Car Maintenance: Changing Your Air Filter

Monique Brisson checks the condition of her car’s air filter at the base Auto Hobby Shop. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tommie Horton)
Monique Brisson checks the condition of her car’s air filter at the base Auto Hobby Shop. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tommie Horton)

Changing your car's air filter is one of the easiest bits of  maintenance you can perform, and one of the easiest ways to keep your engine's life and performance on track. Your vehicle manual should offer an estimate as to how often you should change your filter. Generally, air filters should be replaced every 12 months or 12,000 miles. If you drive in a dusty area, you will probably need to replace your filter sooner.

Tools you'll need for changing your air filter include:

- New air filter (check with your local auto center for the right type for your vehicle)- Two medium screwdrivers flat-head and Philips)- Air hose or compressed air can

1. Park your car in a level spot, open the hood, and let the engine cool for a few minutes.

2. Locate the air filter (check your car manual to help find the location). On older cars, the filter is usually under a bulky, round cover made of plastic or metal. On newer, fuel-injected cars, it may be contained in a square housing between the front grill and the engine.

3. The air filter cover is secured by metal clips on the side. Remove the cover by sliding your flat-head screwdriver between the casing and the clips, and prying them away. If your air filter housing is secured with long screws, you'll need to use your Philips screwdriver to unscrew them. On older cars with circular-shaped air filters, you can usually remove the housing by unscrewing the wing nut on top.

4. After you remove the cover, you should see the filter, which is flat and made of cotton, paper or gauze. Pull out the filter from the casing.

5. Examine the filter by holding it up to the sun or bright light (keep it at arm's length). If you can see accumulated grime and dirt, or if the paper is dirty in the center, you will need to replace the filter.

6. Clean out the air filter housing with the air hose or compressed air can. You can also use a hand vacuum to suck up any dirt.

7. Insert the new air filter into the housing, with the rubber rim face-up. Make sure the rubber rim seals the edges of the housing.

8. Replace the air filter cover securely, and reattach all clamps and/or screws. Make sure everything is properly secured by rocking the unit with both hands.

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