Regular filter changes are key to a long vehicle service life. Clean air isn’t just for passengers breathing inside the car, but the engine itself needs to breathe clean air to protect from unnecessary internal wear. Fluids need to flow freely while also staying clean. That’s why you need to stay on top of these filter maintenance items. Here’s when you should change your five car filters.
Engine Air Filter
This is typically the easiest filter to change on any vehicle, and yet it is typically neglected until it is nearly clogged up. You should check your engine air filter every month as part of your routine vehicle inspection. Remove the filter from the housing and hold it up to a light source. If you can’t see through it, it is time for a replacement. If the pleats are filled with crud, replace it. If it has been more than 20,000 miles since the last air filter change, replace it. Your vehicle may also have an air filter monitor or gauge as a reminder, so make sure to check the filter if it says to do so.
Cabin Air Filter
Talk about “out of sight, out of mind” the cabin air filter is seemingly lost in the typical automotive maintenance shuffle. It doesn’t affect how the car drives or runs, and many cars didn’t even have one until the last two decades. But it does keep the air inside the cabin clean for the driver and passengers. It also keeps the climate control ducts, heater core, and evaporator from collecting junk. So when should you change it? Similar to the engine air filter, if you can’t see through the cabin air filter or the pleats are clogged with debris it is time for a change. Depending on where you live you may want to change it with the seasons. When pollen is no longer tinting the air yellow and leaves have stopped falling are two good opportunities. If you want to go by numbers try for 20,000 miles or 12 months, whichever comes first.
This is the filter everyone thinks of when you say time to change your car’s filter. The old recommendation was to change your oil and oil filter every 3,000 miles. That’s still good advice if you drive a lot. Refer to your owner’s manual for an exact oil filter change schedule for your specific vehicle. If you do a lot of stop-and-go city driving, go ahead and put yourself in the “severe service” category for more frequent oil change intervals. If your vehicle has an oil life percentage meter, listen to it. When your oil needs to be changed as calculated by the on-board computer, so does your oil filter.
Ideally any fuel entering your fuel tank should be clean. But the truth is underground fuel storage tanks aren’t exactly the cleanest things around. Dirt, rust, trash and all kinds of other gunk can end up in your gas tank over time. Fuel filtering can be handled a few different ways depending on vehicle design. Typically there is a filter inside the fuel tank itself at the opening where fuel is picked up by the pump. That filter may be all that is needed. Others add another filter between the engine and the fuel tank. Diesel trucks typically have a separate fuel filter for extra protection. If you have an in-tank fuel pump, your owner’s manual may say it never needs to be changed unless it somehow clogs. Check your owner’s manual to see if your fuel filter can be changed and how often. Of course if your engine sputters or is down on power, a fuel filter change may be in order.
An automatic transmission is a delicate piece of machinery that depends on the ability to circulate clean transmission fluid through a precise network of passages at high pressures. Changing a transmission filter in most vehicles requires partially disassembling the transmission. Typically the transmission filter is down in the transmission fluid pan where it is part of the fluid pickup. Changing the transmission filter is usually part of a transmission fluid change, and should be done at whatever interval specified in the owner’s manual. If your transmission is acting odd, changing the filter may help if it was clogged and interfering with fluid flow.
These recommendations are based on general driving habits and vehicle types, so it really is best to reference your owner’s manual for precise information. While there is nothing wrong with changing a filter before it is due, just don’t’ wait until it is overdue.
Check out all the filters available on NAPAonline or trust one of our 17,000 NAPA Auto Care locations for routine maintenance and repairs. For more information on our automotive air filter guide, chat with a knowledgeable expert at your local NAPA Auto Parts store.
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With an automotive writing career spanning over two decades, Brian has a passion for sharing the automotive lifestyle. An avid DIYer he can usually be found working on one of his many project cars. His current collection includes a 1969 Olds Delta 88 convertible and a slant-6 powered 1975 Plymouth Duster.