The air filter stops airborne contaminants from getting sucked into your car’s engine. It’s a paper filter that stops debris such as dust, leaves and wayward pelicans before they get inside the engine and do damage.
Most people are familiar with being told that they need to change their car’s air filter regularly, but many of these folks may be unaware of why this is important. Keeping the air filter clean keeps the engine clean and free of debris so that the engine can function optimally. A clean air filter also equates to better gas mileage, which means more money in one’s pocket. The amount of money laid out to purchase a new air filter is well worth it and pays for itself several times over in gas savings. To understand more specifically what an air filter does, one needs to know that the air filter is a crucial part of one of many automotive systems. Then, one can learn about the specific role of the air filter and how to maintain it properly for maximum benefits.
Like the human body, an automobile is comprised of many different systems that work together to make a car function. Examples of automotive systems include
The air filter is considered part of the fuel supply system. Fuel (either gasoline or diesel) is what a vehicle’s engine runs on, and getting the fuel from the tank to the engine is a complex process. The fuel system consists of the gas tank, carburetor or fuel injector, intake manifold, throttle body, as well as various pumps, filters (not just the air filter but also the fuel filter), gaskets, and other parts. The intake of air to the engine is mixed with the gasoline in a specific ratio to burn most efficiently.
A good way to explain the function of an automotive intake air filter is to compare it to an allergy mask. People wear these masks over their nose and mouth so that when they inhale, pollen and other particles are unable to enter the respiratory system. Because of this, only clean air enters the nose, trachea, and lungs. The filtered air is far less likely to cause allergic reactions or asthma. Similarly, people wear dust masks when working in certain environments where dust, dirt, and other particulate matter is in the air.
Although the human respiratory tract has some ability to clean itself out (via sneezing, coughing, and other physiological processes), chronic exposure to heavy loads of foreign matter in the air can eventually cause an overload from which the respiratory system is unable to recover. In a car engine, there is no self-cleaning system whatsoever. Without an air filter, the fuel system would quickly become riddled with insects, leaves, and other debris, in addition to the same fine particles that can obstruct human lungs. The clogged system would be unable to function, and cleaning it out would be quite costly and messy, not to mention just plain inefficient.
The air filter is usually quite easy to access on most cars. The cover is held in place with snaps or clips, which are easily unfastened by hand. A few vehicles require a screwdriver to access the air filter compartment. One can consult the owner’s manual to determine the location of the air filter.
Once the cover has been removed, the air filter should be lifted out and held up to a bright light source, such as the sun or a light bulb. A completely opaque filter is a sign that the filter is full and can no longer effectively strain particulate from the airflow. An air filter that allows some light to shine through still has life left in it. Do not be over zealous with changing the air filter, as this costs money and is not good for the environment if disposable paper filters are used. No air filter looks completely clean and white if it has been doing its job.
In order to achieve maximum performance and gas mileage from a vehicle, the air filter should be changed at least 3times a year. This suggested time interval varies depending on how many miles are driven yearly and the type of environment one typically drives and parks in. Cars that are driven on dusty dirt roads and in rural wooded areas need to have the filter changed more frequently. One should get in the habit of inspecting the air filter every few months to get an idea of how quickly it becomes dirty. It is common to at least check, if not replace, the air filter every time the oil is changed.