From tires with worn treads to windshield wipers that smear instead of clear, most of the components in your vehicle are perishable and will need to be repaired or replaced over time as you rack up the miles. Your cabin air filter is no different, but sometimes visiting a mechanic can make it seem like every little piece of your vehicle needs money thrown at it. So what gives? How often should you change the cabin air filter? Are you just being upsold new parts or repairs for the heck of it?
In most cases, the answer is no…you're not just being upsold new parts for the heck of it. Although not tied to fuel economy, vehicle handling, or its general operational safety, the cabin air filter is still an important component of your vehicle that helps make it a comfortable and healthy environment for you and your passengers.
Dirty cabin air filter; Photo by nikirov/Stock.Adobe.com
WHAT IS A CABIN AIR FILTER AND WHAT DOES IT DO?
Your cabin air filter is typically a pleated piece of thick material that’s either paper-based or sometimes a multifiber cotton. The cabin air filter is responsible for filtering and cleaning all the air coming from the outside environment into your vehicle. Clean filters catch all the dust, dirt, pollen, and debris flying around your vehicle as it drives, filtering clean air into the cabin as you travel. Over time, this filter catches enough dirt and debris that it no longer performs well, which means most cabin air filters need to be replaced every 10-12,000 miles.
Comparison of dirty and clean cabin air filter; Photo by wellphoto/Stock.Adobe.com
HOW CAN I TELL IF MY CABIN AIR FILTER NEEDS REPLACEMENT?
There are a few telltale signs that your cabin air filter is old and in need of replacement. If you've noticed your air conditioning isn't blowing as hard as it normally does, reduced airflow from vents could be a sign that debris buildup is clogging your filter. Similarly, if you notice musty or dank smells when you turn on your air conditioner or heater, that can mean your filter's become moldy and should be replaced.
Cabin air filter being replaced; Photo by wellphoto/Stock.Adobe.com
HOW TO REPLACE A CABIN AIR FILTER
The good news is that if you don't want to pay a mechanic to change your filter, changing a cabin air filter on most vehicles is about as easy as installing new windshield wipers. Your local auto parts store should have the cabin air filters to match the make and model of your vehicle, and your owner’s manual will tell you where your cabin air filter is located. Typically, the filters are located in the glove box, underneath the dashboard, or under the hood of your vehicle. Replacing the filter only takes a few minutes, and is often just a matter of sliding the old one out and the new one in.