How To Change Your Car's Air Filter

Regular automotive maintenance is a must to ensure the long life and safety of your car. Due to the complex nature of today's cars, much of the required maintenance demands a professional mechanic. If you are a do-it-yourselfer, there are a few tasks—like changing the air filter—that you may be able to do yourself. But, if you're not so confident about your skills under the hood of a car, don't worry—there's no shame in leaving it to the professionals. Just ask your car dealership or oil change shop to check and/or change the filter when you take your car to get an oil change.

Change your car's filter with do it yourself directions.

What Needs To Be Done:

Your car has an air filter that needs to be periodically changed.

Why Do It?

An air filter prevents contaminants and debris from getting into your engine. As you know, an automobile engine is powered by a mixture of fuel and air. A clogged or overly dirty air filter can result in:

  • Non-optimal gas mileage
  • Weak performance
  • Reduced engine life
Since the air filter collects many of the bad things in the environment, to keep them out of your car, it can get dirty and clogged, therefore needing replacement.

How Often?

You should always check your owner's manual for the maintenance recommendations on your vehicle—including the air filter. But, in general, Edmunds.com says an air filter should be changed 12 months or every 12,000 miles, whichever comes first.

But, if you're driving in certain environmental conditions, it may be a good idea to check it sooner:

Time to Check Your Air Filter!
Dirty, dusty environments: Every 3 months for clogs or debris.
(If it appears excessively dirty, change it.)
Clean, dry environments: Every 12 months for excess dirt, clogs or debris.
(If found dirty, change the filter. If not, replace it in the next 6 months to be certain it is working optimally.)

How to Do It:

As always, if you're not comfortable changing your air filter on your own, you can always take it to the dealership or a mechanic to get the job done. But, if you want to take care of it yourself, don't worry — changing your air filter is an easy procedure. Just follow these simple steps.

Step 1. Park your car on a flat surface
and open the hood.

Be sure to always have the emergency brake on when working on your car.

Step 2. Bring the correct tools.

First, you'll need to look at your owner's manual to find out what kind of filter your car needs, then purchase one at an auto parts store. You will need a butter knife, a rag, one regular-size Phillips head screwdriver and one regular-size standard screwdriver.

Step 3. Locate the air filter.

Before you start the work, be certain the engine is cool. If it's still hot from driving, let it cool down before you begin. The air filter is generally located in a black plastic case near the top of the engine. It's about the size of a loaf of bread and should be the only plastic case on the top of the engine.

Step 4. Open the case.

This is where the tools may come into play. Generally, the top is held onto the air filter case by metal clips. You can pop open these clips by sliding the butter knife between the clip and the plastic case. Sometimes, the case is held together by screws. If so, use the correct screwdriver and just unscrew the screws.

Step 5. Remove the old filter
and add the new.

Simply lift the old filter out of the case, wipe out any debris in the case with a rag, and place the new filter right side up into the case. Close the top and reattach the clips or screws.

Use a Phillips screwdriver and a rag to change a car filter

Bring one Phillips head screwdriver, a standard screwdriver, a butter knife, a rag and your new air filter.

Open the case, remove the old filter and use the rag to wipe any debris from the case.

Open the case, remove the old air filter and use the rag to wipe any debris from the case.

Place the new filter into the case, close the top and reattach the clips or screws.

Place the new filter into the case, close the top and reattach the clips or screws.


Changing your air filter is an easy do-it-yourself procedure in most cars. Consult your owner's manual for best practices. If you have an older or less common automobile, be sure to seek professional assistance.

Need help remembering to perform regular maintenance tasks? Sign up for the Allstate Maintenance Reminder.

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Published: January 2013

This section highlights examples of precautions you can consider to help maintain your personal property. Please recognize that a particular precaution may not be appropriate or effective in every circumstance, and that taking preventive measures cannot guarantee any outcome. We encourage you to use your own good judgment about what's appropriate, and always consider safety.

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