Car Engine Air Filters: A Complete Guide

Your car’s engine air filter is a critical component for keeping debris out of the engine so it can perform at its best. Discover how to replace your engine air filter (with no specialized tools or knowledge) and boost your car’s performance for under $20 in less than 30 minutes!

What Does Your Car Engine Air Filter Do?

The answer to this is actually quite simple. Your air filter keeps dirt, debris, leaves, and any other pesky thing out of your engine so that it can operate at peak efficiency. They are often made of a pleated paper or cardboard material and are either in the shape of a rectangle or a cylinder depending on your specific vehicle’s engine. They will also come with either a rubber or plastic rim that will assure the filter properly locks into its designated area.

It is extremely important that you change out your air filters in a timely manner, as they have a massive impact over your vehicle’s ability to properly function. A dirty air filter can lead to any or all of the following symptoms:

  1. Decreased Engine Power
  2. Poor Acceleration
  3. Higher RPM (more wear on engine)
  4. Rough Running Engine

When your air filter is clogged or dirty, your engine’s air-to-gas ratio will be affected, which will greatly impact your vehicle’s ability to run efficiently and even lead to driveability issues. If left unchecked for too long, a clogged filter can cause catastrophic engine failure. 

On the other hand, regularly changing your air filter will improve engine performance.

Benefits of Changing Your Engine Air Filter

Some studies show that replacing a dirty engine air filter increases the fuel mileage on older carbureted vehicles by up to 14%. For modern cars, changing the air filter has been shown to increase gas mileage by 10% and boost acceleration by as much as 11%. Changing the air filter at factory-recommended intervals prolongs the life of your vehicle, trapping dirt and debris that can infiltrate internal engine parts and lead to costly repairs.

In order to maintain maximum vehicle power and better fuel economy it is essential that you as a car owner keep a close eye on the condition of your air filter and always replace it when needed.

How Do I Know When I Need To Change Out My Air Filter?

Air filters are typically replaced every 15,000 to 60,000 miles, depending on your make and model and how you drive. If you find yourself driving on a lot of dirt roads or putting your car under high levels of stress, then you need to be checking your air filter more often. 

Our automotive specialists recommend changing your air filter once to twice a year to make sure it is operating properly. If you’re looking for an easier way to keep up with routine maintenance items (like when it’s time to replace your engine air filter) the FIXD Sensor will keep track of all this for you on the maintenance timeline inside the FIXD app. You’ll automatically be alerted when it’s time for a new filter, oil change, tire rotation, and more so you never forget.

Here are some of the top signs to look out for that it’s time to switch that sucker out:

  1. Your car has issues with acceleration.
  2. You are noticing the RPM is higher than usual.
  3. You do a visual inspection of your air filter and it is extremely dirty.

These are not the only signs that might point to an air filter issue, but they are by far the most common.

Air filters are extremely cheap and relatively easy to install by yourself in about 30 minutes using the steps outlined below, but don’t let that fact fool you into thinking that they aren’t important. A good air filter can mean the difference between driving your vehicle for years on end with no problems or having to replace your engine after only 2.

How-To Replace Your Air Filter

Below are the steps you must take in order to replace your engine air filter. These steps are relatively simple, and the whole process shouldn’t take very long at all. Just make sure you pay close attention!

  1. You must go about purchasing your replacement filter. Filters are relatively cheap, normally under $20, and are pretty easy to purchase either online or in an auto store. There are some high end brands that can go up to $50, but these are extremely high performance, and not really necessary if you aren’t doing a lot of heavy stress driving. It is IMPERATIVE that you look up your vehicle’s Make, Model, and ENGINE SIZE before purchasing your air filter! Air filters are specific to engine size, and each model of a car can have various engine sizes, so be extra careful when you are looking up this information. You can find this information readily available in your car owner’s manual, and also on the good old internet.
  2. Put the car in park, turn off the ignition, and put the hood of your car up. Make sure that you have secured the bonnet so that the hood does not fall on your head while you are working!
  3. Find the air filter cover, and remove it. The cover is normally held down by either clips or screws, but as long as you have a screwdriver near you, these should be easy enough to remove. You can usually find your air filter cover between your engine and the front grill.
  4. Now it’s time to take out the old air filter. This is usually as simple as just lifting the filter up or out.
  5. Clean old filter? If you take out your old filter and see that it is not terribly dirty, you can clean it and reinsert it if you wish. To do this, all you have to do is use an air hose attached to an air compressor to blow away any dirt or debris that is attached to the filter.
  6. Insert the new filter. If you decide the new filter is necessary, all you have to do is insert it into the area that held the previous filter. Make sure that the rubber or plastic rimming on the filter is facing upward and that it is sealed to the edges of the air filter house.
  7. Re-attach the air filter cover. This should be done using the screws or clips referenced earlier in these directions.
  8. Close the hood, and be sure to check up on your air filter regularly or get FIXD to automatically alert you when it’s time to replace!

Engine Air Filter Brand Recommendations

FRAM Automotive Air Filters

In terms of quality car air filters, FRAM pretty much leads the pack. The brand is known for its reliable and sturdy filters, as well as their signature bright orange coloring. They have multiple filter designs available, along with extensive sizing options, so you can be sure that they have something to fit your vehicle. They also won’t break the bank, as FRAM’s filters are all under $15 on Amazon.

EPAuto Automotive Air Filters

This brand is on most every list of best car air filters, and for good reason. They make some awesome filters, they do it all for a very low price that typically doesn’t reach above $10. They are readily available online, and are typically cheaper than their OEM counterparts, making them a great option if you are on a budget.

Pro Tip: Their high performance filter, the EPAuto GP171 Advanced Engine Air Filter, is only compatible with Toyotas. Their other filters are compatible with a wider variety of vehicles.

Mann Automotive Air Filters

Mann is a German brand that makes a cool variety of filters. One of their filters, the Mann Filter C 3698/3-2 Air Filter, is actually specifically made to help keep allergens and other harmful particles out of your engine. The brand prides themselves on providing top-quality products that exhibit a high dust holding capacity while also maintaining consistent air flow to your engine. Overall, a great product for its price, and one that takes your specific needs into consideration.

Toyota Genuine Air Filters

Toyota is a massive company that has long made some of the best vehicles in the market. Their OEM engine air filters exhibit all of the top-quality features we would expect from such a trusted brand, and the will greatly increase the fuel economy of your Toyota vehicle if you decide to purchase them.

Once again, FIXD wants to bring up the importance of COMPATIBILITY when it comes to air filters! If you do not have a Toyota vehicle, then these filters may not fit your car. If you do own a Toyota, purchasing a Genuine Toyota filter is, in our opinion, the best option for you!

Pro Tip: Purchasing the Toyota Genuine filters is really cheap if you do it through Amazon!

Effortlessly Stay on Top of Air Filters & Maintenance with FIXD

Want to keep your car running smoothly… without the hassle? Replacing your air filter will help your engine last longer and perform more efficiently. But we understand that keeping up with filters, fluids, tires, wipers, and everything else you have to deal with on the daily can get a little overwhelming. Fortunately, FIXD can help.

The FIXD Sensor and free app not only translates your check engine light into plain English right on your phone (saving you tons of time and money at the repair shop), but it also alerts you when it’s time for routine maintenance based on your specific vehicle make, model, and mileage. You won’t even have to bother with the owner’s manual anymore. Get FIXD to save your engine and your sanity!

Was this post helpful?

Comments 0

Allen Muchnick

October 7, 2020

You don’t mention the option of reusable replacement air filters, such as K&N brand.


January 20, 2021

Great point! Thank you, Allen 🙂


October 7, 2020

I most certainly disagree with your statement on Fram filters leading the field in air filters maybe purchased wise but certainly not the best air filter!


January 20, 2021

Thank you so much for your feedback, Paul! We would love to know what you think is the best air filter out there.

James A Carroll

February 11, 2021

That depends what you consider “Best”. Fram filters tend to clog sooner and require replacement more often because the filter smaller microns size particles – a good thing if you want the engine to perform over 300k miles.

Gretchen Schneider

October 7, 2020

Good to find support for DIY. Bravo to you guys and gals.


October 8, 2020

Aw shucks! Thank you so much, Gretchen. That makes our day to hear 🙂


October 7, 2020

Thanks. Very good insight.


October 8, 2020

Thank you so much for the kind words, Al! 🙂

Shamron PriceBrooks

October 9, 2020

I can’t get my engine air filter housing to close securely and I need help


February 11, 2021

Then it’s either installed incorrectly or is the wrong filter for your particularly engine. Some models had different filters in the same production year.

Santiago nieto

October 8, 2020

Thanks good info, most people just look at the price, and as long as it fits.


October 8, 2020

You’re welcome, Santiago. 🙂


November 16, 2020

Thanks Fixd for the info on how to replace your Air Filter.


January 20, 2021

You’re welcome, Ethel! 🙂

James Carroll

February 11, 2021

One way to extend the life of an engine air filter is to shake it blow out heavy debris like bugs. If you hold the filter up to the sun or a bright light and can barely see light coming thru it, it’s time to replace it as it has caught a great deal of fine dust.

en English