Q: I unknowingly drove my car for the last 5,000 miles without an air filter, what potential damage has been done?

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I get my oil changed at a quick service chain regularly. My Honda has an oil life sensor that goes off when 15% of the life is remaining and that's when I get the oil changed. 5000 miles ago I had my oil changed and I paid for an air filter replacement. Today I went to get my oil changed and even though they could see I had my air filter changed on my last visit at a separate location, they opened the housing as protocol and found no air filter. This was all noted on my service record and printed out for me. I am afraid that some serious yet not visible damage has been done to my engine. They are offering to do some sort of cleaning to my intake, will that be enough? Is there some sort of inspection that can be done to assess any damage? Thank you for your time.

My car has 55000 miles.
My car has a manual transmission.

I do believe that no serious damage would have occurred. The air filter is made to prevent any leaves or other debris from entering the engine. However, due to the design of many newer intake systems, the debris would likely not make it that far anyway. This is due to screens that are built into some throttle bodies. I would recommend going with the intake/fuel system cleaning as well as another oil change. Once all of these maintenance items are completed, the vehicle should be good to go with no damage to worry about. If you want to have this looked at, a certified professional from YourMechanic can come to your car’s location to conduct a comprehensive inspection so that any issues can be addressed as needed.

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