Changing Your Cabin Air Filter

June 22, 2012

Air cabin filter replacement is a simple 8-step process. Learn where to locate the filter, how it differs from the AC filter, and replacement tips.

Air Cabin Filter Replacement

Changing your cabin air filter is an important part of regular vehicle maintenance and one that can not only help improve the circulation and performance of your air conditioning system, but one that can also help improve the quality of air that is circulated through your car.

What is a Cabin Air Filter?
The cabin air filter is a high particulate filtration medium that is attached to the outside air intake of your vehicle's ventilation system. This device helps to improve air quality and filter out pollution from the air that circulates inside the vehicle. Most air filters are made from a pleated paper construction, using a variety of different filtration media. Some are a cotton and paper blend, while others are basically extremely miniaturized paper filters similar to the air filter of your car's intake system. There are some that are just a formed and shaped cotton filter in a cartridge.


The cabin air filter is sometimes confused with an internal combustion air filter. The internal combustion air filter is the filter under your hood that prevents particles from getting into the engine. A driver may encounter the internal combustion air filter as a service recommendation at an oil change shop. That's because if the air filter gets clogged or otherwise compromised, it can affect engine performance.

It's important to recognize the distinction between these two very different types of air filters. When buying cabin air filters, you're looking for something that's going to help improve the air that you will be breathing as a driver or passenger in the vehicle. It's not so much part of the vehicle's performance gear as a health and safety device. Drivers can consider buying "green air filters" that are more sustainable and include more attention to what the inhabitants of a vehicle will be breathing.

Where is the Cabin Air Filter Located?
The cabin air filter, or air conditioning filter, is located in different places in different cars. On some cars these are easy to locate, remove and change. On others, they are more difficult to remove and change. They will all be in the air conditioning/vent system after the fan. Most of these can be found just inside a small inspection door in the cabin side of the fan housing. On most cars this will be down by where the front seat passenger's feet are located. This area is sometimes referred to as the foot well. Refer to your car's manual for the exact location.


Is the AC Filter the Same as the Cabin Air Filter?
Yes. Some manufacturers call these filters AC filters (or air conditioning filters), while others call them cabin air filters. Either way, they are the same thing and they perform the same function of removing dust and other allergens from the air entering the passenger compartment.


Is Changing Your Cabin Air Filter Really Necessary?

A dirty cabin air filter can cause your air conditioner to run less efficiently, which will waste horsepower. It will also decrease the amount of air flow into the passenger compartment. Both of these conditions will result in higher temperatures in the passenger compartment and the air conditioner having to work harder than it really needs to. Changing the cabin air filter in your vehicle is not only important from a maintenance perspective, but also helps ensure the safety of the passengers in your vehicle. The cabin air filter is a very important part of your car's ventilation system and removes many common pollutants from the air, thus protecting the passengers inside the vehicle.


Replacing Your Cabin Air Filter
Changing the cabin air filter is fairly easy to do if you follow this how-to guide. New vehicles usually come equipped with one or more cabin air filters. A cabin air filter provides fresh air through the passenger compartment side vents.

Step-By-Step Guide

  1. The first thing you need to do is locate your owner's manual to find out if your vehicle is equipped with a cabin air filter. If you can't find the information, then your car is probably not equipped with a cabin air filter. However, if you would like to be sure, call your favorite parts store and they can provide you with the information.
  2. When you purchase the new cabin air filter, be aware that there are 2 types of filters. One is called the particulate; the other is called the activated charcoal. The particulate filters out road dust, bacteria, mold spores, pollen and other pollutants. The activated charcoal filters the above mentioned and filters harmful gasses and odors. People who drive around in gridlock or have an odor problem might consider buying the activated charcoal, though it is more expensive.
  3. After purchasing the filter, make sure you have your eye protection, gloves, ratchet, socket and screwdriver before beginning the procedure.
  4. Remove the glove compartment. Usually, vehicles are equipped with bolts and screws to hold the glove compartment in. Your glove compartment may have tabs as well, so be careful when removing the compartment and use the tabs to remove.
  5. After removing the bolt and the screws, remove the glove box frame.
  6. Locate the filter housing. Look for a removable plastic filter cover.
  7. Remove the filter. Most under-dash filters can be removed simply by opening the filter door.
  8. Before installing the new filter, vacuum the filter chamber to remove any excess particles. You may also take a damp cloth and wipe the inside of the air filter chamber to clean out unwanted dust and particles.         

Tips:

  • If you park next to trees, consider waiting to change the cabin air filter until the trees are done pollinating for the season as the pollen can find its way into the filter.
  • People who suffer from allergies may consider changing the cabin air filter more often.
  • Be careful squeezing the tabs, they break easily, so don't overdo it.

How Often Should You Change a Cabin Air Filter?
Generally speaking, most car manufacturers recommend that the cabin air filter be changed at least once a year or every 12,000 to 15,000 miles--whichever comes first. However, if you operate your vehicle in heavily polluted areas or commonly drive along dirt or gravel roads, you may want to consider changing the oil filter more often. For these types of areas, changing the cabin air filter every 4,000 to 5,000 miles or every 6 months is recommended.

Conclusion
In order to help keep your car's ventilation system running at optimal efficiency (as well as protect the health of yourself and your passengers), it's important that you replace your cabin air filter on a regular basis. The money you spend on a replacement filter and the time you spend installing it are well worth the benefits to your car and your health.

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