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Caring For Your Car's Cabin Air Filter

Updated on November 4, 2014

Over the river and through the woods to grandma’s house you head. You turn on the heat and turn up the blower to high, you hear the fan but no air is moving – what’s wrong? Windows begin fog up from the family songfest you hit defrost – no airflow. Safety and comfort are compromised.

There are a number of things that could go wrong but one is totally preventable – a clogged cabin air filter. If you notice that the vehicle’s cooled or heated airflow is reduced, the cause may be a clogged cabin air filter. Many HVAC systems in cars that were built after the year 2000 have what is called a cabin air filter. The cabin air filter sits outside of the engine area and filters air that comes from the outside and in to the ventalation system. The air filter will get rid of a lot of pollutants getting in the cabin of the vehicle. But, imagine a filter on the outside and what else it can pick up when it drives down the road, mile after mile? Cabin air filters can easily get clogged. With a clogged air filter, no air can get in - it is simple as that. Over time, the heater and air conditioner may also become damaged by corrosion.

The cabin air filter works to keep bad air out of the cabin when it comes in for the cooling/heating process. The air molecules it can keep out include pollen, dirt from the road, pollutants from the air, road grime, dust, dirt, leaves and anything else flying around on the road. The air filter works just like a filter does on the furnace of the home or an air purifying system. Frequent changing of the filters is best and will keep everyone inside a little bit healthier. The cleaner the air, the better it is for those with allergies or even asthma and need to have clean air in order to feel good all of the time.

In addition a dirty or clogged cabin air filter can cause musty odors in the vehicle and cause contaminants to become so concentrated in the cabin that passengers actually breathe in more fumes and particles when riding in the car compared to walking down the street

“Many people don’t even know they have a cabin air filter in their vehicle and most others aren’t aware of the health benefits of changing it,” said Rich White, executive director, Car Care Council. “Checking the cabin air filter is a simple preventive maintenance step that goes a long way toward protecting passengers, as well as the vehicle’s HVAC system.”

Most filters are accessible through an access panel in the HVAC housing, which may be under the hood or in the interior of the car. An automotive service technician can help locate the cabin filter and replace it according to the vehicle’s owner manual. Some filters require basic hand tools to remove and install the replacement filter; others just require your hands. Filters should not be cleaned and reinstalled; instead, they should be replaced.

Before winter truly sets in is a good time to check your cabin air filter, after it’s been working hard all spring, summer and fall. Filters should be replaced every 12,000 to 15,000 miles, or per the owner’s manual. Changing a cabin air filter as specified in your owner’s manual would save money in the long run.

Weather you have a current problem or want to prevent a problem check with a Automotive HVAC specialist like American Auto Air or your mechanic and see what the cost is for replacing the filter. If you are having a problem with your HVAC system, they can diagnois the root cause of your heater/defroster problems and let you know if it a clogged cabin air filter or if there is something else more serious going on with the HVAC system.


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