benefits.

air filter



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