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Car Engine Filter: What Is It & How to Replace One

Updated: March 2021

Your engine air filter can be likened to the "lungs" of your car. In order for the air filter to run efficiently, function properly and pass clean air through the system, it must be clean and installed correctly, according to the experts at Champion Auto Parts.

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What Is an Engine Air Filter?

You can look at your engine like a giant air pump, says Champion Auto Parts. Air is pumped in and then pumped back out. The filter is there to keep dirt and debris from entering the engine.

A dirty or clogged air filter can cause the engine to work harder than it really needs to, explains Champion Auto Parts.A clogged filter can lead to a loss of power, dirty smoke, a check engine light coming on and even engine failure.

Here are some tips on inspecting or replacing your engine air filter.

Inspecting Your Engine Air Filter

According to Champion Auto Parts, checking and replacing the car's engine air filter is a fairly easy project for the DIY mechanic.

Before removing the air filter for inspection, AutoZone advises that you make sure your work area is clean of debris in order to keep excess dirt or dust from getting into the filter during your inspection. You can use a vacuum or leaf blower on your work area before getting started to help prevent this.

Triple A recommends that you check for dirt by removing the filter from its housing and holding it up to bright sunlight or another source of bright light. If light passes through the filter easily, you can put it back in your car without replacement.

AutoZone recommends a new filter every 15,000 to 30,000 miles. They also agree with experts who recommend a yearly inspection to help determine when the filter needs to be replaced, or simply following the recommendation in your vehicle's owner's manual.

Removing the Old Air Filter

The first step to removing your air filter, explains NAPAFilters.com, is to remove the bolts, screws or clips that hold the air filter box together.. Some vehicles may require a connector to be unplugged or a clamp to be removed.

You can lift the top portion of the air filter housing off and inspect the filter from the top. Look for any damage to the filter – especially around the outer edge – and check the filter for debris, recommends NAPAFilters.com.

Installing a New Air Filter

It's crucial that the engine air filter is installed properly and kept clean, says AutoZone. An air filter that's incorrectly installed can let dirt or debris past it, which defeats the purpose of the filter.

When installing the air filter, make sure that it's fully seated in the airbox, cautions Champion Auto Parts. You can check by running your finger around the outer edge to make sure that it's sitting properly. If you don't install it properly, this could damage the filter.

When putting the air filter box back together, make sure it is in place properly as well, Champion Auto Parts advises. Tighten the screws or bolts or put the clips on. If you disconnected any connectors or removed any clamps, make sure you reinstall those, too.

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