Car cabin filter: How to check & replace it
Last updated: July 2023
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. You can typically find this air filter behind the glovebox, according to Car and Driver.
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 CARFAX.com. 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
Cabin air filter vs. engine air filter
The cabin air filter acts as a shield between you and the outside world, preventing dust, pollen, smog and other harmful particles from entering your vehicle's interior. This helps ensure a healthier and more comfortable environment for you and your passengers.
The cabin air filter protects the vehicle’s “cabin” or interior from harmful contaminants from the outside world. The engine air filter, on the other hand, protects your engine from those same contaminants, including dirt, debris and even tiny bugs, says CARFAX. It ensures that only clean air enters the combustion chamber, providing an essential balance of fuel and air mixture for efficient combustion and smooth engine operation.
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 you should check the air filter every 15,000 to 30,000 miles, recommends AutoZone. You can change it sooner if you do a visual inspection and notice it’s dirty. You can also check your owner's manual, which should provide a more precise service schedule.
How to replace your cabin air filter
1. Have tools handy, if necessary
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 The News Wheel. Cover up the passenger side floor mat if you're concerned about dust and dirt getting onto the floor of your car.
2. Remove the glove box
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.
3. Locate the 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.
4. Clean the area and install the new filter
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.
5. Replace the glove box
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.