Clearing The Air On The Importance Of Your Cabin Air Filter By Matt Schmitz, For Published 9:00 A.m. ET April 1, 2019

- May 05, 2019-

You may be surprised at what you find clinging to your filter, from leaves and twigs and grime, and maybe even dead bugs.


Like something as basic as breathing, it's one of those car functions that you just never think much about — as long as it's working. We're talking about your cabin air filter.

The recent massive wildfires in California that have spewed heavy smoke, ash and other particulate matter into the air have reminded many motorists just how important the cabin air filter is in keeping the air you breathe inside your car clean.

But the cabin air filter isn't just for environmental-disaster scenarios. It also catches dust, pollen and any other airborne material that can make riding in a car unpleasant — especially for those with allergies or other respiratory problems.

The device, found on most newer cars, filters the air coming into the interior through your climate-control and ventilation system. And like any air filter, it gets dirty and clogged with the crud it catches, eventually reducing its effectiveness and requiring it to be changed out. Automakers generally recommend replacing your cabin air filter every 12,000 to 15,000 miles — though those schedules vary by manufacturer and model, so be sure check your owner's manual.  

If, like seemingly most drivers, you just can't bring yourself to crack open that mysterious book in your glove compartment, checking it once a year is probably a good idea. If you live in an urban area with heavy traffic or, say, a desert climate with lots of dust, you may wanna inspect it more frequently.

Some telltale signs of a cabin air filter that's on its last breath?

  • When you crank the climate-control fan on high and get more noise than airflow

  • Persistent bad odors

You can have your cabin air filter changed at your local dealership or your favorite mechanic shop at costs that can range anywhere from $50 to $100. If you're feeling ambitious — or maybe cheap — you can do it yourself for about half that amount, for the cost of parts only. Cabin air filters often are located behind the glove box and are easily accessible by freeing the box from its fasteners. (Again, consult your owner's manual on this.)

You may be surprised — perhaps even disgusted — at what you find clinging to your filter, from leaves and twigs and grime, and maybe even dead bugs. Ew! But, hey, look at it this way: Better in your cabin air filter... than up your nose!

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