How Often to Replace Engine Air Filter

Your vehicle’s air filter works tirelessly to keep dirt, debris, and other environmental contaminants out of the engine. However, even top-quality engine air filters won’t last forever. Eventually, you’ll need to toss your dirty filter and replace it with a new one to keep the clean air flowing to your engine. 

This guide to how often to replace engine air filters will cover the basics of this important vehicle maintenance task, including:

Why engine air filter replacement matters

Combustion engines rely on adequate airflow to operate efficiently. When your car’s air filter gets too dirty or clogged with debris, it can negatively impact the air-fuel balance. 

“If the air filter is dirty, it passes less air into the engine. That is not a good thing,” says Ryan Hill, product manager at Force Fleet Tracking. “It can impact your gas mileage by as much as 10% and it will also affect engine performance.”

This can lead to a wide range of issues, including reduced fuel efficiency and rough idling. If you ignore it long enough, your “check engine” light may even come on.

Reduced fuel economy is only the start of your troubles. When left unaddressed, dirty engine air filters can also reduce the service life of your engine and reduce vehicle performance. 

For the average vehicle owner, the impacts of a dirty engine air filter will be negligible, at least initially. But if you manage a small business fleet, engine air filter replacement isn’t something you can afford to ignore.Taking a reactive approach to air filter replacement can compound your vehicle maintenance expenses. Taking a proactive approach, however, can prolong engine life, boost fuel efficiency, and help you get the most out of your vehicles.

How long do engine air filters last?

Depending on the filter you have, it may last anywhere from three to 12 months, or 3,000–12,000 miles. 

The exact lifespan of engine air filters will vary based on several factors, including their size, quality, and thickness.

The size of air filters is usually expressed in inches. A 5-inch or 6-inch air filter will last longer than a 2-inch or 3-inch filter. That’s because larger filters can collect more dirt, dust, and debris. 

If your vehicles can accommodate them, consider purchasing larger, thicker air filters so you don’t have to replace them as often. Just keep in mind that even if you use upgraded air filters, you’ll need to inspect them at every oil change. 

Your driving habits and the frequency with which the vehicle is used will also play a role in engine filter lifespan.

How often should you replace the engine air filter?

Generally speaking, you should replace your car air filters every 12 months or 12,000 miles, whichever comes first. If you have a cheaper, thinner engine air filter, you may need a new air filter more frequently.

How often to replace engine air filters in fleet vehicles 

The easiest way to determine how often to replace engine air filters is to consult the vehicle’s owner’s manual. The manufacturer should provide specific recommendations regarding engine and cabin air filter replacement. 

Remember that these recommendations are exactly that: recommendations. They aren’t firm rules. For instance, if the manufacturer recommends replacing your engine air filter every nine months but your vehicle’s air filter is disgusting after six, it’s a good idea to go ahead and replace it.

How GPS tracking technology can predict when it’s time to change your air filter

Alternatively, you can leverage predictive maintenance and fleet management technology like Force Fleet Tracking. Force’s predictive alerts will tell you when you need to replace your engine air filter before it becomes a costly problem. 

“A predictive alert for engine air filter replacement specifically says, ‘hey, your engine filter isn’t optimal and needs to be replaced,’ [1-2 weeks] prior to getting a diagnostic trouble code,” Hill explains. 

Discover the convenience and efficiency of Force Fleet Tracking’s maintenance software.

Does changing the engine air filter make a difference?

Absolutely. Swapping out a dirty, clogged air filter for a clean one will have immediate impacts on fuel economy and vehicle performance. In the long term, changing your air filters regularly can extend the life of your engine and reduce the likelihood of major malfunctions. Your vehicles will run better, too.

Signs your engine air filter needs replacement

Visually inspecting your engine air filter is the simplest way to determine what kind of shape it’s in. Over time, your air filter will accumulate dirt, debris, dust, and other contaminants. Once it begins to clog, it needs replacement.

If your air filter becomes especially filthy, you may begin to experience various vehicle performance issues, including lower fuel efficiency, engine misfires, or a loss of power. If you have a user-friendly vehicle tracking solution like Force installed in your vehicles, you’ll also receive a DTC code and push notification letting you know it’s time for a new air filter when the situation is dire.

While a dirty air filter isn’t the only possible cause of these problems, it’s one of the easiest issues to fix. 

How do I know if my engine air filter is bad?

If you have a dirty air filter that appears to be packed with debris, it’s probably time to get a new one.

That said, you may be able to dislodge small amounts of debris by tapping your air filters on the pavement when performing maintenance on your fleet. Give each filter a few firm taps and see how it looks afterward. If it’s still visibly dirty and clogged, it’s best to replace it to be on the safe side.

Some other signs that your engine air filter is bad include:

  • You notice a drop in fuel efficiency
  • The engine misfires or makes a knocking sound
  • The “check engine” light comes on
  • The vehicle has less power than normal
  • You smell fuel
  • The exhaust pipe emits black smoke

If you observe any of these symptoms, take a look at your engine air filter. While other problems can cause these sorts of issues, a dirty engine filter is one of the most likely culprits.

At-home vs. professional replacement

Replacing your vehicle’s air filters is simple. To change out your engine air filter, simply:

  • Open the hood and locate the air filter housing
  • Unscrew the housing, remove the lid, and take out the old filter
  • Install the new filter according to the manufacturer’s instructions
  • Put the housing back on and tighten the screws

If you don’t want to replace your air filter yourself, consider having a maintenance technician do it for you. A professional will be able to determine whether your filter is spent and make recommendations for the best replacement option.

While professional replacement will involve some extra costs, many providers allow you to add this service to an oil change at a discounted rate. Professional technicians will also likely be able to purchase new filters at a cheaper price because they buy in bulk. 

Besides, do you really want to be the one performing maintenance on your fleet cars? Working with a trusted technician will help keep your vehicles in peak working order and give you access to bulk discounts on common maintenance items like engine air filters, oil filters, and spark plugs.

Simplify engine and cabin air filter maintenance with Force Fleet Tracking

Keeping a close eye on the status of your engine air filters will help you maximize fuel efficiency and optimize vehicle performance. However, checking your air filters with every oil change isn’t enough, as air filters can reach the end of their useful life between oil changes. 

The good news is that Force Fleet Tracking can make monitoring the status of your air filters effortless. Our predictive maintenance alerts will notify you as your air filters wear out so you can promptly replace them and avoid more concerning (and costly) issues.

Ready to streamline your vehicle maintenance and stay on top of engine air filter replacements? 

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Published September 20, 2023