Car cabin filter: How to check & replace it

Last updated: January 1

What is a car cabin air filter?

Today, most vehicles on the road have a cabin air filter installed to help keep the vehicle air clean and fresh. These air filters help prevent harmful pollutants, including pollen and dust, from getting into the air you breathe. According to the experts at Car and Driver, you can usually find this air filter behind the glovebox.

Why should you replace your filter?

The cabin air filter gets rid of the contaminants that are pumped into the cabin with the fans running, explains Over time, these filters can get clogged with dirt and other debris. When the cabin air filter is dirty, says CARFAX, it won't clean the air in the car as effectively. It can also inhibit the flow of air into the cabin.

Types of air filters

Most vehicles have four types of filters: the cabin air filter, oil filter, fuel filter and air filter, says Two of those - the air filter and cabin air filter - work to ensure the air going into the engine and the air being breathed by the vehicle's occupants is clean.

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How to check your cabin filter

You can remove your car's glove box to pull out your cabin air filter to check how dirty it is. Car and Driver recommends watching for the following signs that your cabin air filter needs to be replaced:

  • The vehicle's heating or cooling starts making excessive noise.
  • You can hear a whistling sound coming from the cabin air intake ducts.
  • Airflow is weak, even when the heat or air conditioner is on high.
  • There is a musty odor coming through the air in your vehicle.

How often should you change your filter?

All vehicles are different, but the experts at AutoZone recommend that you check the air filter every 15,000 to 30,000 miles. You can change it sooner than that if you do a visual inspection and notice it is dirty. You can also check your owner's manual, which should provide a more precise service schedule.

How to replace your filter

Road and Track says inspecting and replacing your own cabin air filter is simple enough to do it yourself, rather than paying for the service.

Safety always comes first, so don't start your examination of the cabin air filter until you have your vehicle on a dry, level surface and the parking brake is engaged, says Consumer Reports. You should always wear safety goggles when working on your car. You may also want to wear gloves when working with the cabin air filter because it can be dirty. Consumer Reports also recommends that you wear closed-toe shoes or boots while working on your car.

You may want to have your toolbox handy in case you need a screwdriver or socket set, but most of the time, you can inspect and install a new filter without any tools, according to Cover up the passenger side floor mat if you're concerned about dust and dirt getting onto the floor of your car.

For most makes and models, you'll have to remove the glove box to gain access to the cabin air filter. If you don't know how to do this, you can check your owner's manual for instructions, says AutoZone. You might need a screwdriver for some vehicles, but AutoZone notes that removing the glove box is often just a matter of pressing a couple buttons. If your vehicle doesn't require that you remove the glove box, the owner's manual will provide information on the location of the cabin air filter.

When you locate the cabin air filter, you should note how it sits, so you understand how to put the new filter in properly, explains The News Wheel. Gently take it out, along with any other debris that might have collected in the space. Vacuum the area thoroughly to remove any other dirt before putting in the new filter, recommends The News Wheel. The new filter will likely have arrows on it to indicate the correct airflow direction.

When you're finished, replace the glove box. Now that the job's done, you can enjoy cleaner air in the car cabin for you and your passengers — and savor the fact that you likely saved yourself money by doing it yourself.