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Your car takes in air and passes it into the engine through the air filter. (Some cars have more than one air filter.) The air filter takes out dust, leaves, and other debris from the air before passing it into the engine where it’s mixed with fuel. The combination of air and fuel is essential for the car to run. If the air filter is dirty or clogged, it will not pass enough air into the engine, causing all sorts of problems (car may not start, engine may not run smoothly, etc.). If you use a reusable air filter (K&N), please specify that in the appointment notes, as you may just need a cleaning instead of a replacement. Unless you bought K&N filter, your car has a regular filter.
A mechanic should inspect the air filter during every maintenance service (in cars where the filter is readily accessible).
A dirty air filter is unable to keep dirt, dust, and debris from entering your engine. When your air filter is dirty, your cylinders and oil will both be subject to contamination from dirt particles in the air, because they have no alternate method of filtering the air. This contamination causes wear and tear on your engine, and also reduces your gas mileage and emissions.