Where is My Cabin Air Filter and How Do I Replace It?

by on February 20th, 2011
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What are the signs that your cabin air filter needs to be replaced? The advertising material says that odor and the lack of air volume from your car’s HVAC system are the most noticeable indications. The filters are made of multi-layered fiber and are sometimes enhanced with carbon or charcoal.

Sure, over time, the leaves and debris captured by the spent filters (pictured here) are obvious sources of odor and anyone can understand that when the trash builds up there is going to be a restriction of air volume delivered to the passenger’s compartment. But there isn’t a way to monitor the accumulation of mold, mildew, dust and bacteria that find a home under the dashboard of your car according to the filter makers.

This leaves your calendar and odometer as the only reliable means to predict when the filter needs to be switched out. Purolator, the filter maker, would like you to change the cabin air filter once a year or every 12,000 to 18,000 miles, but the best advice is to check your owner’s manual because your make and model may have a more sophisticated arrangement that extends the life of the device. Some car makers don’t suggest replacing the filter until 24 or 30,000 miles.

One suggestion that seems to make sense is to change the filter in the Spring after the system has been subjected to the toll of the humidity and dampness of the preceding seasons and, as pictured here, the falling leaves. Spring also coincides with the beginning of the pollen season, so to have a clean filter then would be a good idea.

Replacing a cabin air filter can be an excellent DIY project, within limits. I dealt with the pitfalls in Cabin Air Filter Replacement, Are You Up to It?, which can be found here at the Yahoo Contributor Network. Some of the filter companies include detailed installation instructions with their filters while others provide a rating of the difficulty of the installation in literature found at auto parts stores. Some owner’s manuals will indicate the location of the cabin air filter and instructions for its replacement.

If you are guarded about your mechanical ability, you might want to read the Popular Mechanics article Replacing Your Cabin Air Filter which will give you an idea of the degree of difficulty that you might face. I tried my best to come up with an online source of installation instructions and as of this writing, I can say definitively say that none exists that is both all inclusive and easily accessible. So I would have to default to the NAPA publication mentioned in my previously cited article.

If you plan to have the filter replaced the next time that you get your car serviced and the filter is accessed through the glove box (usually an easy replacement), you can plan on paying the technician about 15 minutes labor and about $15 to $30 for the filter. More involved replacements obviously increase the cost.

The cost of replacement and the lack of good information about the replacement procedure undoubtedly contribute to the cabin air filter being ignored by the driving public.

Mike Allen, Replacing Your Cabin Air Filter, Popular Mechanics

John DeCostanza, Cabin Air Filter Replacement, Are You Up to It, Associated Content


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