The three main things a gas-powered engine needs to function are air, fuel, and sparks. If any of these components is reduced or contaminated, your car’s fuel economy and performance level can drop dramatically. You can easily avoid these side effects with a maintenance routine, including regularly changing your engine air filter. With a little practice, changing your engine air filter can take as little as ten minutes.
How to Replace Your Engine Air Filter
What Does an Engine Air Filter Do?
The engine air filter has two important functions: filtration and flow. First, it catches and stops dirt, bugs, and other debris from entering the vehicle’s engine. Then, it allows clean air to flow into the engine to help it run.
As the filter collects dirt, less air can flow through it, and it becomes less efficient at keeping unwanted debris from entering the engine. Without clean air, the engine will fail. To avoid long-term problems and expensive repairs, you must regularly inspect and replace your engine’s air filter.
Should My Engine Air Filter Be a HEPA Filter?
HEPA stands for “high-efficiency particulate air (filter).” HEPA filters have become well known for their ability to filter out germs, but are also used to keep pollen and dust away from human lungs. They’re not designed for internal combustion engines.
It may be tempting to think that if air is clean enough for humans, it’s clean enough for your car. However, if the filter is too fine, it can impact the air flow to your engine, causing a drop in engine efficiency.
How Often to Replace Your Engine Air Filter
Inspect your engine air filter every six months. If the filter looks dirty or clogged, it’s time for a change. A good way to check the condition of the filter is to shine a light behind it. If you barely see any light shining through, the filter is plugged up.
Your owner’s manual will say how often you should change the engine air filter, but at least once a year or every 20,000 kilometres is recommended.
Other things to check while inspecting the air filter include the PCV valve, the hoses surrounding the engine, and the spark plugs.
Picking an Engine Air Filter
Changing your engine air filter is a fairly simple task, but picking a replacement can be confusing.
The three most common types of engine air filters are non-woven (e.g., paper), cotton, and foam. Non-woven paper air filters are the most popular. They use a wood-pulp-based paper element to create tight pleats in a simple over/under pattern. This style gives a lot of filtration space inside a relatively small frame.
Other factors to consider include construction, material, filtration, and flow. Check out this guide to help you pick the right engine air filter for your car.
TOOLS & EQUIPMENT
It’s possible to perform an engine air filter replacement with nothing but your hands, but having these extra tools nearby will help you get past any stubborn clamps or interfering hoses:
You’ll also need a clear space to work, ideally somewhere well ventilated.
With any DIY work, safety should be your top priority. Follow these safety rules when working on your vehicle:
- Keep a first-aid kit
- Wear protective eyewear and gloves.
- Take extra caution when working around hot or sharp objects.
- Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for all products you use.
- Don’t run your engine in a space with poor ventilation.
HOW TO REPLACE YOUR ENGINE AIR FILTER
Once you’ve got your new filter and tools and have read over the safety rules, you’re ready to start your engine air filter replacement.
To locate your engine air filter, open the hood of your car and look for a black plastic box on top or to the side of the engine. This is called an airbox or air filter housing. It typically sits between the fresh air inlet and the engine. If your car has a different design, refer to the owner’s manual for further information.
The airbox will be secured with clamps you can undo with your hands. (In some cases, you may need a screwdriver.) You likely won’t need to disconnect any hoses to access the air filter, but if you do, label them so you can reattach them correctly.
Take note of how the engine air filter is installed. (Take a picture with your phone if you’re worried you’ll forget: it’s imperative that you place the new filter in the exact same way.)
Remove the old filter and clean away any debris. Do not shake the filter. Replicate the placement of the old filter when putting in the new one.
Once the new filter is in place, close the airbox and secure the clamps. Reattach any hoses you removed earlier, if applicable.
CHECKING THE PCV VALVE
As part of your engine air filter replacement, check the condition of the PCV valve. The PCV valve controls emissions by taking the gases produced by the crankcase and directing them back into the engine’s combustion chambers to be safely burned.
You can typically find the PCV valve at the end of a hose running from the air cleaner to the engine valve cover. Common locations are in the valve cover, at the carburetor (on older vehicles), or in the intake manifold. Diesel engines don’t have a PCV valve.
Pull the valve from the grommet. If the valve is in good condition, it’ll likely rattle when shaken. If you hear nothing when shaking the valve, it probably needs replacing.
Other signs of a faulty PCV valve include excessive oil consumption, oil leaking, and overall reduced engine performance. If you need a replacement, your owner’s manual will tell you what kind of PCV valve to get.
If the valve is held in place with a hose clamp, use a pair of pliers to squeeze the clamp apart. Remove the valve from the end of the hose. If the hose looks clogged or brittle, replace it.
Insert a new PCV valve into the end of the hose. Reinstall the hose clamp (if applicable) and push the PCV valve back into the grommet. Make sure the other end of the hose is properly connected.
If you own an electric vehicle (EV), you don’t have to worry about engine air filters. EVs have a cabin air filter, however, which you’ll need to change at least once every two years. Other maintenance tasks, like tire rotation and brake pad replacement, are also still necessary.
If you have any questions about engine air filter replacement, visit your local NAPA Auto Parts store to speak with an expert.
2 Replies to “How to Replace Your Engine Air Filter”
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