Car engines are complex things. With so many core components, it’s not unusual for some of them to get overlooked by the average driver. Car air filters are a classic example. These relatively uncomplicated devices are crucial to a healthy vehicle, but rarely get the attention they deserve.
As a result, they aren’t changed as often as they need to be. Considering they’re frontline protection for your engine, this puts more expensive components in the firing line – not to mention your wallet.
Let’s take a closer look at why many of us need to change our car air filters more regularly.
What are car air filters?
We all know that cars need fuel to function, but – like humans – they also need air. Also like humans, they prefer nice, clean air. This is where the car air filter comes in.
Made from pleated material (cotton, synthetic paper or foam), the air filter removes any nasty particles from the air before it reaches the engine, like dust, debris, sand and insects. This ensures a good mix of air and fuel to help performance and combustion, which in turn ensures optimum fuel efficiency.
3 benefits of replacing your car air filters
1. It’s cheaper in the not-so-long run.
Yep, you read that right. Spending money on your car air filter actually saves you money. Firstly, a clogged air filter reduces the amount of air making it to the engine, forcing it to work harder. When it works harder, it gulps more fuel. A clean air filter improves your fuel efficiency, and the cost of replacing it is usually recouped within five or six trips to the bowser.
Secondly, a clean air filter stops particles from entering the combustion chamber and damaging the cylinder walls. If this sort of damage is allowed to continue for a period of time, you’re looking at repairs far dearer than a simple air filter change.
2. It’s better for the environment.
Cars aren’t great for the environment, but some are worse than others. Those operating with clogged air filters are certainly doing more damage to the world we live in than would otherwise be the case. An imbalance in the air-fuel mix – caused by old air filters – causes spark plugs to misfire, increases engine deposits, and might even lead to the dreaded ‘Engine Service’ light turning on. It also leads to more contaminants in your car’s exhaust.
Also, because clogged air filters make your car churn through more fuel, you’re also, well, churning through more fuel. Not very green, either.
3. You get to keep your car for longer.
As you’ve read, old air filters damage engines. The more grit that gets through, the quicker expensive engine components are worn down and need replacing. The simple fact is that your car requires a clean air filter for its protection and to ensure the right air-fuel mix for optimum performance. Without it, your car suffers, and so will your wallet.
Tell-tale signs you need a new car air filter
- Black smoke. This is a particular problem for diesels. When not enough air is getting through due to a clogged air filter, the air-fuel balance gets out of whack. Too much diesel and not enough air leads to an incomplete combustion and black exhaust smoke.
- Loss of power. Your car figures out how much fuel is needed by the engine by the pressure on the intake manifold. This reading can be distorted by a clogged air filter, which means the wrong amount of fuel is injected, leading to a loss in power. If your car doesn’t feel like it’s running well, it could be as simple as old air filters.
- Increased fuel consumption. As we’ve already covered, underperforming air filters lead to an increase in fuel consumption. If you suspect that your trips to the bowser have become more frequent, this could be the reason.
How often should my car air filter be replaced?
The common recommendation for replacing air filters is every 40,000 to 50,000 km. If, however, you live in a particularly polluted city or drive mostly on dusty roads, this interval will shorten. As we’ve explained, sticking to this schedule isn’t going to cost more money – it’s actually going to save you in the long run. Your car will operate more efficiently, sipping instead of gulping fuel, and its core components will last longer. Car air filters are one part we all need to stop overlooking.