8 Signs That Your Air Filter Is Dirty (And How to Replace It)

Maintaining your car's engine is one of the most important tasks. Dirty air filters can cause many problems, and may make driving less pleasant. It can also lead to paying more for the vehicle’s fuel because of excess consumption.

Thankfully, it’s not difficult or expensive to change the air filter in most cars. Here are the most common symptoms and costs to replace your air filter. Let’s begin with a look at the signs.

Índice de Contenido
  1. Signs of a dirty engine air filter
    1. 1. Power Loss
    2. 2. Strange Engine Sounds
    3. 3. Verify Engine Light
    4. 4. Lower fuel economy
    5. 5. Engine misfiring
    6. 6. Black Exhaust smoke
    7. 7. Gas Smell
    8. 8. Visible Contamination
  2. Air filter location
  3. How an engine air filter works
  4. Price of replacing your air filter
  5. FAQs about Air Filters
    1. What can a dirty, clogged air filter do to your engine?
    2. What does dirty air filter do to your car?
    3. What if I want to clean the air filter rather than replace it?
    4. How can I drive with an clogged filter in my air conditioner?

Signs of a dirty engine air filter

A low engine performance and a check engine warning light are the two most frequent signs of a dirty filter. If the filter becomes clogged, you may also notice a popping or sputtering sound coming from your engine.

This is a detailed listing of possible signs of a clogged air filter in your engine.

1. Power Loss

Slow Car Acceleration

Filter that is too dirty can block airflow to the engine. Without the proper balance of air flowing through, the engine can’t run as it is intended. You will see a decrease in power and acceleration.

It is possible to notice it more often if your vehicle is being used for more, such as when you are driving on steep slopes or while towing. However, any time that the vehicle feels sluggish, it’s wise to visually inspect the air filter. 

2. Strange Engine Sounds

Check Noise Under Hood E1609791600132

You should be able to hear the motor hum when it is operating as expected. A lack of airflow may cause strange sounds if the filter gets clogged.

Sometimes, you may hear a popping noise or a sputtering sound. It’s also possible to hear a whistling noise due to the obstructed airflow. Filter buildup can make the noises louder. 

3. Verify Engine Light

Check Engine Light

If the filter is blocked, it can restrict the airflow to the engine. Insufficient fuel supply can lead to excessive mixture. 

The Check Engine Light will turn on when there is more fuel burned. To find the cause of these lights, use a code scanner. 

RELATED: Check Engine Light On – Meaning, Causes & How to Fix It

4. Lower fuel economy

Bad Fuel Consumption

Car engines mix gasoline with air in order to create power and momentum. The engine can get clogged up if there is not enough airflow. If the motor is too rich you will end up using more fuel.

Any time that the car is using more fuel, it’s a sign that there’s an imbalance with the engine. You can fix problems before they escalate by paying attention to the frequency you fill up. 

5. Engine misfiring

Car Misfires

Motors that do not have the correct amount of air enter the combustion chamber will produce more unburned gasoline. The spark plugs' tips are clogged with soot.

The car may not start properly if the spark plugs aren't supplying enough spark to ignite the engine. As a result, you might notice rough idle and stalling. 

6. Black Exhaust smoke

Black Smoke From Exhaust

You may notice a difference in the smoke that leaves the tailpipes, especially in extreme situations. If the fuel has not burned completely, then you may see black smoke or gray smoke emanating from the rear.

This color can be caused by the fuel not being burned and the exhaust. It can also be a sign of an O2 sensor malfunction or fuel injection problems.

7. Gas Smell

Sometimes, unburned fuel may also cause a distinct smell. You might be more sensitive to this smell the filier the filter is.

A gasoline smell can also be caused by other problems. For that reason, it’s important to perform a complete diagnosis before determining what’s causing the odor.

8. Visible Contamination

The signs will be obvious if you are able to visually inspect the filter. An air filter that is clean will be white or pale. Some of the reusable filters have plum-colored media.

The filter will be clogged with dirt and other debris once it has become contaminated. It’s going to be naturally dirty and dusty, revealing that it’s time to change it.

Air filter location

Car Air Filter Box

The engine air filter is located underneath modern vehicles. It is usually located in the front part of the engine compartment in a rectangular-shaped box.

You might have to change the location of your air filters if your vehicle has a carburetor. Large, metal-framed air cleaners are almost impossible to see in these cars.

You should not confuse the engine filter with the cabin filter. The cabin filter helps keep the interior air free from pollutants. You will find it in your glovebox or on the dashboard. 

Reported: Top 10 Engine Filters For Cars

How an engine air filter works

New Engine Air Filter

Engine air filters prevent dirt and contaminants from entering through the air. The filter should be clean and free of any clogs in order to make sure that the engine gets enough air to burn.

Because it is susceptible to becoming clogged, regular maintenance should include the replacement of your air filter. It can become clogged and cause a misalignment in the fuel-air ratio, which leads to performance problems. 

Price of replacing your air filter

For a paper filter, the average cost of replacing an air filter is between $10 and $30. In most cars, changing the air filter is a simple process that doesn’t involve any special skills or tools.

You can install a reusable filter by paying between $30-$100, depending on the vehicle. You can wash these reusable filters for more use. 

Air filters should be changed every 12 months or 12,000 miles, depending on when they are first replaced. You can find the recommended replacement schedule in your car owner’s manual. You should change the filter immediately if any of the symptoms are present. Considering the low cost, it’s one of the first places to start with any engine performance issues.

RELATED : How Frequent Should the Engine Filter Be Changed?

FAQs about Air Filters

What can a dirty, clogged air filter do to your engine?

An unclean air filter will eventually cause damage to your engine. If your engine can’t breathe properly, it will create unnecessary heat in the engine which will wear engine parts faster. Dirty air filters can allow dirt and dust into your engine.

What does dirty air filter do to your car?

An unclean air filter can affect the performance of your car in many different ways. The most obvious is lowered engine performance. Lower engine performance can cause many other problems with your car, which is why it’s important to keep your engine air filter clean.

What if I want to clean the air filter rather than replace it?

Standard car engine air filters cannot be washed or reused. Although they can be washed, there are also aftermarket filters that you could purchase. These are slightly more expensive. Cleaning an original air filter will not be a good idea.

How can I drive with an clogged filter in my air conditioner?

While you could probably drive with a clogged air filter if it’s not completely clogged, it’s always a bad idea. Clogged filters or dirt can put more strain on your engine, which could cause it to fail. The engine could even be sucked in parts of a clogged filter if you're very lucky.

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