How to Clean a Car Air Filter

With all the moving parts that make up a car’s engine, it’s important that none of them break down and cause all of the other cogs in the machine to stop turning. With the engine being somewhat exposed to the outside world, even with the bonnet down, all it takes is a build up of debris to get into it and the entire vehicle will grind to a halt. That’s where the air filter comes in, ensuring the inner workings of your car aren’t subjected to the elements. But, what happens when the car air filter itself becomes too dirty to do its job? If you don’t want to pay for a service, this is how to safely and efficiently clean it yourself.

What Does the Air Filter Do On a Car?

A car’s air filter is the clever device that bridges the gap between the outside and engine, the latter of which requires fresh, clean air to work. The filter is designed to prevent mechanical  disasters, stopping contaminating substances like dirt, dust and even bugs from reaching the engine and doing some serious damage. If you were to drive your car without an air filter, the engine would quickly become clogged up with debris from the road or out of the air and cease working.

Can I Clean My Air Filter Instead of Replacing It?

If you’re adamant that you don’t want to go out and buy a new air filter, then you can go about cleaning it instead. It’s worth noting, however, that air filters are typically made from cotton, paper or foam, so as hardy as they might be, they’re actually built from some very delicate materials. Therefore, if you do want to try and clean your filter rather than replace it, you’ll need to take great care when doing so.

How To Clean Your Car’s Air Filter

  1. Remove the filter – You’ll need to undo the fastenings (clips or screws) around the housing for the filter, then it can be removed from the car.
  2. Vacuum it – Use a vacuum cleaner to hoover away as much of the dirt that’s built up on the ridges as possible, without being too rough and tearing them.
  3. Wash it – Fill a bucket with water (soapy, but not too soapy) and place the filter into it. Swish it around carefully, allowing the water to pass through the soft ridges. Once you feel like it’s been in for long enough, take it out of the bucket and gently rinse it with water.
  4. Dry it – Allow the filter to dry. Do not attempt to reinstall it whilst it’s still damp.
  5. Reinstall it – The reverse of step one. Make sure you secure the housing properly upon completion.

Sorting out the air filter is actually included as part of a service. Take a look at our guide to self-servicing if you want to give your car a complete health check while you’ve got the bonnet open!

How Often Should You Change a Car Air Filter?

The very nature of an air filter means that it’s supposed to get dirty and bombarded with bits and pieces flying about through the air. As such, they’re fairly resilient bits of kit that will only need replacing every 15,000 to 30,000 miles and will often be replaced as part of a service. Different car manufacturers will have different recommendations, but the general rule of thumb is that somewhere within that range will do enough wear and tear to the filter to render it less effective than your engine needs it to be.

Bear in mind that these figures are just a guideline; if you find yourself off-roading regularly, or maybe even just spending a lot of time in dusty, sandy environments (like a seafront promenade, for example) your filter could end up smuggling half the beach away within its dirt-catching ridges.

What Problems Can a Dirty Air Filter Cause?

If you let your car’s air filter get into a filthy state, it can have significant effects on not only the performance of your vehicle but also the overall health of its other parts – including its engine!

If dirt and debris is allowed to get into the engine, it will wear down the components at a much faster rate than if those nasty bits and pieces were filtered out as they should be. More immediate concerns can be raised too, involving the performance of the car, regardless of  whether you’re looking for racing-spec speed and power or just a runabout that will get you half a mile down the road with breaking down.

Will A Clean Air Filter Improve Performance?

Following on from above, the cleanliness of the filter can have a huge impact on how well your car runs – if it runs at all! Dirt can build up throughout the system and affect the spark plugs, preventing the engine from running smoothly and consistently. You’ll also notice a reduction in engine power, caused by the air flow being restricted. On top of all this, your car will even become less economical to run, guzzling more fuel than normal as it tries to make up for the lack of air coming into the engine.

What are the symptoms of a clogged air filter?

Thankfully there are a few ways that you can tell your air filter is clogged, or at least are warning signs to get it checked out. Firstly, if you notice your engine is down on power or is consuming more fuel than it usually would, this is usually the first sign of a blocked filter. Other common symptoms include your engine misfiring, thick black smoke (or even flames) coming from the exhaust pipe and the strong smell of fuel. If any of these are occurring, it’s worth getting it checked out as soon as possible as if it isn’t the air filter, it’ll be something serious that’ll need fixing in any case.

If your air filter couldn’t stop your engine from giving out on your, or if your car has any other issues that you don’t want to pay to get fixed, sell the vehicle with Scrap Car Comparison. We’ll find you the best quotes from local scrap dealers across our nationwide network and, once you’ve picked out the best one for you, we’ll even arrange for the car to be collected at no extra cost. Find out how much your old car could be worth today using our scrap value calculator and offload it today in exchange for a healthy lump sum of cash!

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