Air Filter Comparison Guide

April 10, 2012

This air filter comparison is a guide to the key features to look for in passenger car air filters and racing air filters.

Air Filter

An air filter comparison can help you choose between the different styles of filters, made to fit different applications and special conditions. Choosing the one that best fits the way you drive can make a big difference in the way your engine performs, as well as how long your vehicle lasts.

  • Stock replacement air filters. A stock replacement filter is made to be a direct match for the OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturer) filter that your car came with when it was new. Most drivers will be completely satisfied with the way the OEM filter works. It's also the easiest to find and the cheapest.
  • Heavy-duty filters. For vehicles that operate in especially dusty or extreme conditions, a heavy duty air filter may be necessary. Heavy duty air filter systems can be comprised of several parts, including a pre-cleaner that helps separate larger particles before they reach the main filter. If you think a heavy duty air filter system may be a good idea for you, you can find out more about different options for high micron filters from the Filter Manufacturers Council.
  • High flow air filters. For a little more power and response from the engine, a high flow air filter could be a good option. There are quite a few high-flow filters manufactured to be a direct modification for the stock filter. These are a great option for someone who doesn't want to do extensive modifications to their car, but would enjoy a little extra performance. They simply drop into the space normally occupied by the standard filter. They are a little more expensive, but they are built to be cleaned and re-used, which reduces their cost compared to filters that need to be replaced periodically.
  • Racing style filters. Racing style filters are for people that want the most performance and power out of their vehicle. A racing air filter system gives you the biggest increase in engine output, but they are more expensive than other filter options and will require some amount of modification to your engine. This type of modification may void your manufacturers' warranty. Since racing air filter systems use a cone-shaped filter that will not fit in your standard filter's location, the old air intake system has to be removed and replaced with new components. Many require professional installation.

How to Save Money with a Lifetime Air Filter

When it's time to replace your air filter, consider purchasing a lifetime air filter instead of one of the cheaper, disposable air filters. Most common air filters will generally cost about $10 to $20, depending on the type of vehicle. While a lifetime air filter will usually be about twice as expensive as a disposable air filter, a lifetime air filter may actually save you a lot of money.

Most disposable air filters need to be replaced every 12,000 to 15,000 miles, depending upon the recommendations of your car's manufacturer. If you drive in dusty or polluted areas or frequently drive on dirt or gravel roads, the air filter will need to be changed much more often. A dirty or clogged air filter will result in poor performance and fuel efficiency.

With a lifetime air filter, you should never need to change the air filter at all. If the filter becomes dirty, there is a quick and easy way to clean the filter—some can even be rinsed off with a water hose. The longer you own your vehicle, the more money a lifetime air filter will save you. A lifetime air filter will generally pay for itself in one or two years.

The Benefits of Racing Air Filters

If you're looking to add a little performance and power to your car without breaking the bank or committing yourself to major modifications, a racing air filter may be the way to go. Racing air filters offer some great advantages over other performance modifications.

  • Extra power. A racing air filter can offer as much as a 5 to 10 percent increase in the power output of your engine right away. They work by reducing the restrictions of traditional air intake systems and filters. By drawing more air into the engine more quickly, your car is allowed to perform better. "Cold air" intake systems, which pull in air from a location away from the engine, add even more horsepower because cold air is denser, adding more of a performance punch.
  • Easy installation. Most intake systems can be installed in a day, and the simpler "short pipe" kits can be pretty easy to install yourself. There are some complex systems that significantly alter the path of the airflow, and these are probably better installed by a professional mechanic. However, if you're good at following instructions, have a decent set of tools, and some mechanical ability, you should be able to install it yourself.
  • Completely reversible. This is a huge advantage that performance intake systems have over other modifications. If you decide to sell your car in the future and want to return it to stock condition, it's very easy to do. You can simply pull it out and replace it with the stock system. Just make sure you hold onto all the stock intake parts and keep them in a safe place where they won't get lost.
  • Better fuel economy. Believe it or not, most modified intake systems will actually add to your gas mileage. It seems counterintuitive for a performance modification to add fuel economy. The fact is a racing air filter reduces restriction in the intake path, adding some extra miles to each tank.
  • The "cool factor". In addition to looking cool and adding a little "wow factor" when you pop your hood, a racing intake system will affect how your car sounds. Stock intake systems usually include "baffles" that reduce engine noise from the intake path. The more direct design lets these noises escape as the engine breaths, and you'll hear it every time you mash the pedal.