Where is the Cabin Air Filter in My Car?
When thinking of all the things to care for in your car, the cabin air filter often gets overlooked. You think about the engine air filter or even your oil filter, but how often do you think about your cabin air filter? There are people who will go tens of thousands of miles with a dirty cabin air filter never realizing that they’re potentially harming their health-- possibly because they never even realized there was an air filter for the passenger cabin of their car. So what does the cabin air filter do, how can you tell when it’s dirty, and how do you find your cabin air filter?
What Does the Cabin Air Filter Do?
As the name suggests, the cabin air filter is designed to filter the air that is directed into the vehicle passenger cabin. So why is that a big deal? Isn’t the air in the cabin just the same as the air outside--the air of the great outdoors that is supposed to be good for you? The answer is a little more complex than a simple yes or no. Furthermore, if the cabin filter is not replaced regularly, mold, fumes, and dust start building up and becoming a source of further contamination.
First, yes, it’s air from the great outdoors, but how many things are there in nature that you want to avoid? Pollen? Mold spores? Dust? Debris? Just like you have a filter on your air conditioner or furnace at home to keep your home free of nature’s detritus, your vehicle may have a filter for your car’s cabin to keep your breathable air clean. Think about allergens? Do you suffer from hay fever? A cabin air filter cleans your air so things that cause breathing issues are not as big of a concern, even during allergy season. Perhaps your health issues are worse than simply the mild discomfort of allergies. Do you have asthma? Emphysema? Other conditions that make it hard to breathe? You don’t want any dust coming into the car from the dirty roadbed to attack your lungs and potentially lead to severe health problems.
And of course, we’ve only talked about the natural things found in air, but what about other non-natural things such as the exhaust of the car in front of you, the smoke from the cigarette of the guy next to you in a traffic jam, the pollution that fills up the highways with toxic smells and fumes. Do you want to breathe all of that in? No, you need a cabin air filter, and you need to make sure it’s functioning properly and truly providing you clean, breathable air.
How Do I Know If I Need to Replace My Cabin Air Filter?
Standard recommendations would be to change your cabin air filter every year, or approximately every 12,000 miles, whichever comes first. Fortunately, this is not a mechanical matter and there are key signs that every car owner should be able to recognize to know that it is time to replace your cabin filter
What are some other signs that your cabin air filter needs attention?
If there’s a musty odor in the cabin that smells a little like the air isn’t circulating? That probably means it isn’t. Likewise, if the air conditioner or heater doesn’t seem to be working as well as they used to, there may be a problem getting that air to you through a clogged filter. A filter may even make a whistling sound if there’s something caught in it, like leaves, dirt, or debris.
If you travel in a particularly dusty place very often--taking dirt roads many times or in an area where dust storms are common--then you’ll want to change it a little more frequently. Likewise, if you’re constantly in traffic jams in a heavily polluted city, that will gum up your filter faster.
And, of course, just by looking at your filter you can tell whether or not it needs to be changed. A filter is supposed to be white or off-white--not dirty brown or black.
How Do I Find My Cabin Air Filter?
Cabin air filters are not hard to find and are definitely a do-it-yourself kind of job, but they may be a little tricky to find depending on your vehicle. The cabin air filter is generally found behind your glove box, and once you find it, it’s usually easy enough to access.
Open the glove box, take everything out of it, and then carefully remove the arm that holds the box open, usually on the right side. After this is removed, usually by pulling it over a hook, there are two small plastic tabs that release the glove box.
Once the glove box is removed, you’ll see the housing of the cabin air filter. Usually, there are plastic latches that keep it in place, and once you remove those latches the air filter will pop right out. It may be dusty when you pull it out, so you may want to have a vacuum handy.
Some cars have the air filters accessible under the hood. In all cases, it’s best to consult your owner’s manual before you start taking anything apart. Some cars may use different pins, clips, screws, or wing nuts to fasten the filter in place.
Once you have removed it, you’ll be able to put the new one right back in and replace all the hardware. It’s not a hard job--definitely not something you need a mechanic for--and you’ll have better breathable air again in no time.