What Happens When Your Air Filter Is Dirty

If you’re new to vehicle maintenance, you may wonder how many air filters in a car. There are two: one for the cabin and one for the engine. Both play vital roles in your comfort and your vehicle’s performance.

Since filters get dirty with use, you must replace them periodically. If you don’t, you’ll notice a negative impact on your truck.

Uneven Cooling

Your car’s AC pulls air from outside, cools it, then blows the chilled air into the cabin. The cabin air filter strains out particles that reduce air quality:

  • Dust
  • Pollen
  • Pollution

When the filter is too full, air can’t pass through it properly, leading to inconsistent flow. You may also notice a musty scent as the compressor blows old dust into the cabin.

Dirty Engine

Oxygen is a key component in combustion, the chemical reaction that powers car engines. To provide this oxygen, your vehicle draws air from outside. The engine air filter then strains out dirt and debris, ensuring nothing dangerous adheres to or grinds against the removing metal parts. When the engine air filter gets too dirty, it doesn’t function as efficiently, letting in particles that can harm your car’s system.


Air compressors help you maintain your car’s internal temperature. These parts cycle on when the temperature rises, allowing your AC to run and cool the cabin. They cycle off once the temperature is ideal.

Unfortunately, a dirty filter can interfere with this process. As a result, the compressor may frequently cycle.

Reduced Fuel Efficiency

When your AC runs constantly, it uses more energy than normal. Unfortunately, that energy comes from fuel, which can lower your vehicle’s overall fuel efficiency. That means replacing your air filter can save you money.

Less Engine Power

When the combustion process doesn’t get enough oxygen, it can’t generate the necessary power to run your engine. The result is poor acceleration.

Strange Noises

If air can’t pass through the engine filter into the combustion chamber, your engine may start vibrating. These movements can cause strange noises:

  • Coughing
  • Popping
  • Sputtering

Misfiring Engine

Lack of air isn’t the only issue with dirty air filters — there’s also the matter of debris. Bits of soot and dirt can disrupt ignition by smothering spark plugs. When this happens, your vehicle may misfire or jerk.

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Figuring Out When To Change Your Air Filter

While the above are sure signs you need a clean air filter, it’s better to replace this part before you notice changes. When you do so depends on your vehicle’s make and model, as well as how much you drive.

Most experts recommend replacing the air filter every 15,000 to 30,000 miles. Of course, different drivers take different amounts of time to cover that distance. If you don’t manage 15,000 miles in a year, you should replace your air filter annually. Doing so ensures your air quality remains high.

Finding a cabin air filter replacement is easy when you have the right assistance. When you visit your local automotive store, an employee can answer your questions and help you get a filter that fits your make and model.

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