Car Care Advice

How to Change Your Air Cabin Filter in 4 Simple Steps

Reading Time: 4 minutes

Changing the cabin air filter is a maintenance item that is good for you and your car.

Most modern vehicles are equipped with an air cabin filter to limit the contaminants from entering the car and keep the air smelling fresh and clean. Just like your engine air filter, though, the cabin filter can get clogged affecting the performance of your car’s air conditioning system as well as the air quality inside your vehicle.

If you’re asking “can I change my car air cabin filter myself,” the answer is most certainly “yes.”  If you take your car to a shop for oil changes or other maintenance, chances are they’ve tried to upsell a cabin air filter replacement. In fact, air filters are one of the 5 most common mechanic upsells. But what you may not know is that doing this job yourself will save a considerable amount of money and is a very easy task that usually requires no tools.

Exact instructions for replacing your car’s cabin air filter are usually found in the owner’s manual, but here are the basics for how to change the cabin air filter in your car.

Step 1: Open the Hood

On the majority of vehicles, the cabin air filter is located inside the car, but even so, the first step you should take is to open the hood. All cars get fresh air from the base of the windshield (called the cowl), which is where the windshield wipers are located. Do a quick inspection of this area to ensure it is clear of any leaves or any other debris that could affect air flow into the cabin. You can pick up larger items with your hands and use a small brush or a water hose to clear off the rest of this area.

Step 2: Locate Your Car’s Cabin Air Filter

The easiest way to locate your car’s cabin air filter is to check the owner’s manual, but these filters are usually found in the passenger-side footwell area. If you no longer have the owner’s manual or if the instructions aren’t clear, you can always check brand-specific forums or even videos online for the location and removal procedures. Some disassembly may be required to gain access to the cabin filter such as the glove box or plastic covers found under the dash, although very rarely will any sort of tools be required for removal of these pieces. Once you’ve located the cabin air filter housing, you’re almost there. Before you can get to the actual filter, there will probably be some sort of cover that either opens or slides off.

Step 3: Remove and Replace the Cabin Filter

On some vehicles, getting the cabin air filter out is the easy part. Since the area under the dash is very tight, it can take a little finesse to get the new air filter back in place. There is usually an arrow to indicate the filter’s intended air flow, but other than that, you just want to be sure that the filter gets installed properly without being damaged.

Step 4: Reinstall All of the Removed Components

Needless to say, once you have the new cabin air filter in place, it’s time to button things up. Be sure to properly attach the filter cover, and then put any of the items you may have removed back on.

Common Questions about Cabin Air Filters:

How Often Should You Change The Air Filter in Your Car?

In-cabin air filters should be replaced at regular intervals, which can vary by different automakers. Generally speaking, this tends to be recommended every 15,000 miles or so. Of course, if you frequently drive your vehicle in dusty conditions or high-pollutant areas, then you’ll probably want to replace the air cabin filter more often.

What If My Car A/C Still Smells Bad?

For stronger smells that won’t go away, in addition to changing the air cabin filter, you may also need to try an odor neutralizer that can be sprayed into the HVAC vents. There are plenty of products available at auto parts stores that use an aerosol spray and a long nozzle to shoot deodorizer down into the HVAC housing to reduce smells coming from the heat and A/C system.

Does Changing your Car’s In-Cabin Air Filter Make a Difference?

Most drivers probably don’t think about their air cabin filter until the inside of their car starts to smell or the attendant at the oil change shop adds one to the upsell list. The truth is, this is an easy maintenance item to address yourself to save lots of money and feel a greater sense of accomplishment. 

The car used to visualize this story is my friend’s Chrysler Pacifica minivan, and he was given an estimate of more almost $70 to replace the filter from a tire store. I took him to the local auto parts store where he bought a filter for $15 plus tax, and then I walked him through the steps to replace it himself in less than 20 minutes.

By following the simple steps above, you’ll be well on your way to improving the air quality of your car and saving money. Try it yourself one weekend and be sure to let us know how it goes!

Lifelong automotive enthusiast with a soft spot for offroading. Wrencher turned writer, but I still love to tinker on just about anything with an engine. Dream car: tie between a ‘71 Hemi ‘Cuda and a ’91 GMC Syclone. #GirlDad #SaveTheManuals

Jeffrey N. Ross
Lifelong automotive enthusiast with a soft spot for offroading. Wrencher turned writer, but I still love to tinker on just about anything with an engine. Dream car: tie between a ‘71 Hemi ‘Cuda and a '91 GMC Syclone. #GirlDad #SaveTheManuals

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