What's the Point of the Air Filter in My Car?

Considered a part of the fuel supply system in a vehicle, a vehicle air filter helps to keep the engine clean and free of debris. Having a mechanic change out the air filter on a regular basis helps keep the vehicle operating in top condition. Additionally, not only does a properly working air filter keep the air for the combustion process clean, a clean filter helps improve a vehicle's overall gas mileage.

The role of the air filter

The role of the air filter in a vehicle is to filter the air as it enters through the throttle body via the ductwork, on newer vehicles, or through the carburetor, on older models. The air passes through a paper, foam, or cotton filter before entering the combustion chambers through the intake manifold. The filter helps remove dirt, insects, and other particles from the incoming air, keeping such debris out of the engine.

Without an air filter, the engine would become clogged with debris, such as dirt, leaves, and insects, soon becoming obstructed completely and eventually breaking down altogether. Vehicle owners can find the air filter either in the round air cleaner atop the carburetor in older vehicles or the cold air collector box, located to one side of the engine in newer vehicles.

Signs that an air filter needs changing

Vehicle owners should learn to recognize some obvious signs that they need to change their air filter. If they think it is time to change it, they should check with a mechanic who can let them know for sure. Some of the more common signals that it is time to change a vehicle’s air filter include:

  • A noticeable decrease in gas mileage

  • Fouled spark plugs, which cause ignition problems, such as a rough idle, engine misses, and starting problems

  • The Check Engine Light comes on, caused by the increase in engine deposits due to a too-rich fuel mixture

  • Decreased acceleration due, in part, to the restricted air flow caused by a dirty air filter

  • Strange engine noises due to the lack of air flow from a dirty filter

The frequency that vehicle owners need to change out the air filter in their vehicle depends largely on environmental conditions, how hard they drive the vehicle, and how often they drive the vehicle. The best way to know when to change the air filter is to check with a mechanic, who can also offer advice about the best air filter for a vehicle.

When should you change an air filter?

You can have a mechanic change out the air filter in your vehicle on a variety of different schedules. Most often, a mechanic will inspect the filter while changing the oil in your vehicle and change it when it reaches a certain level of contamination. Some other schedules include changing the filter every other oil change, every year, or based on the mileage driven. Regardless of the schedule followed, if the vehicle exhibits any of the above signs, you should have the mechanic check the air filter on your next visit.

Other types of vehicle air filters

In addition to the intake air filter, some vehicles, especially older models, also use a cabin air filter. Like the intake air filter, the cabin air filter (which is usually located behind or around the glove compartment) removes all the dirt and debris from the air.

Instead of cleaning the air for use by the engine, a cabin air filter cleans the air before it enters the passenger compartment of the vehicle. Check with a mechanic to see if your vehicle contains a cabin air filter and if it needs to be replaced.


Next Step

Schedule Oil Change

The most popular service booked by readers of this article is Oil Change. YourMechanic’s technicians bring the dealership to you by performing this job at your home or office 7-days a week between 7AM-9PM. We currently cover over 2,000 cities and have 100k+ 5-star reviews... LEARN MORE

SEE PRICING & SCHEDULING

The statements expressed above are only for informational purposes and should be independently verified. Please see our terms of service for more details

Recent Oil Change reviews

Excellent Rating

(21,699)

Rating Summary
20,382
845
179
87
206
20,382
845
179
87
206

Matthew

33 years of experience
991 reviews
Matthew
33 years of experience
Volkswagen Passat - Oil Change - Hampton, Virginia
Matt always does a great job. Very professional. I look forward to my next appointment.... A++++++
Ford Expedition - Oil Change - Hampton, Virginia
I am so please to have Matt work on my vehicle, he is very friendly and personable, and always does a great job.

Greg

22 years of experience
37 reviews
Greg
22 years of experience
Audi A3 - Oil Change - Queen Creek, Arizona
Job well done! Greg was on time and professional. He treated my vehicle with care. He completed the job smoothly and so far so good. First time using Your mechanic and it was a pleasant experience. I will be looking into them again. Thanks Greg!
Ford Explorer - Oil Change - Scottsdale, Arizona
Greg was very friendly and professional. Communication was great, he let me know what he was doing. He went above and beyond to make sure everything was running smoothly. I would 100% recommend Greg!

LAVELL

27 years of experience
93 reviews
LAVELL
27 years of experience
Buick Encore - Oil Change - Oakland, California
Another home run! Really appreciate the flexibility regarding my service appointment. Due to my work schedule I desperately needed a late appointment. So grateful my car is receiving top shelf professional service. Replaced a oil pan drain plug that was seriously damaged and stripped by a competitor that will NEVER get my business again! All services were quickly completed. Thank you so much for another great experience with my.... Your Mechanic Lavell 5 ⭐️ Service consistently.

Brian

23 years of experience
483 reviews
Brian
23 years of experience
Porsche 911 - Oil Change - Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida
Brian is extremely knowledgeable and very personable and has taken very good care on my 911. I would recommend Brian to any one who has mechanical car challenges. I would recommend Brian to all My friends and family

Need Help With Your Car?

Our certified mobile mechanics make house calls in over 2,000 U.S. cities. Fast, free online quotes for your car repair.

GET A QUOTE

Related articles

How to Replace a Clutch Cable Adjuster
The clutch cable adjuster wears out as the clutch cable does. A common sign of a damaged cable adjuster is a grinding sound when moving the shifter.
P2003 OBD-II Trouble Code: Diesel Particulate Filter Efficiency Below Threshold Bank 2
P2003 P2003 trouble code definition P2003 is a generic diagnostic trouble code (DTC) that indicates a fault with the Diesel particulate filter. This code is identical to the P2002 code except that P2002 is for bank 1. What the P2003...
How to Prepare for the Texas Driver’s Written Test
You You can’t wait to get behind the wheel and out on the open road, but you still have to jump a few hurdles before you can get there. Namely, you need to pass your Texas driver’s written test so...

Related questions

Starting problems with white smoke from the tailpipe

Hi there. Typically when this engine does this, it is either because the timing chain and tensioner is failing, or it may have a more serious internal issue. The timing chain is by far the most common cause of this....

How do I use Trip 1 and Trip 2 in the driver information center (DIC)?

The Trip 1 and Trip 2 feature in the driver information center (DIC) allows you to keep track of how many miles your car has traveled since the last trip odometer reset. Accessing Trip 1 and Trip 2 is very...

Car shuts off when driving at a very low speed

This may be related to a dirty or failing idle air control valve. This is a unit in the intake system that monitors the air intake as it is mixed with fuel at idle or low speeds prior to the...

How can we help?

Our service team is available 7 days a week, Monday - Friday from 6 AM to 5 PM PST, Saturday - Sunday 7 AM - 4 PM PST.

1 (855) 347-2779 · hi@yourmechanic.com