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Can I Drive Without an Air Filter?

A used air filter sits atop other automotive components in the engine bay of a car.

An air filter might not seem like an essential component, but it’s more important than one might think. Driving without an air filter is possible, but it’s definitely not a good idea, as this component keeps all kinds of debris out of your climate control system and keeps cabin air fresh and safe to breathe. Here’s why it’s important to have all the necessary filters in your car at all times and make sure that they’re replaced at regular intervals.

What Do They Do?air filter

There are multiple air filters in your car, but they all do roughly the same thing: they keep the air clean, whether it’s the air you breathe in the cabin or the air your engine needs to run efficiently. Dirt, grime, bugs, dust, leaves and anything else that could get sucked into your car’s systems is kept at bay through the work of filters.

What Happens if You Don’t Replace Your Air Filters Regularly?

The cabin air filter takes care of the air that comes into the car through your heating and air conditioning system. No one wants to breathe in dirty air, so it makes sense to replace this filter at recommended intervals. If it’s dirty, then you may notice reduced air circulation, diminished performance of your heating and air conditioning, or a musty odor. You might even hear a whistling noise from the vents if something larger is stuck.

A dirty engine air filter can cause more serious problems. You may notice reduced fuel economy, odd noises coming from your engine, misfiring cylinders or your check engine light blinking to life. When your engine can’t get the air it needs, it won’t run as intended.

How Often Should You Replace an Air Filter?

An air filter should be replaced at the intervals recommended by the manufacturer, but even that might not be frequent enough. If you drive in dusty areas, and particularly if you go off-road, filters will get dirty more quickly, and they will need to be replaced more often than what’s recommended. Here’s how to change an air filter:

If a filter looks dirty with lots of dust and debris, then it’s time to get a replacement. Checking your filters as part of regular vehicle maintenance will ensure that they’re doing their job so the air you and your engine breathe remains clean.

Check out all the air filter products available on NAPA Online, or trust one of our 17,000 NAPA AutoCare locations for routine maintenance and repairs. For more information about air filters, chat with a knowledgeable expert at your local NAPA AUTO PARTS store.

Photos courtesy of Flickr.

Nicole Wakelin View All

Nicole Wakelin covers the automotive industry as a freelance journalist for a variety of outlets. Her work includes news pieces, podcasts, radio, written reviews, and video reviews. She can be found in The Boston Globe, CarGurus, BestRide, US News and World Report, and AAA along with lifestyle blogs like Be Car Chic, The Other PTA, and She Buys Cars. She is active on social media with a large following on both Twitter and Instagram and currently serves as Vice President of the New England Motor Press Association.

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