How a car’s air filter works

A car’s air filter stops dust, debris and pollen from entering your engine, helping it to run cleanly and efficiently. Modern fuel-efficient engines are hi-tech pieces of kit that mix precise ratios of air and fuel to achieve optimum performance and economy. This places increasing demands on filters to supply clean air to the combustion chamber.

The latest air filters claim to block up to 96 per cent of debris, and most are made of a paper-type fibre with accordion pleats that increase their surface area to trap as much debris as possible.

Air filters may be hidden away inside a housing, but checking and replacing them if necessary is one of the easiest and cheapest car maintenance tasks that can be done.

And it’s money well spent, as a clean air filter can prolong the life of your car’s engine.

Every car is different, so before you view the full instructions, find yours…

When to change your air filter

Most manufacturers recommend that air filters are changed every 15,000 to 30,000 miles. However, the frequency depends on the conditions your car has encountered, and how hard it is driven.

For example, if a car is used frequently during a long, hot summer, when dry air is laden with dust and pollen, the filter risks clogging more rapidly. It’s the same story if a car is driven regularly in polluted cities, or areas where a lot of construction work is taking place.

The lifespan of an air filter will also be significantly reduced if a car is regularly driven along dirt tracks. In such circumstances, it’s worth inspecting the air filter every six months or so, and replacing it if it looks the worse for wear.

There are warning signs that should not be ignored: a dirty, clogged air filter can result in a lack of power during hard acceleration and fuel economy may be slightly reduced.

If the air filter is seriously blocked or damaged, a service indicator or engine check warning light can appear on the dashboard.

How to change your air filter

Here's an example of how it's done

All cars are different, but here’s a summary of the job:

  1. Open the bonnet and locate your car’s air filter housing unit.
  2. Release the retaining clips, or use a screwdriver to undo the screws, and lift up the lid of the air filter housing.
  3. Lift out the old filter and dispose of it.
  4. Use a clean cloth to wipe any debris from the air filter housing.
  5. If the housing is very dirty, it’s worth using a vacuum cleaner to suck debris out.
  6. Insert the new air filter, making sure it’s fitted the correct way up.
  7. Refit the air filter lid and secure it in place by refitting the screws.
  8. Close the bonnet.

Find the full step-by-step task for your model at the bottom of this page.

Why you should change your air filter

If air filters become clogged or damaged over time, the engine won’t be able to breathe properly – reducing your car’s performance and lowering fuel economy - and you risk debris being sucked into the engine.

Ingested contaminants have an abrasive effect once they have entered your engine, accelerating the rate of wear on vital components.

Over time, this risks damaging vital and expensive components of your engine, such as the valves, piston rings and cylinders.

Before you begin - tools you may need

Changing an air filter is a basic job and you’ll only need a few tools, depending on the location of your car’s filter. We would suggest:

  • Flat-bladed screwdriver
  • Phillips screwdriver
  • A clean cloth (to wipe dirt from the air filter housing)
  • A vacuum cleaner (to suck debris from the air filter housing)

Parts you will need

  • Air filter. Always buy the correct filter for your car. It’s worth buying a quality brand of filter as it’ll help to keep your engine running at peak efficiency.

How much does an air filter cost to change?

Air filter:
£12-£50

Garage fee savings:
£50-£100