The purpose of the engine air filter is to clean the air used by the engine. Since it draws this essential air in from outside the engine, small particles of dust, dirt, oil and even small obstructions like gravel have a way to get inside the engine. We often find pet food in air filters in the winter months as mice take it back to nests made in the air filter housing. Regardless, once inside, these particles can contaminate engine oil and act as an abrasive, causing premature engine wear. To prevent this, air filters are installed on all modern engines. The filter is designed to catch all of these particles and deposits.
A dirty air filter can also cause other systems to run ineffectively, such as your emissions control system, which regulates the car’s air-fuel mixture. A dirty air filter can also cause your spark plugs, which ignite the fuel in the combustion chambers, to foul, as there will be too much fuel without enough air; if your spark plugs foul, you may have problems keeping your car running. You may also find that with a dirty air filter you will have decreased engine performance and possibly increased fuel consumption. However, a study done by the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in 2009 commissioned by the US Department of Energy, found that a clogged air filter on newer fuel injected vehicles had no affect on fuel efficiency, but it did decrease performance. Tests did find that by changing a dirty air filter on an older carbureted engine could improve fuel efficiency by 2-6 percent.
Because these contaminates accumulate over time, filters must be replaced regularly. The Car Care Council recommends that you should have your air filter checked at each oil change and you should replace the filter at the carmaker’s recommended mileage intervals or duration. However, you may need to replace more frequently if you live or drive often in dusty areas. Replacing the air filter for your car will generally be pretty cheap. An air filter is a paper-like or fibrous material, folded accordionstyle and arranged on a plastic or metal frame to fit your car’s air filter holder. Older carbureted engines air filters have a circular construction while vehicles built from the 1980s on are typically flat and rectangular. There are more permanent and expensive after-market air filters available which can be cleaned and also claim to improve performance and fuel efficiency.
You can tell if your air filter needs replacing by looking at the outside of the filter for accumulated dust, dirt, grease, and other contaminants. More important, fold open the paper pleats and look for dirt inside the filter. It often helps to shine a flashlight through the filter from the inside. If light does not shine through or shines through unevenly, it may be time to replace the filter. Some of newer pickup trucks and SUVs also have an air filter monitor that measures air flow through the filter, and will indicate when it is time to replace.
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