Tuesday, February 26, 2019

How to Change an Automobile Air Filter

Automotive maintenance is a necessary evil for folks who own cars, but it can also be incredibly expensive. While certain maintenance tasks require special tools or skills which justify the cost, some tasks extract their price based solely on convenience or ignorance. Today, we'll look at one of those tasks.

While I was doing seasonal maintenance on my truck, I noticed that my engine air filter needed replacement. A clean and unclogged air filter helps extend the life of your engine and maintain fuel mileage and power. Replacing it is a quick and easy task that requires no special tools, so I headed to my local parts house to get a replacement. As I did this, it struck me during this that people actually pay for this service, and I was curious what the charge would be. From the estimates, I could expect to pay in excess of $100 for a $13 part and 5-10 minutes of my time. Since this is a task that has to be performed at least yearly, those dollars add up quickly.

Also note that when purchasing an air filter for your vehicle, prices can range wildly. For my 2005 F150, a basic paper element filter costs the aforementioned $13. Since my truck is being prepped to regularly haul 6000 pound loads, and since I come from the land of the sand and snow, I chose to upgrade to a washable, cotton-element K&N air filter. (If you drive in extremely dirty conditions, or work your engine harder than the average Joe, this is an easy and worthwhile upgrade.) However, for your average A-B commuter vehicle (such as my wife's car) the basic paper filter matches what comes from the factory and will work just fine -- don't spend 3-5x the money if you don't need to.

To replace your air filter, follow these simple steps:
  1. Locate your air filter box. Locations vary by model, but expect it to be on top of the engine and readily accessible. If you aren't certain or can't find it, the location should be listed in your owner's manual.  Mine happens to be above the engine in the rear-center of the engine bay.

  2. Open the box and remove the old air filter. On most cars, the top lifts off and the filter lifts out, but on my truck, the filter is contained in a sliding tray. Some vehicles use clips to hold the air filter box together, while others use screws and will require a basic screwdriver to open.

  3. This filter is obviously dirty and in need of replacement.

  4. Insert the new filter into the air box and close it back up. Your filter box should go back together easily with almost no force needed. If you feel like you're having to force things, check that your filter is fitting into the box correctly and that nothing is obstructing the lid.

There is no reason to pay exorbitant prices for basic work and inexpensive parts. Do simple work like this yourself to save substantial money.


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