What Filters Go in My Car and Why?

What Filters Go in My Car and Why?

Anyone who has owned or leased a vehicle knows there is regular maintenance required to ensure the vehicle remains in optimal condition. One aspect of this routine maintenance is checking and replacing car air filters regularly. There are two main air filters found in cars: the cabin air filter and the engine air filter. In this article, we discuss why air filters were added to cars and the purpose of each filter.

Brief History of Car Air Filters

Engine air filters have been used alongside engines since the creation of the internal combustion engine, as people soon realized preventing contaminants from entering the engine led to more efficient combustion. Cars were originally driving on unpaved, dusty roads, so the engine air filter was crucial to ensuring the engine remained clean and ran effectively. Cabin air filters first appeared in cars that were built after the year 2000 and were added to help protect the air quality inside the car. Both engine and cabin air filters are typically made of filter media, similar to air filters found in your HVAC system.

Engine Air Filter

The engine air filter’s primary role is to make sure dirt, dust, particulate matter, and other pollutants do not build up in the engine. Gas-powered vehicles use internal combustion engines that require air to function properly. The engine air filter protects engine performance and efficiency by reducing the number of contaminants reaching the engine. Contaminants can decrease the lifespan of the engine, leading to costly repairs or total replacement down the road. Engine air filters should be regularly checked and replaced as often as recommended in the owner’s manual, or sooner if particularly dirty. The average mileage to replace the engine air filter is about 15,000 to 30,000 miles but is also dependent upon different factors like the types of roads traveled on (e.g. dirt and gravel roads) and the overall air quality of your location.

When an engine air filter is not replaced in a timely manner, there will eventually be reduced airflow to the engine. If an engine does not have appropriate airflow due to a dirty engine air filter, the car may experience a decrease in fuel economy, damaged spark plugs, possible engine misfires, and even severe engine damage. You may also end up failing any applicable emissions inspections. Check your car’s owner’s manual or use this engine air filter finder to easily determine what air filter your engine needs.

Cabin Air Filter

The cabin air filter was introduced into cars to help combat the negative impacts on human health from exposure to poor air quality. The cabin air filter does this by trapping air pollutants before they enter the cabin of the vehicle. As more scientific studies showed that exposure to air pollution can lead to a host of health problems, including respiratory illness, cardiovascular disease, and even cancer, the need for a cabin air filter to protect car occupants became apparent. Per an AAA Foundation study, Americans spend around 70 billion hours driving in cars per year, and an average of an hour of driving each day. Particularly for residents in heavily polluted, urban areas, this amount of driving can lead to significant exposure to contaminants without a clean cabin air filter, which helps prevent air pollution from entering the car and keeps the car’s air clean.

The cabin air filter also filters pollen, dust, and allergens, which helps reduce possible allergic and asthmatic reactions. Cabin air filters are typically replaced every 12,000 to 15,000 miles but refer to your owner’s manual to confirm your specific vehicle’s recommendation. Additionally, the vehicle and filter type, road type, and location type also apply to determining the lifespan of your cabin air filter. If you need to find what cabin air filter fits your vehicle, use this cabin air filter finder.

A cabin air filter that has not been cleaned or replaced regularly will not filter air correctly, leading to possible aggravated allergies and exposure to air pollution. Improper maintenance of cabin air filters may also lead to car air conditioning problems, including reduced airflow and unfavorable, musty odors. Excessive noises or whistling may occur as well. If any of these problems occur, inspect your cabin air filter.

Changing Your Vehicle’s Air Filters

While most people opt to have a mechanic change the air filters during routine maintenance, it’s very easy for you to change these filters yourself. This will save you money, as these filters are relatively inexpensive and you’ll avoid the markup of the auto shop. Check out these videos below on how to locate and change the air filters in your car.


The engine and cabin air filters protect both the engine and you from air pollution and associated contaminants. like dust, dirt, pollen, smog, and particulates. Regular inspection, cleaning, and replacement of these filters will ensure your engine is running efficiently and will provide you with cleaner, safer air to breathe. Now it’s time to order your replacement engine and cabin air filters so that you can start changing them yourself!

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