in: Manly Know-How, Skills

• Last updated: July 29, 2021

How to Change Your Car’s Air Filter

Vintage mechanic working under car hood.

Think back to the last time you had your oil changed at a quick lube. The mechanic brings you out to the car to show you how filthy your air filter is and tells you it’s time to replace it. You’re a busy man with places to go and people to see, so you nod and give him the go ahead. You go back to the lobby and read the six month old Field and Stream that was there at your last oil change while the mechanic does his thing.

“Shouldn’t be more than $10 extra,” you think to yourself.

“And your total today for the oil change and new air filter is $45.77,” chirps the cute young lady with bad highlights at the cash register.

What the wha?

That’s right. Your $20 oil change doubled its price in just a matter of seconds. I’ve seen mechanics charge anywhere from $18 to $25 to change an air filter. About the same price as an oil change.

The air filter itself is only about $10 for most vehicles.  Where the shop gets you is where they always get you- on labor. You’d think with what they charge, replacing an air filter is some complicated task that necessitates special tools only available to licensed mechanics. You’d think that, but you’d be wrong.

The reality is that changing your car’s air filter is quite possibly the simplest  maintenance job you can perform. It seriously takes about a minute to complete and requires no special tools. Just some know-how.

If you’re a man who has never done any auto maintenance and would like to get started, but you’re not quite ready to change your oil, start off changing your own air filter. It’s a quick way to save some cash- money that you can use for more important things like paying down your debt or buying a squirrel lamp.

Ready? Let’s get started.

What Does an Air Filter Do?

For your engine to run, it needs air. The air mixes with gas, the spark plug gives a spark, and-presto!-you’ve got internal combustion. For an engine to run efficiently, the air that it takes in needs to be as clean as possible. Problem is that the air outside is full of junk that doesn’t burn cleanly or evenly at all.  Dirt, pollen, salt, and bird feathers are just some the things your engine will suck in to create the controlled explosion that moves your motor.  You don’t want that stuff in your engine.

That’s where the trusty air filter enters the picture.

Air filters are connected to the engine’s intake manifold. Most filters are rectangular (older cars that have carburetors use a donut-shaped air filter) and are made of a porous, paper-like material, folded like an accordion. Here, take a look at one:

Car air filter.

Image from Shutterstock

The filter prevents dirt and other particulates from getting into your engine while allowing the clean air through. Simple, yet effective.

Why Do You Need to Change Your Air Filter Regularly?

Increased fuel efficiency. After logging thousands of miles on your car, that filter can get really dirty and clogged. A dirty air filter doesn’t allow air to get through to the engine. Remember, your engine needs air to run efficiently. A reduced amount of air means your engine needs to use more fuel to get the same bang to run your engine.  Save yourself some money at the pump. Change your air filter regularly.

Prolonged engine life. Engines are big and powerful, but they can be surprisingly sensitive to the smallest grain of sand. Over time, dirt and other particles can cause serious damage to your engine’s internal parts. Better to spend $10 now on a new air filter than thousands of dollars later on a new engine.

Reduced Emissions. Reduced air flow can also mess with your car’s emission control systems causing you to spew more bad stuff into the atmosphere. Men need polar bears to wrestle. Save one by changing your air filter.

How Often Should You Change Your Air Filter?

It’s recommended that you change your air filter once every 12 months or 12,000 miles, whichever comes first. If you live in a particularly dusty place, do it more frequently. It’s always a good idea to at least check your air filter at every oil change. If you take your car into a quick lube and the mechanic says you need a new one, just tell him you’re going to wait on it and then go change it yourself. Check your owner’s manual for specifics on when to change your air filter for your make and model.

How to Change Your Air Filter

1. Buy your air filter. Most air filters are pretty cheap. Between $10-$13. Swing by an auto parts store after work or pick an air filter up while you’re grocery shopping at a Super Walmart. Figuring out what air filter to get for your car is easy. First, you can check your owner’s manual, but let’s face it, you’ll probably forget to do that. Lucky for you, places that sell air filters have this tattered  phone book-looking thing hanging off a shelf. It’s literally the phone book for auto parts. You just look up the year, make, and model of your car, and it tells you what parts you need for it. If your auto parts store is really fancy, they’ll have a crappy Speak & Spell-like computer that you can use. But it’s usually busted, so you’ll probably just end up using the book.

2. Open your hood and locate the air filter box. It’s the black plastic box sitting on top of or to the side of your engine. The filter box usually has a giant hose sticking out of its side.

Man changing air filter box under car hood.Image from Shutterstock

3. Open the air filter box and remove the dirty air filter. Opening an air filter box is a cinch. Just unclasp the big metal clips that hold the top down and open the box. Remove the dirty filter.

Man remove dirty air filter under car hood.Image from Shutterstock

4. Check the old air filter. Give your old filter a look over to see if it’s past its prime. Look inside the folds. See a lot of dirt and gunk? Time to replace it.

5. Put in the new air filter. Place your filter in the filter box. Make sure it sits snuggly in the box. Close the top of the box and snap the clips.

That’s it. Your engine will no longer be gasping for air like a guppy that jumped its bowl.

Total time: about a minute.

Money savings: $10-$15

Any other tips? Did I miss anything? Drop us a line in the comments below.

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