vehicle air filter

Car performance is often attributed to the engine or exhaust system but smaller parts, including the filters, also play a key role. Your vehicle has four main types: Engine, cabin, oil and fuel filters. Each is designed to remove and hold onto its system’s debris. After some time, the filter’s material becomes saturated with dust, dirt and other contaminants and will no longer be effective.

Depending on the filter that needs replacing, your vehicle can experience a loss of power, dark smoke coming from the exhaust system or the check engine light may come on.

Changing the filters when fluids are replaced or during routine maintenance improves overall vehicle efficiency and performance. Here’s what you would know about the different filter types.

Engine Filter

Also known as an air filter, this component traps and holds onto debris, dust, pollen and small bugs, preventing them from passing into your car’s engine. Without the filter, these small particles would enter the engine and impact its operation and efficiency.

The engine filter also plays a secondary role in the combustion process, helping ensure the proper ratio of air to fuel and removing outside compounds. This filter features a flat, cylindrical or circular shape made from foam, paper or cotton.

Your vehicle’s maintenance manual will specify when the engine filter should be replaced. Based on make and model, this typically occurs between 15,000 and 45,000 miles. It’s also recommended the filter be assessed every time you get an oil change.

When the engine filter is not performing up to par, you’ll notice the following signs:

  • Increased fuel consumption, due to debris disrupting the combustion process.
  • Black smoke coming from the exhaust system, a sign of a clogged filter.

Ignoring the filter allows the material to disintegrate, causing parts to travel into the engine. At the same time, the filter develops a large hole, which allows more particles to pass through. The result no longer filters out debris and may contribute to engine failure.

Cabin Filter

The cabin filter improves the air quality inside your car, preventing external pollutants from entering the passenger area. This filter removes dust, pollen, allergens and other airborne particles from the car’s heating and cooling system. Newer options may also remove or neutralize gasses and odors.

This process creates clean, fresh air inside your vehicle and a more comfortable experience for passengers with respiratory issues or allergy problems. At the same time, the filter enhances the performance of the A/C system, improving airflow and ventilation, and affects how well your car defogs.

The cabin filter typically needs to be replaced every 15,000 miles, although you should check your owner’s manual. Generally, the cabin air filter is no longer performing up to standard when:

  • You notice an unpleasant odor when using the heating and cooling system
  • You hear rattling after using the heat or air conditioning
  • Air flow from the heating and cooling system seems restricted
  • You see fogging on the car’s interior windows as you drive
  • You have trouble defogging the windows

Oil Filter

The oil filter removes particles of dirt, oxidized oil and metal that accumulate in the motor oil due to ongoing use. Without the filter, the number of particles increase and circulate through your car’s system, placing wear on components and decreasing lubrication. Clean oil allows the engine to operate smoothly and efficiently.

Typically, the oil filter is replaced every time you go in for an oil change, which can be every 5,000 to 7,500 miles based on your car’s make and model. However, if you regularly drive in dusty conditions or an area with high temperatures, it’s recommended you change the oil and filter more often due to debris accumulation.

Fuel Filter

The fuel filter performs a similar function as the oil filter for your car’s gasoline. It removes dust, rust, dirt and other contaminants that could clog the fuel injectors and affect the engine’s performance.

Also integral to the combustion process, a fuel filter that’s clogged reduces the flow of gasoline to the engine. This causes the fuel pump to work harder, reduces the amount of power generated and can prematurely wear out parts, including the fuel injectors and pump.

While the fuel filter is typically changed every 30,000 miles, the part may need to be replaced sooner if:

  • Your vehicle operates more sluggishly, stalling or being slow to accelerate
  • The engine misfires with no clear cause
  • Your car does not start up reliably

When you bring in your car for regularly scheduled maintenance or a fluid change, we check the system filters and recommend replacements if needed. If you notice any of these warning signs or you’re approaching a mileage deadline for maintenance, contact our Naugatuck shop today.