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How to Change Your Car's Air Filter

by Christopher Nagy
November 30, 2009

As every automobile engine depends on clean air to mix with fuel, a vehicle's air filter assumes an important duty insuring that dirt and debris does not enter the engine. After extensive usage, air filters are bombarded by enough particles to restrict air flow, impacting the vehicle's power delivery and fuel economy. Periodically it is necessary to address the air filter to maintain peak engine performance.

Though the majority of professional auto service mechanics would easily complete an air filter change, this maintenance item is very accessible do-it-yourself job.

Air filters come in various constructions, the two most common types being paper element and reusable units. Paper element air filters are available for a vast majority of vehicles and are commonly supplied by Fram, Motorcraft and AC Delco. Effective enough in capturing engine-damaging particles, conventional paper element air filter last about 12,000 miles or 1 year before requiring disposal.

Reusable (or washable) air filters are made with more durable materials such as cotton or foam. While Fram also sells a washable air filter, K&N has popularized reusable air filters in performance applications (a K&N air filter is pictured here). Conceivably lasting the life of a vehicle, Fram Washable air filters can be cleaned 20 times while the K&N air filter products has been tested for over 100 cycles.

Choosing to change your own air filter requires little else than about 5-10 minutes and a replacement air filter. When selecting a replacement air filter, be certain to match it with the year and model of your vehicle by referring to the vehicle owner's manual or through a quick product search. After obtaining the correct air filter, you can proceed with the following simple steps:

  1. Prior to the filter change, exercise extra caution by resting the vehicle for at least 20 minutes.
  2. Open the hood and locate the current air filter. On some new vehicles, manufacturers have added a plastic cover to the engine which may need to be removed to access the air filter unit. In most cases, however, the air filter is easily within reach at the top of the engine compartment inside a secured plastic housing. Refer to your owner's manual for the location of your air filter.
  3. Remove fasteners. Held by clamps and wing nuts which may simply twist off, worst cases may only require an appropriate socket or screwdriver in removing fasteners from the housing. Keep account of every fastener that you're unscrewing.
  4. Opening the housing, slip out the old filter or replace it with the new filter.
  5. Reset the housing and fasteners as before.

In the case of reusable air filters, instead of replacing the unit, the filter needs to be properly cleaned within certain intervals (About 12,000 miles for Fram Washable air filters or as far as 30,000-50,000 miles with K&N Filters). While K&N filter products will require a specific cleaning solution, Fram Washable filters can be washed with regular soap and water.


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