Car Engine

How Often To Change Air Filter Car?

Mike Cross
Updated Feb 9, 2022
What is an air filter

If it’s been a while since you last changed the air filter in your car, it’s probably worth taking a look at. Air filters are a critical part of the system that makes the engine run at maximum efficiency and helps keep everything clean and functional.

In this article, we will take a look at how to change the air filter, what exactly the air filter does, and some steps you can take to pay better attention to when it needs to be done. After all, your car is an investment – might as well take care of it, right?


What is an Air Filter?

What is an air filter
What is an air filter

Air is one of the most critical steps to turning on and operating a vehicle. That said, because air is all around, the filter often stays beyond the line of thought of the average driver. The air is brought in under the hood and blends with the gasoline. The car is started with a spark from the spark plug.

If the air is not clean, dirt and other debris may get into the engine. This can lead to sloppy running and ultimately hurt the performance and longevity of the engine. The job of the air filter is to clean the air before it ever reaches the engine, picking out the particles of dust and debris.

Air filters are part of the general engine process. They are compact, light weight, and incredibly easy to change.

How Often To Change Air Filter?

Much like oil changes, there is a semi-set schedule for when to change an air filter. Basically, once per year or once every 12,000 miles for those of you that drive more than 1,000 miles per month. In dirty cities and for those that drive on dirt roads regularly, it won’t hurt you to lower that amount to every 10,000 miles.

Check the filter now and then by lifting up the hood and looking at it. When it’s browning and oddly colored, that means that the filter is getting dirty and is probably nearing the end of its useful life. If you can’t see how any air is going to get through it, the time has come for a filter change.

How does a Clean Air Filter help my car?

How does a Clean Air Filter help my car
How does a Clean Air Filter help my car

The biggest thing you’ll notice with a clean air filter is that the engine runs more smoothly. It is able to optimize the gasoline and air coming in, and run at optimum efficiency.

As common sense would point out, the more you drive the dirtier the filter becomes. This is particularly true in cities, and dusty rural areas.

  • If the air filter is overused, it is going to block air from getting in and cause extra strain on the operating system of the vehicle. The engine will use more gas than it needs to, which hurts your gas mileage and sends you to the pump more often
  • Your engine will perform better, last longer, and ultimately increase the value of your car
  • A clean air filter reduces emissions, which is great for green living as well as passing those pesky emissions tests that so many municipalities are now requiring drivers to go through in order to register their vehicle
  • Smoother driving. When your engine isn’t full of debris, and is getting the right amount of gas and air, you shouldn’t notice hiccups in accelerating or in starting the vehicle that can be caused by reduced air flow

How to Change Air Filter

After you’ve noticed that the filter is dirty, head down to a parts store and tell the clerk you need filter for your make and model. Many grocery and convenience stores also have air filters for sale.

Many will have a guide that shows you which filter will fit your car. We always recommend buying the exact one, because others may not fit correctly and thus won’t do their job very efficiently. Once you’ve procured the filter, park your car in a level spot and open the hood. We’re ready to begin.

  • Figure out where the filter box is. If you can’t see it, look in the owner’s manual for your car. Generally, it’s black and made of plastic, and will be in the general vicinity of the engine
  • To take the used air filter out, open the box and click it out with your fingers. The box should have instructions for opening, but is usually similar to opening one of those circular mason jar type things with the clipped-on lids
  • Properly dispose of the old air filter. They can be recycled in certain situations, or put into the trash. If you aren’t sure where to put it, take it to a parts store or mechanic shop and they can advise
  • List ElementTo put the new air filter in, slide it into the box exactly how you took the old one out. If you bought the right size, it should slide right in without much trouble. Before you close the box, check to see if it’s snug. When you close the box, make sure that you latch it shut properly so that the filter doesn’t shift while you are driving

How To Tell If A Car Air Filter Needs Replacing?

Men are using the blower to clean the air filter car.
Men are using the blower to clean the air filter car.

The car’s air filter is a crucial part of the engine’s system. It helps to keep the airflow at an ideal rate and it keeps dirt and contaminants out of the manifold and valve train.

While it is recommended that the air filter be changed every 10,000 to 15,000 miles or 12 months, it is important to recognize when something is off.

Besides the check engine light coming on, it is important to recognize other signs. This way you will know how to tell if a car’s air filter needs replacing. This allows you to take optimal care of your car. You can use this tool to know exactly whether check engine lights up because of air filter gets dirty or other reasons.

It is a good idea to pay attention to your car’s gas mileage. A dirty air filter will lead to a decrease in fuel efficiency. If your filter is dirty, the engine starts to compensate for the lower amounts of oxygen by using more fuel to maintain power.

You might also notice the engine misfiring. This is especially noticeable when your car is in idle or just starting up. The wrong air-fuel mixture pollutes the spark plugs which causes the misfire.

What causes an engine to misfire

In the same way, you may notice that the engine sound is funny. When your car is turned on, and in Park, the engine should be humming nicely. If you notice any shaking or vibrating, sputtering or slipping sounds, that is an indication that you have damaged spark plugs as a result of a dirty air filter.

A reduction in horsepower is another sign of a dirty air filter that needs replacing. Your car should respond easily and smoothly when you push on the accelerator. You might also notice jerking movements. Check the air filter.

Another warning sign is if you notice black smoke or even flames coming out of the exhaust.

Black smoke from the exhaust pipe of a car.
Black smoke from the exhaust pipe of a car.

This happens when an insufficient air supply does not allow the fuel to burn off properly. In this case, the excess fuel burns when it reaches the exhaust system. A mechanic should check this out to make sure there is no other damage.

You might also notice the smell of gasoline. This is what happens when there is not enough oxygen entering the carburetor or fuel injection system of the car. The excess fuel will exit the car through the exhaust pipe. The smell of gasoline becomes very obvious.

Check your air filter and visually inspect it. A clean air filter will appear to be white or off-white. Over time dust and grime will make the color change. It will appear to be dark. It is always a good idea to use a flashlight and check your filter during the day so you can get the best visual inspection.

If you notice that it is dirty, or that you have driven enough miles, make sure to get it changed right away. Simply go to your local auto parts store so that you can purchase the correct air filter for your make and model. If you are not comfortable doing this yourself, schedule an appointment with your local auto mechanic.


Now you know how to change an air filter. Air filters are a small but vital part of keeping your engine functioning better, for longer. The best part is that they generally aren’t account busters and are one part of maintenance that won’t drive you crazy. Additionally, anyone can learn to change an air filter without too much trouble.

We hope you have enjoyed this article – if so, we encourage you to give it a share on social media. Education is the key making everything better, including the life of your car! Have any tricks of the trade? Throw a comment in the box below and we’ll get a nice collection of hints and stories.

Mike Cross
Life is too short to drive with stock audio

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