Even if maintaining your vehicle extends only to guiding it through the car wash once in a while, you don’t have to be too adventurous to tackle a few things under the hood.

One of those things is cleaning the car air filter. The humble air filter is an important part of your vehicle that stops dirt, debris and other contaminants from getting into the engine and causing it harm.

When the filter gets clogged, the engine has to work harder and becomes less efficient, which can lead to loss of power and acceleration, poorer gas mileage and overall engine wear. Besides an underperforming car, these effects can add to your running costs and even land you with a costly repair bill if your engine is badly damaged.

So a clean car air filter seems like a pretty good idea, and it shouldn’t take long to achieve.


How to clean a car air filter

Your car may have a dry or oil-coated filter, and the approach is a little different for each. This is how to clean a dry filter:

  1. Locate the filter and remove the cover – The air filter is typically rectangular in shape and located at the top of the engine, to one side, within plastic housing. On older cars it may be round and sit on top of the carburetor. The housing will be fastened with screws, wing nuts or just snap on and off.
  1. Shake off loose dirt – Once you’ve removed the filter, shake it away from the engine to get rid of loose dirt and debris such as leaves and insects.
  1. Vacuum or wash the filter – Of these two options, vacuuming is quickest, while washing provides a better clean. To vacuum, use the hose attachment and carefully go over the filter on each side. Check for any parts you may have missed. To wash the filter, move it back and forth in a bucket of water and cleaning solution, then rinse clean. It’s important to make sure the filter is completely dry before replacing it as a wet filter can damage the engine.
  1. Clean the cover – Give the filter housing a clean, too, using the vacuum attachment, a damp cloth or both. As with washing the filter, make sure it’s thoroughly dry before it’s replaced.
  1. Replace and secure – Put back the filter, replace the cover and fasten any screws or wing nuts to complete the job.

Oil-coated filters – If the filter is oiled, which is less common, follow the above steps apart from step three. Instead, spray an oil-filter cleaning solution onto the filter and leave it to soak for 10 minutes. Next, gently rinse the solution off and leave the filter to dry. Depending on the filter type, it may then need to be coated with a specialty oil. Replace the filter once the oil is absorbed.


What if the filter’s hard to reach?

While air filters are often easily accessible, if you find that yours is not, you may want to leave maintenance in the hands of a garage mechanic, who will be able to recommend if and when it needs to be replaced.


When should you replace your car’s air filter?

It’s generally recommended that a car air filter is changed every 12,000 to 15,000 miles, or 12 months, but check the owner’s manual to see what’s recommended for your own vehicle. It will also depend on driving conditions and how much dirt is being sucked into the filter.

If you notice any of the following changes in your car’s performance, it may also be time to replace the filter, according to YourMechanic.

  • Unexpected decrease in gas mileage
  • Loss of acceleration
  • Ignition problems (a dirty air filter can lead to fouled spark plugs)
  • Engine doesn’t sound right
  • Rough idling
  • Engine check light comes on


Drive on with no problems

With a clean and clear air filter in your car, you’ll be helping your vehicle do just what it’s built for – to get you where you want to go, when you want to get there, with no hassles.

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