How Often Should You Change a Cabin Air Filter?

Summary:

You should probably replace the cabin air filter in your car about once a year or after 15,000 miles. However, your vehicle may need a replacement filter more frequently depending on local air quality and road conditions, as these issues may leave your filter clogged.

For most of us, car maintenance is one of those regular appointments you make, and hope nothing is wrong. In fact, some of us probably don’t think much about a car’s air filter until we hear we need a new one.

Routine car maintenance should include replacing the cabin air filter, even if your idea of proper ventilation means driving with the windows rolled down. While the ease of changing your cabin air filter will depend on the make and model of your vehicle, it’s important to regularly check on this feature of your car and ensure it works properly. Keep reading to learn what a cabin air filter is, what it does, and how much it can cost to replace.

What is a cabin air filter?

A car’s cabin air filter is essentially an air purifier that ensures the air inside a car cabin is safe for your passengers. Not all cars have cabin air filters, but the vast majority of vehicles manufactured after 2000 have one.

A cabin air filter is meant to prevent fine particles and other pollutants that might aggravate respiratory problems, such as pollen and ash, from entering the passenger section of your vehicle.

Older vehicles are less likely to have one, but you can usually expect one on a car made in the last 20 years.

What cabin air filters do

Unless the discussion is about global warming, we generally take normal air quality and our vehicles for granted. But like any normal HVAC system, your car’s heating and air conditioning system relies on the cabin air filter to ensure clean air circulates the passenger cabin.

A cabin air filter basically catches dust and other particles, such as pollen, and prevents them from polluting the passenger section of your car. Essentially, the cabin air filter is meant to protect the passengers in the vehicle from particles that might cause allergic reactions and other respiratory problems.

How often should you change your cabin air filter?

There isn’t a catchall timeframe for when you should change your vehicle’s cabin air filter. Under normal air conditions, many experts still recommend changing the air filter about once a year or between every 15,000 and 30,000 miles.

However, your car’s cabin air filter may need to be replaced faster than that. Local air quality can easily affect how quickly your vehicle’s ventilation systems become clogged. It might be soot from a wildfire or excessive dust and dirt from a rough, dry spell. But if something is affecting local air quality, it can quickly change how soon you’ll need to replace your cabin air filter.

Pro Tip

Routine maintenance, which should include actively replacing the cabin air filter, should be accounted for when comparing prices on any potential vehicle purchases.

Signs you should change your air filter

Though you should regularly check your air cabin filter, it can be easy to forget about. If you haven’t thought about your air filter in some time, here are some telltale signs you need to have your cabin air filter replaced.

  • Airflow from your ventilation system is reduced.
  • The HVAC system is unable to cool your car down as much as it used to.
  • Your ventilation system causes unusual odors.
  • You notice more dust on your car’s interior surfaces.

DIY cabin air filter replacement

The owner’s manual for your vehicle should explain where your vehicle’s cabin air filter is located. Cabin air filters are often under the hood or behind the glove box. It shouldn’t be too difficult to replace the cabin air filter, depending on where it’s located.

Here’s a quick guide on how to change the cabin air filter when it’s located behind the glove box.

  1. Remove the glove box pin. Use a screwdriver to take the screw out and slip the pin out of the hole.
  2. Lower the glove box.
  3. Remove the old filter. Squeeze the tabs on either side and pull slowly.
  4. Introduce the new filter. Make sure the airflow arrow is pointing the right way and snap it into place.
  5. Secure the glove box back to its original position.

If you can access your car’s air filter, it’s definitely cheaper to replace it yourself. However, if your vehicle’s cabin air filter is underneath the dashboard, you may need to ask a professional mechanic to replace your air filter.

How much does it cost to replace a cabin air filter?

Fortunately, a cabin air filter replacement is one of the cheaper car maintenance costs. Most air filters cost between $15 and $25 and shouldn’t take that long to install. Though you can typically replace the filter yourself without much issue, your owner’s manual should provide some insight into how difficult it might be.

If you worry about the state of your air filter or just prefer a professional’s opinion, you can also visit a mechanic to replace your air filter. With the cost of labor included, you may need to pay between $20 and $130. Of course, this depends on the make and model of your car as well.

Where to find your air filter

To get a better idea of where your air filter is located, take a look at some of the most popular cars sold in 2022. Each of the models below is linked to a recent model’s user manual, which you can use as a guide for where to find your air filter.

TrucksSedansSUVs
Ford F-SeriesToyota CamryToyota RAV4
Chevy SilveradoToyota CorollaHonda CR-V
Ram PickupTesla Model 3Jeep Grand Cherokee
Toyota TacomaHonda AccordToyota Highlander
GMC SierraNissan AltimaChevy Equinox

FAQs

What happens if you don’t change your cabin air filter?

Not changing your cabin air filter can have a few negative impacts on your vehicle. The two most noticeable effects will likely be a weakened HVAC system that may be accompanied by unusual or unpleasant odors. A severely dirty air filter can also negatively affect engine performance and increase the chances of overheating.

Can I run my car without a cabin air filter?

Since many older vehicles do not have an air filter, you may wonder if replacing your air filter regularly is necessary. Technically, your car can run without an air filter, but this definitely isn’t recommended.

While you may be able to run your car for a very short trip without an air filter, regular drives without one can negatively impact the performance and longevity of your vehicle’s heating and cooling systems.

Key Takeaways

  • The cabin air filter helps prevent passengers in your vehicle from breathing in pollen, dust, and other airborne contaminants from the engine.
  • To properly maintain your cabin air filter, you should replace it every 15,000 miles or less.
  • Cabin air filters are usually under the hood or behind the glove box, but you may need to get behind the dashboard to reach them. In that case, it’s best to reach out to a professional for help.
  • Having your cabin air filter replaced professionally will generally cost between $20 and $130. However, particularly difficult replacement may cost more.
View Article Sources
  1. Auto Repair Basics — Federal Trade Commission
  2. Vehicle Maintenance to Conserve Fuel — U.S. Department of Energy
  3. How Much Should You Pay for a Car Diagnostic Test? — SuperMoney
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