For decades, the air filter located under the hood was the only one a car owner had to remember. Starting around 2000, car manufacturers began adding the cabin air filter, yet another filter to replace on a regular schedule. Thankfully your cabin air filter doesn’t affect your engine’s performance. It’s still important to keep this filter clean in order to get the best performance from your air conditioner and to enjoy better air quality in the cabin. Find out why carmakers added a cabin filter, where to find it, what to do with it, and the risks of forgetting about your filter.
Why Do Late Model Cars Feature Cabin Air Filters?
So if cars didn’t need cabin air filters in the 80s and 90s, why did they suddenly start featuring them in 2000? It’s due to consumer demand for cleaner air while they’re traveling down the road. Without an air filter, fresh air blowing into the cabin brought along plenty of dust, pollen, smog, and more. Driving through a cloud of smoke or the dust released from a gravel truck ahead of you meant switching the air controls to recirculation as quickly as possible or dealing with the consequences inside the cabin.
Slipping a filter into each model’s main fresh air intake for the cabin solved the air quality problem by trapping incoming particles. But like with any other filter, all that dust and pollen builds up rather quickly. A clogged cabin air filter doesn’t reduce engine performance or degrade your oil, but it does leave your interior dirtier than necessary. It also reduces the air flowing through it from the air conditioner, resulting in reduced cooling that you can’t fix with a refrigerant refill.
Where Are Cabin Air Filters Located?
Of course, you can’t check the filter, clean it, or replace it without locating it first. As with practically every part, the location differs from model to model. Check your manufacturer’s manual for the location. If there’s no help there, try looking in the following locations:
• Under the hood near the cabin, sliding into the fresh air intake
• At the bottom of the dashboard, usually on the passenger side
• Behind the back or top panel of the glove compartment.
What Happens When You Forget About This Filter?
At worst, a clogged cabin air filter will reduce the air coming out of your vents to the slightest breeze. This reduces both heating and cooling power. You may also notice unpleasant odors that persist in the car no matter what you do, along with possible dust coming out of your vents in very bad cases. Most manufacturers recommend replacing the cabin filter every 12,000 to 15,000 miles. However, you may need to clean it more often if you drive regularly on dirt roads or in areas with heavy smog. Don’t try to clean the filter to extend its life unless recommended by the filter manufacturer.