When you stop at a shop for an auto checkup, replacing the engine air filter probably doesn’t come to mind. The air filter can easily be forgotten compared to other maintenance like changing the oil. As a result, you might not remember how much it costs to replace one. We checked out different engine air filters on the market to give you an idea of what the bill will be.
The price of a new engine air filter will vary depending on your vehicle's make, model, and year. Air filters are usually cheap, so you can expect to pay as low as $10 to anywhere around $70 for one. If you have a mechanic replace it, the estimated cost can jump up to a range of $60-$170 because of added labor charges. The cost will also change depending on the type of filter you buy.
Some shops might charge more or less for labor depending on where you live, but you can always DIY to save an extra buck. The type of air filter you choose will also impact the price, and it can affect how you replace future filters down the line. We’ll go over what else to expect when looking for an air filter, how much the manufacturer actually affects the price, and how to tell when you need a replacement in the first place.
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Factors that will impact the price of an air filter
The car brand and model don’t impact the overall cost as much as you’d think. If you search online for a filter for an “exclusive” brand like BMW, you’ll see more expensive filter replacements pop up first. Keep shopping around, and you can often find a proper replacement filter for a more modest price.
You’ll see the biggest change in filter prices depending on the type you buy. The cheaper paper filters range from $10-$30 and are disposable. You have to buy a new one each time you need a replacement.
The more expensive filters are reusable and start around the $40+ range. Reusable filters are made out of better, durable materials so they can be washed and used again. Even though they are double the price of their disposable counterparts, reusable filters can save you a decent amount of money over the lifetime of your car.
When you’re shopping for air filters, you’ll also see different “fits” in the product description or title. A “vehicle-specific” fit will only work on a particular make, model, and year. In comparison, the “universal fit” filters can fit in a set of vehicles depending on the shape and dimensions.
How Often Should You Replace Your Engine Air Filter?
You can expect to change your air filter every 12,000-15,000 miles, but you can find a specific timeframe in your owners’ manual. Auto mechanics might suggest you change the filter more often. Some car owners claim that an air filter can last up to 30,000 miles depending on driving conditions. Replacing the filter is a relatively cheap repair that keeps your car healthy, so we suggest replacing it a bit early rather than waiting too long.
Other factors can affect how often you’ll need to replace your filter, such as the climate you live in. If there is a lot of sand or dust in the air like a beach or desert, then you’ll have to replace the filter more often than what’s recommended.
What Happens If You Don't Replace the Engine Air Filter?
If you don’t replace the engine air filter, it will start to impact the vehicle’s Heating, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning system (HVAC) and engine. The filtered dirt and debris will become so thick it will clog and prevent air from flowing to the engine. Dust, dirt, and debris can build up around the engine as well. Eventually, this buildup can even mess up the spark plugs, so they don’t work properly. Your engine might take longer to roll over on ignition or have a harder time starting in general. If you open the hood and find that your engine is dirty, click here to see how to safely wash a car engine in 8 steps.
A stopped-up HVAC will also affect the car's entire emissions system, and you might be at the mercy of hot and cold weather. A clogged filter could also impact how easily or quickly you can clear your windows of ice or fog-like condensation using your primary defrosters.
Does the Engine Air Filter Affect Gas Mileage?
Yes, the engine air filter can affect the gas mileage of your vehicle. Your car or truck can absorb more than 10,000 gallons of oxygen for each gallon of gas used. Oxygen keeps the engine’s system of internal combustion running smoothly. As you probably know, fire and many forms of explosives need a strong oxygen source for their chemical reactions, and the same applies to your engine. The better access it has to oxygen, the more efficiently it will run. Changing a dirty air filter has improved gas mileage by as much as 10%. This might not seem like much at first, but if you’re on a budget, the savings will pile up over time.
What Are the Symptoms of a Bad Engine Air Filter?
A clogged filter can cause problems throughout your car, so there is a wide range of noticeable symptoms. The easiest way to check is by opening your car's hood and checking the filter for dirt and debris. It’s easier to see this in daylight or with a flashlight, as some particles (like pollen) aren’t readily visible. A lighter or whiter filter is in good condition compared to a darker, dirty one.
Your vehicle might tell you the air filter is bad through warning lights on your dashboard. Check your owners’ manual to see which dashboard symbol corresponds to the air filter. In many cases, the service engine symbol might show that the engine isn’t functioning very well.
Here a list of other symptoms that can show you need to check your filter:
- A dirty or musty smell from the air system
- Loss in acceleration or power
- The engine takes longer to turn on
- A decrease in gas mileage
- Colored smoke coming out of the exhaust pipe
- Smelling gas when the engine starts
While these symptoms could also indicate other problems with your car, checking the air filter is quick and easy. It’s best to rule out the filter (which is cheap) before spending good amounts of money on other potential issues in your vehicle. That being said, we do recommend going to a mechanic shop or your nearest dealer to be sure it isn’t a bigger problem. Having professionals double-check your engine is always a good rule of thumb.
Is It Easy to Replace the Engine Air Filter?
Yes, the air filter is easy to change. Some car owners even consider it the easiest part of car maintenance. Most mechanic shops will charge labor fees for replacing the air filter, but you can easily save a few extra bucks by doing it yourself.
Here’s a quick list of steps to change your engine air filter:
- Open the hood of your car and find the engine air filter box. It’ll be a black box adjacent to the engine with a hose sticking out of the side.
- Carefully open the filter box because the cover can be attached to other essential parts. Release the air filter housing by removing screws, clamps, nuts, or other parts holding the filter in place.
- Remove the air filter and wipe away any lingering debris in the filter housing.
- Put the new filter in the housing with the rubber side facing up. Make sure it sits correctly. Secure the new filter, close the box, and you’re good to go.
If you’re unsure about any of the steps or have trouble locating your air filter box, always consult your owners’ manual for more information.
Now you know when to replace the engine air filter and how much it will cost and how to DIY. It’s a simple but important part of maintenance to keep your car running efficiently. Don’t delay replacing your engine air filter. If changing the filter doesn’t help freshen the air in your car, you can read our guide on how to effectively deodorize your car.