car air filter

Air Filters vs. Cabin Air Filters

Human beings need a mixture of oxygen, nitrogen and other gasses to survive, but did you know your car also needs to breathe? You can’t ignite fuel without oxygen in the combustion chamber, which is why it’s important to ensure proper airflow throughout your engine. While you need air in appropriate places, your filtration system helps ensure both you and your car aren’t breathing unwanted impurities. Here’s a look at the different air filters you can get at your local auto parts store, and the functions each one performs.

Cabin Air Filter


 You require air to breathe, which is why your vehicle has an intake system that brings the atmosphere inside. While you want oxygen in the passenger cabin, you can probably do without dust, dirt, pollen and other irritants that often come riding along on the breeze. To keep this from happening, manufacturers install cabin air filters that strain out unwanted particles. When this component’s efficiency starts to drop, you may find yourself sniffling and sneezing more often, but it’s strictly an issue of comfort that has no bearing on your engine’s operation.

Engine Air Filter


It takes a precise mix of fuel and oxygen for your engine to operate efficiently, but the road is full of dirt, dust and other unwanted particles. To keep these impurities out of your combustion chamber, manufacturers install filters, but they will eventually clog. If you’ve exceeded your filter’s capacity, you’ll notice some symptoms while you drive:

  • Decreased fuel economy
  • Reduction in power
  • Strong fuel smell
  • Black exhaust smoke
  • Check engine light

When one or more of these symptoms appear, pop the hood and take a look at your filtration system. If it looks noticeably dirty, it may be time for a replacement. Your problems might be the result of other problems in the engine, which is why it’s always a good idea to have a certified mechanic take a look and run a diagnostic.

Replacing Your Air Filters


For those who are mechanically inclined, a DIY replacement project might be more attractive than spending money at a garage, but you should first consult your owner’s manual to find out how to replace air filter components. Some installation locations necessitate the removal of other engine parts, which might be a larger job than you’re ready to handle. Since cabin filtration is a comfort issue, you should tackle the engine filter first if you have limited time and resources.

Breathe Better While You Drive


If you’ve ever wondered “what is a tuneup on a car,” it normally includes a thorough inspection of the vehicle’s drive train. Now you know the difference between cabin and engine air filters, you’ll be better prepared when a mechanic tells you it’s time to replace one or the other. While you might be able to put off work on the cabin’s filtration system, you should listen if the technician says your engine can’t breathe properly. When you’re ready to perform the replacement yourself, you should only purchase supplies from a trusted supplier with employees who can help you locate the exact parts for your vehicle.

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