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All vehicles have at least one air filter. Some cars and trucks have more than one air filter, and many drivers are surprised to hear that it has nothing to do with the air that goes into the engine.

This second filter is called a cabin air filter and it cleans the air you and your passengers breathe whenever you go for a ride. Most late model vehicles have cabin air filters, while the majority of older cars and trucks do not. To find out if your vehicle is equipped with a cabin air filter, consult your owner’s manual or your repair manual.

What is a Cabin Air Filter

It’s exactly what it sounds like: an air filter for your vehicle’s interior. When you turn your heater or air conditioning on, the warm or cool air you feel on your skin comes from outside of your vehicle.

Depending on where you live, the air outside your car or truck may not be very clean due to dust, dirt, or exhaust from other vehicles on the road. Cabin air filters are designed to clean the air before you and your passengers breathe it in. The cabin filter in your car or truck makes driving and riding along a much more comfortable and enjoyable experience, especially for allergy sufferers and those with other respiratory issues.

But when your cabin air filter becomes dirty, it can quickly lead to respiratory irritation, discomfort, and lowered energy efficiency.

When to Replace Your Cabin Air Filter

The short answer is to replace it when it’s dirty. You may become aware of how dirty your cabin air filter is when a technician shows it to you when performing other routine maintenance on your vehicle. It’s not uncommon for an automotive technician to have a look at your cabin air filter as he performs an oil change or services your transmission.

There are other things you can look for on your own. The first is a lack of air flow when you activate your heating or air conditioning. If you remember your heating and air conditioning being stronger than it is currently, a new cabin air filter may return it back to its normal performance. The second sign is foul odors inside your car when you drive. Replacing your cabin air filter may make the inside of your car smell less funky.

Most manufacturers recommend removal and replacement of your cabin air filter once a year or after 12,000 to 15,000 miles of driving. However, this is just a rough guideline. If you routinely drive in places with poor air quality, like the desert where it’s dusty or urban areas with smog, then you may need to replace your cabin air filter more frequently.

If you’re concerned about your cabin air filter, ask the technician to have a look at it and show it to you the next time you take your car or truck in for an oil change or tire rotation.

How to Replace Your Cabin Air Filter

You may want to have the technician install a new cabin air filter as you’re having other maintenance performed on your vehicle. However, if you do your own maintenance, you’re more than capable of replacing your cabin air filter by yourself. No special tools are required and it’s easier than an oil change on most vehicles. Just follow these steps:
  • Start by purchasing an OEM quality filter
  • Use your service manual to locate the cabin air filter. Your manual may also have more detailed instructions concerning removal and replacement of the cabin air filter
  • If your cabin air filter is behind your glove box, remove the fasteners holding the glove box in the dash. If your filter is not near the glove box, consult your service manual for removal and replacement instructions
  • Wiggle the glove box free just enough to expose the filter housing
  • Remove the soiled filter and replace it with a new one
  • Reinstall your glove box
After replacing your cabin air filter, you may notice that your heating and air conditioning blow harder through the vents than they did before. If you’ve experienced symptoms of allergies while driving, you may notice your symptoms go away or lessen after the filter has been changed.

Benefits of Maintaining Your Cabin Air Filter

Cars and trucks equipped with cabin air filters are more comfortable to drive or ride in than older models that weren’t designed to use them. These are just a few of the benefits of staying on top of your cabin air filter’s maintenance.
  • Heating and air conditioning systems are less stressed when paired with a clean filter, which makes them work better
  • Allergy sufferers may see a reduction in their symptoms while driving
  • Drivers and passengers with respiratory issues will enjoy a more comfortable ride in your car
  • Foul or odd smells can be filtered out effectively by using the recirculation button on the car or truck’s dashboard
  • The air on the open road is filled with pollutants and general irritants. Your vehicle’s cabin air filter removes those pollutants as well as natural allergens, such as dust and pollen, from the air you breathe when you drive.
Even if you don’t notice any difference at all after replacing your cabin air filter, there’s a certain amount of peace of mind that comes from knowing that you and your passengers will breathe clean air when you’re in your car.

Where to Buy a New Cabin Filter

Your first thought might be to call the dealership and ask about a cabin air filter at the parts desk. Cabin air filters tend to cost more than engine air filters. An aftermarket filter is built to the same quality standards as an OEM filter. The only difference is the price: an aftermarket filter costs less than an OEM filter from the dealership.

If you’re having trouble finding a new filter or locating your old one inside your car, give us a call at Pep Boys. One of our friendly technicians or parts pros will be happy to help you with whatever you need to get the job done.