Your car’s air filter needs to be replaced at specific intervals (usually every 15,000 kilometres). Depending on your driving conditions, the air filter can get clogged with dust overtime. But not many people know that the air filter also needs to be cleaned every once in a while. Cleaning the air filter regularly not only prolongs its life but also keeps the engine from choking. A clogged air filter can result in loss of performance, fuel economy and high emissions. Cleaning the air filter between changes ensures your car runs better and more efficiently. Here’s a step-by-step guide on how to clean the air filter: Washing vs Vacuuming There are different approaches to cleaning the air filter. While some people recommend using a cleaning solution, some others might suggest using a vacuum cleaner. There are pros and cons to both. The soap approach might get the filter cleaner but it is time consuming and has a higher risk level as you have to ensure the filter is dry before you reassemble it. Putting a wet filter can damage the engine. Vacuuming on the other hand is safer, but it might not get as many contaminants out of the filter. Here's a video of how a paper type air filter is cleaned using a soap solution:
Here's a shot of a dirty foam type air filter from a Mahindra Scorpio:
Instead of using a vacuum, this filter was cleaned using an air pressure gun:
Locate And Remove Your Air Filter Go the through the car’s instruction manual to locate the position of the air filter. If you don’t have an owner’s manual, you can check the internet or ask your mechanic the next time your car gets serviced. The filter is usually easy to access and is in a little canister or box and easily be pulled out. The air pressure is usually located just after the air intake and before the engine. This shot shows the location of the air filter on a Skoda Laura
Cleaning The Filter If you are using a cleaning solution, use a bucket with a soapy water solution. Swish it around and pull it out. Shake or squeeze the filter to get as much liquid out. Set it down on a towel to dry but make sure you give it enough time to dry off completely as a wet filter can damage the engine. If you are using a vacuum cleaner, run the vacuum over the filter for a minute on each side. Check again to see if there is any dirt or dust left on the outside and repeat the process if necessary. The Skoda Laura's air filter needed a replacement. Check out the difference in colour between the old and the new one.
Cleaning The Canister Or Box Always make sure you clean the canister or box too while cleaning the filter. A soft cloth or a paper towel will do a good job. Make sure you don’t leave any dirt or dust behind. If you use anything wet, make sure the canister or box is completely dry before you putting the filter back in. Sure the canister or box back on again when you are done. This shot shows the box in which the air filter in a Scorpio sits. While cleaning the air filter, it is important to clean this box as well. Also, ensure that the box is dry before putting the air filter back in.
Types of air filter There are four main types of air filters used in cars: Paper filters: The most widely used type of air filter, the filter is made of an industrial quality paper that is pleated in an accordion fashion to increase surface area. The accordion arrangement lets more dust be trapped in the spaces between. Some say these filters usually decrease fuel efficiency and engine power while others say this is not true unless it gets significantly clogged. These filters are relatively cheap to replace.
Foam filters: Less widely used, these filters are popular with those who live in dusty areas or those who take part in off-roading or rally racing. The foam is a polyurethane soaked in an oil. They come in different grades of foam and can vary in thickness as well. These two factors determine the air flow capacity and the dirt holding capacity of the filter. These filters are usually found in SUVs and utility vehicles.
High performance filters: Made of cotton gauze or wire mesh, these are more popular among those who own sports cars, road-rally cars, competition trucks or those who just want to increase their air intake and power of the engine. These filters are usually more expensive than the standard paper filters, especially if bought with a cold-air intake system. These aftermarket filters can be bought from specialty dealers across the country. Brands that make these filters include K&N, Green Cotton, BMC and Pipercross.
Cleaning a high performance filter requires a different method. These filters are cleaned with a bottle of air filter cleaner and a can of air filter oil. Here's a video showing how it should be done:
Oil bath filter: This type of filter were popular till th introduction of paper filters in the 1960s. This messy filter consisted of a pan of oil over which an insert of fibre, paper, mesh or similar material was fitted. Incoming air flows rapidly over and around a series of turns. The air must take a turn at high velocity over the oil pool where the heavy elements of the air contaminants are unable to make the turn and are captured by the pool of oil. The lighter particles that make it over the oil are captured by the inter. These are considered obsolete as they are a hassle to change. The large black pressure cooker like apparatus you see on top of the engine is the oil bath air filter. This example is from an old Volkswagen Beetle.
FAQ - Air Filter What does an air filter do? The air filter is a component of the intake system. As the engine runs, air comes in through the air intake and passes through the air filter which cleans the air (removes dust, pollen, told spores and dust mites). The air that comes out of the filter is then mixed with the fuel. This air-fuel mixed then compressed inside the engine’s cylinder. as pressure builds in the cylinder, the spark plug forehand ignites the air-fuel mixture forcing the piston down into the cylinder. The piston turns the crankshaft which in turn turns the wheels. So the air filter provides clean air to the fuel. A dirty air filter reduces the amount of air for the air-fuel mixture and can choke the engine and also reduce fuel efficiency. How often should I change my air filter? An air filter should be changed before it jeopardises the car’s performance. A dirty air filter will hurt fuel economy, performance and even emissions. Car manufacturers recommend that the air filter be changed every 15,000 kilometres. It also depends on your everyday driving conditions. If your driving is mostly confined to dusty environs like a metropolis or a dirty rural road, you must clean your air filter more often. For a dusty metro like Delhi NCR, Roshun recommends you clean the air filter every 5,000 kilometres. How do I know if my air filter needs to be cleaned? The common method for determining air filter replacement is a visual inspection. Remove the air filter and see whether it is clean or dirty. Alternatlively, you can remove the air filter and tap it with a screw driver. If you see dirt falling from the filter, it needs to cleaned. How do I change my air filter? Locate the air filter housing by looking for the air intake tube at the engine. The air filter housing is usually a box just ahead of the engine. The box can be opened by removing the retainer clips or screws and pulling off the lid. Replace the old filter with a new filter and reassemble.
[SIZE=14px] How often should I change my air filter? An air filter should be changed before it jeopardises the car’s performance. A dirty air filter will hurt fuel economy, performance and even emissions. Car manufacturers recommend that the air filter be changed every 15,000 kilometres. It also depends on your everyday driving conditions. If your driving is mostly confined to dusty environs like a metropolis or a dirty rural road, you must clean your air filter more often. For a dusty metro like Delhi NCR, Roshun recommends you clean the air filter every 5,000 kilometres.
The standard change interval that most car manufacturers recommend for the air filter is 20,000 km. However, it does require cleaning far more often, given our dusty conditions. Like NikilSJ pointed out in the first post, just take a look at how dirty the Scorpio's air filter is. And that's at just 5,000 km. As a good practice, I get the Scorpio's air filter cleaned every 5,000 km. In fact, it makes sense to just replace the filter element every 10,000 km (it costs Rs. 525 for the Scorpio, an expense I don't mind for clean air and peace of mind). Mahindra's recommended interval is 20,000 km. Changing an air filter element is a simple DIY that most people can do with simple tools - spanners, screwdrivers or allen keys - depending on the car.