How to Check and Replace an Engine's Air Filter

Introduction: How to Check and Replace an Engine's Air Filter

Mechanical knowledge required: None-Light

Materials required:

  • A screwdriver (medium-sized flathead or Philips head)
  • A new air filter
  • Optional: A vacuum

An air filter is a crucial component to any car. Every car's engine needs clean air to work properly. Simply put, job of the air filter is to filter the air that goes into the engine from things such as dust particles or pine needles, to ensure that it works properly. Some vehicles have multiple filters or filters located in different spots. We will be looking at the traditional underhood engine air filter. To replace an air filter, you do not need any mechanical knowledge if any, but you should have some familiarity with what an engine bay looks like.

A bad air filter can reduce your engine's life, performance, and gas mileage.

You should check your air filter about every 6 months, or every 3 months if you live in a dusty or dirty environment.

Image sources:

Step 1: Open and Prop Up Your Hood

To work in the engine bay of the vehicle, we must open it's hood. The first step in this process is to locate the hood release. This is usually located on the driver's side of the vehicle, on the lower lefthand side. It will usually have a label of a car with it's hood up. Pull the lever until you hear a popping noise. The next step is to open the hood with the hood latch. When you pull the hood release, you will notice a gap between the engine's body and hood. The center of the front of the hood is usually where the hood latch is located. Usually you will feel a piece of metal or plastic. This piece will need to be moved either up, down, left, or right to release the vehicles hood. Use one hand to move the piece and the other to pull up the vehicle's hood. Once the hood is up, you will need to look for the prop rod if the hood does not support itself. This is usually a small rod with a hook. To keep the hood up, lift up the rod up to its hinge and look for a hole at the top of the hood. Place the hook into that hole.

Step 2: Locate the Air Filter Housing

Typically, the air filter housing is located on the driver's side of the vehicle in the engine bay. The housing is usually black in color, boxy in shape, and made of plastic. You will usually see a tube connected to it. This vehicle is a 2001 Pontiac Grand Am GT1.

Step 3: Locate and Undo the Screws or Latches to the Housing

To undo the housing, locate and unscrew the housing's screws. The orientation of the screws or housings may vary with every vehicle. In many cases, air filter housings may use clips or clamps instead of screws. If this is the case, simply undo the clamps or clips.

Step 4: Remove or Reorient the Air Filter Housing

In some cases, you may have to slide a housing away from the tube connected to it to reorient the housing instead of just lifting it up. As mentioned previously, the orientation of the housing may vary.

Step 5: Remove and Inspect the Air Filter

Before you remove the filter, pay attention to and remember its orientation. In some vehicles, the orientation of the air filter matters, while in others, it doesn't. To remove the filter, simply pull it out. Inspect it for any dirt. If it is dirty, you can either vacuum out the dirt or replace the filter. Vacuuming is a good option to get the last bit of life from your filter. To vacuum the filter, simply take a vacuum hose and run it through all of the breaks in the filter. Be sure that no dirt or leaves are left behind. It is also important to inspect the air filter housing. If there is dirt or leaves in the housing, it is a good idea to vacuum it out.

Step 6: Put a Filter Back In

If your filter had a special orientation, put the new or same filter in the way it was before. To find what type of filter your vehicle takes, check your car's manual.

Step 7: Put the Air Filter Housing Back Together

To do this, place the housing back to it's original orientation and line up the screws to the screw holes on the bottom of the housing, then screw the screws back in.If your housing uses clamps or clips, align the housing and reclip it.

Step 8: Drop Your Hood and You're Done!

To drop the hood, lift it up and remove the helping rod. Set the rod back down to where it was and let go of the hood. If your hood has a self-support system, grab the top of the hood and give it downward force until it closes.

Congratulations! You just replaced your engine's air filter!

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    6 years ago

    Well composed and stated tutorial.
    However, I think you may well confused by the difference in the ENGINE air filter and a CABIN air filter as they are not one and the same, nor is a single filter is utilized for both purposes. While the ENGINE air filter has been a long standing and necessary component of the internal combustion engine since its inception, the CABIN air filter is a relatively new addition to many upscale vehicle makes and models. There may well be vehicles being currently commercially produced which do not contain or utilize a
    cabin filter with it being considered non-essential.
    An ENGINE air filter cleans debris from the air entering the engine which is subsequently mixed with gasoline and ignited in the cylinders. This combustion is converted into mechanical (kinetic) energy and propels the vehicle forward. The fumes and combustion byproducts exit the vehicle through the exhaust pipe(s).
    Alternately, a CABIN filter, if the particular vehicle is so equipped, cleans the flow of air incoming and circulating within the passenger compartment occupied by the driver and/or passenger(s). Generally, it's replacement cycle it much longer and less urgent than that of the engine filter and its cleanliness, or lack thereof, does not adversely affect the engine by virtue of lowering gas mileage, performance characteristics and/or causing serious internal damage likely to vastly reduce its useful life.
    Please correct me, if I am wrong.


    Reply 6 years ago

    I knew the difference between the filters, I just typed cabin for some reason. Edited it. Thanks for the feedback.

    DIY Hacks and How Tos

    Great tutorial. Replacing your own air filter can save you a lot of money.