When to Change Your Car’s Air Filter

September 28, 2017

air filterThe air filter in a car performs the crucial function of removing dirt, dust, and other particulates from air before it reaches the intake valve and combustion chambers of the engine. Without an air filter, there would be no barrier between contaminants and the inner components of the engine, leaving your vehicle vulnerable to a variety of problems.

Changing the air filter should be a regular part of your vehicle maintenance schedule. Most manufacturers recommend replacing the filter every 15,000 to 30,000 miles under ordinary driving conditions. It is possible, however, that the air filter might need to be changed sooner. Here are some warning signs that the air filter is prematurely clogged or damaged.

  • Rough idle or misfiring engine: A dirty air filter prevents air from flowing freely into the engine, which may then result in a highly concentrated air-fuel mixture that can foul spark plugs. Bad spark plugs in turn can cause the engine to misfire or idle roughly.
  • Black exhaust or flames from the exhaust pipe: Another result of insufficient airflow and a too-concentrated air-fuel mixture is that some fuel doesn’t burn properly and exits the exhaust in the form of black smoke or even flames. If this happens, inspect the air filter ASAP—or better yet, take your vehicle to a certified mechanic for inspection.
  • Unusually dirty appearance: Sometimes a visual check of your air filter is all it takes to show that a replacement is necessary. Brand new air filters are typically some shade of white, and naturally darken over time as contaminants accumulate. If you’ve lost track of the last time you changed the air filter, just give it a quick look to see if it passes the eye test.
  • Service engine” warning light: A whole host of different engine problems can trigger the “service engine” indicator on the dash, including a clogged air filter. If you get this warning light, you should visually inspect the air filter to determine if a replacement is necessary.
  • Poor performance: Reduced airflow due to a clogged or damaged air filter leads to reduced combustion within the engine and a decrease in vehicle performance. Slow or jerky acceleration and lower fuel efficiency are clues that the air filter needs to be changed.
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