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A vehicle’s internal combustion engine is basically a self-powered breathing machine that captures atmosphere, mixes it with a precise amount of fuel, and produces the power required to drive the vehicle and its accessories.

Atmosphere carries suspended particulates in the form of dirt and dust, and if those particulates aren’t filtered out, the parts of the engine that compress the air-fuel mixture and create power will be permanently damaged. That’s what the engine air filter does.

dirty engine filter
Dirty engine air filter | Image Source: Richard McCuistian

If left unchanged for long periods of time, the accumulated particles can restrict the airflow. Although the ECM/PCM can compensate for a partially restricted engine air filter, if the filter gets dirty enough, it can hinder engine performance and reduce fuel economy. In extreme cases (like if the vehicle is driven through deep muddy water) it can become clogged with water and mud to the point that it stalls the engine.

How Often Should You Change Your Engine Air Filter?

Depending on driving conditions, the engine air filter should be replaced every 15,000 to 30,000 miles. Consult your owner’s manual for the recommended replacement interval. Also, make sure to inspect it when you’re conducting your regular under-the-hood checkup to see if it’s dirty.

Even if you’re at a lower mileage than the recommended interval and you drive a lot in dusty conditions, you may need to change engine air filters more frequently. Some air filters are made of pleated paper mildly saturated with special light oil to help trap particles. Air filters come in various shapes and sizes and must be installed properly to do their work.

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Air filters have a fine foam seal around the edges of the filter element that must be completely intact, and if the air filter housing is cracked or broken in any way, it should be replaced. Trying to cover a housing crack with duct tape isn’t sufficient to keep damaging debris from entering the air intake stream. Sometimes, the retaining tabs on the filter housing will be broken and that also calls for filter housing replacement. The life and health of your engine is at stake, so don’t take these pointers lightly, and don’t put off replacing a damaged housing.

air filter service indicator
Some air filters will have an air filter service indicator| Image Source: Richard McCuistian

How to Replace the Engine Air Filter

If you’ve reached 15,000 to 30,000 miles and you haven’t changed your engine air filter yet, now’s the perfect time to do so. Replacing the engine air filter is fairly easy and typically doesn’t require any tools to complete.

Here’s a quick and easy guide on how to change the engine air filter of your car:

Note: The following are general guidelines for educational and entertainment purposes only. Consult a repair database or repair manual for specific repair instructions and recommended safety procedures.

Make sure your car is safely parked

For a hassle-free engine air filter removal and installation, park your vehicle securely on flat ground. This will make standing and moving around easier and more comfortable for you. Also, make sure that the engine is turned off so that none of the components are operating, including the air intake system.

If you’ve been driving, let the engine cool down for a bit before you work on replacing the filter.

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air filter replacement
The air filter housing is the box connected to the engine via a large black tube.

Pop the hood and locate the air filter housing

Once you’ve secured all precautionary measures listed above, open the hood using the lever found around the driver’s seat. The location of the lever can vary depending on the make and model of your car. You may find it under the steering wheel area, under the driver’s seat, or on the interior door panel.

Check your owner’s manual for reference.

After raising the hood up, locate the box that’s connected to the engine via a large black tube. This box is your car’s engine air filter housing. You’ll instantly recognize it as soon as you see the long tube, which is the air intake pipe.

Remove the old air filter

To access the air filter, you’ll need to remove the air filter housing cover. Typically, you won’t need any tools to do this. On some vehicles, however, a screwdriver or ratchet and socket may be required, as some filter housings are secured by screws or bolts. Other filter housings are only held by plastic tabs or clips, which you can pry open using your fingers.

After you’ve removed the cover, you’ll see the engine air filter in the housing. The size, shape, and appearance of air filters may vary depending on the make and model of your car.

Remove it simply by lifting it with your hands.

After removing the air filter, you’ll see the rest of the housing. It may be dusty, depending on how long it’s been since you last replaced your air filter, as well as your typical driving conditions. Expect a significant amount of dust and dirt if you often go off-roading.

Use the vacuum to remove any dirt that has accumulated inside the air filter housing before installing the new one.

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Install the fresh air filter in the same manner

Installing your new engine air filter replacement is fairly easy. First, identify which side should be facing down by inspecting how the old one was installed. Then, gently place the filter on top of the filter housing and make sure it fits snugly.

Once the filter is secured, place the cover back. Align any pins to their respective provisions before gently pushing the tabs down⁠—you should hear a clicking sound once they lock.

Touch the edges of the filter housing under the cover to make sure there are no gaps that may cause air contamination.

Helpful Tips for Changing Your Air Filter

For more helpful tips in changing the engine air filter, watch this helpful video:

Always remember that mileage specifications for air filters may vary depending on the manufacturer, driving conditions, and any form of recent damage. It’s a good rule of thumb to make checking the air filter a habit for your peace of mind.

How Much Does a Replacement Engine Filter Air Cost?

The price of an engine air filter varies depending on your car’s make and model. They will generally set you back anywhere between $5 and $410. Enter your vehicle’s year, make, and model in the search tab to narrow down the selection to the compatible air filters.

Any information provided on this Website is for informational purposes only and is not intended to replace consultation with a professional mechanic. The accuracy and timeliness of the information may change from the time of publication.

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