What is the most important part of your vehicle? And to be clear, we aren’t talking about the best-looking component or the one that has the most money sank into it.
Of course, many people take great pride in aesthetic modifications like body kits and custom paint jobs. But when it comes to the components that actually make your vehicle move and take you from point A to point B, there are few parts more precious than the engine.
It could be argued that every mechanical part of a vehicle is important to some degree – and even that the whole is greater than the sum of all the parts. This is true, and it also highlights another interesting fact about the engine.
That fact is that the engine depends on a wide variety of components, each with its own important function. One of these is the car air filter.
What is this component? What does it do? And how do you know if it is working correctly?
What’s an Air Filter? Why Is It Important for Your Car?
When we think of air filters in vehicles, we often think about air conditioning. But this isn’t what we’re talking about in this case. Here, we’re referencing a component that impacts your engine. More specifically, it impacts the amount of airflow your engine gets.
As everyone knows, engines get hot when they’re operating even for short periods of time. And while we all may know that oil is used to help with the lubrication of the engine and its components to reduce friction, proper airflow is equally as important.
But as air flows in, it doesn’t come alone. Instead, it can carry debris, pollen, and other types of contaminants with it. These contaminants can get inside your engine, leading to a lot of problems. These can include:
- General Engine Trouble: With plenty of moving parts and tight quarters, there is little room for foreign materials within. Even a small amount of dust buildup or a small pebble can cause you big problems and, in some cases, cause your engine to stop working correctly.
- Oil Contamination: You need clean oil to keep your engine working properly and to keep it at the proper temperature. When you have contaminants get inside your engine, your oil can become sludgy much faster and you could end up having to change it much more often.
- Improper Airflow and Overheating: When a filter gets clogged up with dirt, dust, and debris, it is impossible for air to get through efficiently. This means you’ll be putting your engine at risk for overheating, which could lead to hundreds or even thousands of dollars in damage.
These are some of the main problems you’ll face when it comes to a clogged or compromised air filter. Here’s a guide on how to tell if your car air filter isn’t working properly – and some tips on what you can do to correct the problem before it gets costly.
How Do You Know if Your Car Air Filter Isn’t Working Correctly?
Your vehicle can be thought of a lot like your body – it will tell you when something isn’t right, but you have to know how to listen to it.
A sick person may find themselves feeling less energetic, sore, increasingly tense, weak, or nauseous when there is something wrong with their body. Likewise, a car can show some noticeable signs when the car air filter isn’t working right.
Sometimes it isn’t as simple as looking at a gauge on your dashboard, but it can be easy to tell when something’s amiss if you look for these common warning signs.
Your Gas Mileage Isn’t What It Used to Be
If you’re efficient with how you manage the contents of your tank, you’ll notice this type of change immediately. When your vehicle doesn’t get enough oxygen due to a dirty, clogged air filter, it will compensate by consuming more fuel in place of it.
This is another incentive to keep your air filter in good shape. It can save you – not just from a malfunctioning engine in the long run, but from paying more for gas over weeks or months.
Your Horsepower Isn’t What It Used to Be
Horsepower is another thing most people keep an eye on when it comes to their vehicle. When you press the gas, does your vehicle respond quickly? How about smoothly? Both a lack of acceleration and jolting movements can be a sign of a problem.
When your vehicle’s engine isn’t getting enough air, it will have to strain to work harder and reach a higher level of horsepower. This is bad for the engine and all the components attached to it, so it is best to act fast.
The Engine Misfires or Misses
When you turn your key, does your engine start easily? Did it used to start a little easier? How about the way it runs – when it is idling, does it feel uneven or jumpy? This can be the result of many different issues, but a dirty air filter is near the top of the list.
This problem can also impact other parts of your engine. If your filter is dirty and deprives your vehicle of oxygen, that’s a big problem. But the nearby grime can cause spark plug contamination, which can lead to more severe engine trouble.
The Auditory Warning Signs Are Present
Going back to the comparison of listening to our bodies like listening to our cars, the latter can be taken in a much more literal sense. While bodily health problems are most notable by odd sensations we feel, car problems like clogged filters can be discovered by taking note of odd noises coming from your car.
Rough idling due to air filter problems can result in a coughing, sputtering, or slipping sound. Damaged spark plugs, which can result from air filter issues, can also be noted by listening to odd noises emanating from the engine.
The Visual Warning Signs Are Present
The first visual warning sign of engine trouble could also fall into the auditory category. That’s because your Service Engine light may also be accompanied by an intermittent ringing sound or a voice cue. This is an obvious sign something is wrong, and it can put you on track to discovering air filter issues.
Another visual cue is noticing a lot of dirt and grime in the filter itself. You could also see black smoke coming from the exhaust due to air filter issues. If you see this, get to the mechanic, fast! And consider getting towed there to be on the safe side. Where there’s black smoke, fire isn’t too far behind.
A Gasoline Scent is Noticeable
When your air filter is clogged, it can stop your carburetor or fuel ejector from getting the proper amount of oxygen. If this happens, excess unburnt fuel can exit through the tailpipe or even permeate in there for long periods of time.
This is what can lead to the black smoke mentioned above, but you won’t just see the problem – in some cases, you can smell it. A strong scent of gasoline is a direct sign of engine trouble, and your air filter could be the main culprit.
As we can see, there are plenty of ways to tell if your car’s air filter isn’t working correctly. Looking, listening, and even making note of any odd smells can tip you off that there is an issue. When you do find that your car air filter is having a problem, what should you do?
Fixing Car Air Filter Issues Before They Worsen
The first thing you should remember when it comes to car air filter issues is to act fast. These are the types of issues that can grow worse over time, and compound in severity every time you use your vehicle. Therefore, it is imperative you address air filter issues quickly.
In some cases, your air filter may simply need to be cleaned. A gentle brush or a soft cloth can be used to remove contaminants from the filter, and ensure air can flow through it properly. But in some cases, the filter may have become so damaged because of ground-in contaminants that you could need to replace it.
Different engines may use completely different filters, so it is wise to check your owner’s manual before you pay for any type of a new filter. But should you change it yourself, or pay someone else to do it?
It all comes down to how comfortable you feel doing it. Remember, if you think you’ll botch it, the money you save from going to the mechanic could pale in comparison to the cash you’ll put up to fix the resulting problems.
Then again, changing a filter isn’t that tough. If you think you have a good handle on it and have done your research, you could save money by making this a DIY project. Every time you open your hood, take a quick glance at the filter – it can help save you a lot of time, money, and headache in the future.
Keyword: car air filter