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Dirty Air Filter: Causes, Symptoms, and Repairs

Dirty Air Filter: Causes, Symptoms, and Repairs

Some of the common symptoms of a dirty air filter include

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  1. Dirty air filter appearance
  2. Reduction in the vehicle’s fuel economy
  3. Engine misfiring
  4. Weird engine noises
  5. Check engine light illuminating
  6. Significant reduction in the horsepower
  7. Weird smoke coming out of the tailpipe
  8. Fuel smells inside the vehicle

While the air filter is a minor component in your vehicle, it plays a major role in the engine’s performance and the vehicle’s fuel economy. Therefore, when dealing with a dirty air filter, you must replace it immediately to avoid major complications that could cost you thousands of dollars.

Many symptoms indicate your vehicle has a dirty air filter, and whenever you notice any of these symptoms, you must change the filter to improve the vehicle’s performance.

This article serves as the ultimate guide to dirty air filters in vehicles. It highlights the main causes, symptoms, and potential solutions whenever you deal with air filter issues.

What is the air filter, and what does it do?

The air filter is one of the simplest components in your vehicle that you can easily change and replace without needing a professional. As the name suggests, the filter prevents contaminants, road grime, pulling, dirt, or any debris from getting to the engine.

Typically, the air filter is located in the air intake valve, where air passes through this filter before it reaches the engine and gets mixed with the fuel in preparation for the combustion process.

Although the air filter is a minor component, it plays a major role in your engine's operation. Unfortunately, since the air filter collects debris and contaminants, it gets partially or completely clogged overuse. That's why whenever the air filter gets dirty, you must replace it immediately so you don't deal with undesirable outcomes that impact your vehicle's performance and fuel economy.

What are the symptoms of a dirty air filter?

When the air filter gets dirty, you must detect the issue as early as possible to prevent engine problems. Luckily, your vehicle will communicate with you immediately and show you some symptoms indicating that your vehicle's air filter is due for a change. Some of these symptoms include:

  1. Dirty air filter appearance

The easiest and quickest way to confirm that your vehicle is due for air filter replacement is to inspect the air filter visually. For example, if you looked at the air filter itself and found it much dirtier than what it used to be when you first installed it, then it's time to change it.

Whenever you inspect the air filter, you must look when there is adequate light because sometimes it can be hard to see the contaminants and debris when it's very dark.

  1. Reduction in the vehicles fuel economy

Your vehicle's combustion system requires a specific amount of air to fuel mixture to produce the right energy. However, the mixture ratios will be impacted when the engine does not receive the right amount of air due to a clogged or dirty air filter.

That's why a very common symptom of a dirty air filter is reducing the fuel economy. So, therefore, whenever you notice that you visit the gas station more frequently than before, it might be an issue related to a bad or dirty air filter.

  1. Engine misfiring

As we indicated earlier, your engine must have the proper amount of air and fuel to work properly and generate the necessary energy. When your car fails to pull air because of a clogged air filter, you will see some signs of misfiring.

  1. Weird engine noises

When your engine is challenged to receive the right amount of air, it will make weird noises. Typically, a perfectly running engine with a new air filter won't make loud noises, and the oxygen flow will be more like a smooth purring noise. However, when the air filter is clogged, you'll hear some hiccups or probably some rattling noises every time you idle.

  1. A check engine light illuminating

When the air filter is completely clogged and the vehicle has a really hard time working properly, the car will immediately throw a check engine light. Therefore, it is important that whenever you see a check engine light on the dashboard that you take it seriously and consult your mechanic immediately to prevent dealing with major problems that could cost you thousands of dollars down the road.

  1. Significant reduction in the horsepower

The vehicle's horsepower relies heavily on how much oxygen is supplied to the engine. When the air filter is partially or completely clogged, you'll notice that the vehicle behaves differently when accelerating. For example, the acceleration might sound a little bit sluggish, or the probable vehicle won't respond as fast as it should.

  1. Weird smoke coming from the tailpipe

Typically, the smoke coming from the tailpipe should not have a clear color. Over the time of owning your vehicle, you should know when the smoke is not normal. Therefore, if you realize that the smoke looks more black, indicating that the engine is burning more fuel than normal, it's probably an issue with a dirty air filter.

  1. Fuel smell

Anytime you got into the vehicle and noticed a strong fuel smell, the problem might be related to insufficient air supply. Sometimes when the engine doesn't receive a lot of air, it will burn more fuel, and you will smell this fuel strongly inside the vehicle's interior. Therefore, it is important that you immediately consult your mechanic and resolve the issue before it gets more complicated.

Remember that many of the mentioned symptoms might be related to a different faulty component. Therefore, whenever you notice any of the listed symptoms, you must perform additional inspection and have your mechanic use specific tools to confirm that the issue is coming from a dirty air filter.

How much does it cost to replace a dirty air filter?

Dirty air filter replacement costs depend heavily on getting the job done because the part itself is not very expensive. According to experts, purchasing a new air filter should cost you somewhere between $10 and $25. On the other hand, labor costs should be somewhere between $20 and $90 depending on where you get the job done.

Since labor cost is the biggest component for replacing a dirty air filter, many drivers prefer to replace their dirty air filter to save on labor costs. First, however, you must follow a specific procedure to do the replacement properly without causing any mistakes that could cost you a lot of money down the road.

Can I replace my air filter?

Of course, yes! Replacing most filters in your vehicle should not be a complicated job. The air filter is one of the simplest repairs that you can do by yourself without needing a professional. There are plenty of youtube videos and many articles like this one that explain the process in detail. Therefore, you should not be hesitant about trying it and changing your on air filter without needing a professional. Once you've done it once, you should be able to do it next time without any issue.

How to replace a dirty air filter?

If you confirm that your vehicle's air filter is dirty, then you have to either clean it up or replace it when necessary. Replace the air filter; here's all you need to do:

  1. Locate the air filter

The first step in replacing The Dirty filter is to locate the filter. Typically, this filter is located somewhere under the hood inside the engine compartment. Next, you should find a filter housing that contains the oil filter. If you have a hard time locating this filter, we recommend that you go through your vehicle's owner's manual for detailed guidance.

  1. Remove the old air filter

Once you get to the air filter housing, take out the old air filter but be very careful about the electrical harness connected to it. In some scenarios and depending on your vehicle type, the air filter housing might be connected with either clip, clams, or probably screws. So take a closer look and inspect what type of tool you'll need to remove the housing itself outside of the engine compartment.

Once you remove the housing, open it up and take out the old air filter that will look dirty. Then, inspect the air filter and check with our it's restorable or not. In other words, depending on the status of the air filter, you might be able to easily clean it up and remove the dirt out of it so you can use it again. However, it might not be worth the time, and instead, experts recommend installing a new air filter, which should not cost you a lot of money.

  1. Compare the new to the old air filter

One of the important tips and tricks when replacing the air filter is to compare the old and new air filters to confirm that you purchased the right filter. Also, as you compare the two, you must check how was the old air filter installed in the first place. This is because direction matters when it comes to installing the new air filter.

  1. Install the new air filter

After the comparison and once you note how the old air filter was installed, you can go ahead and insert the new air filter in the air filter housing, then reconnect the housing to the engine compartment the way it was done before.

  1. Give your vehicle a test drive

After installing the new air filter, you must give your vehicle a test drive and notice if any symptoms indicate that the air filter is not working properly. However, you should not notice any of the mentioned symptoms in this article immediately after installing the air filter because all stress on the engine should be eliminated.

However, if you realize that there are some weird issues and different behaviors, you should consult your mechanic and have him perform a thorough inspection to detect whether you've done something wrong as you're replacing the air filter.

Conclusion

The air filter is a critical component in your vehicle, and it plays a major role in how much air gets to the engine. Unfortunately, when the air filter is used for a long time, it gets dirtier as it collects many debris and contaminants from the road to prevent them from reaching the engine. A dirty air filter impacts your vehicle's performance and causes a reduction in fuel economy and that horsepower.

Whenever you deal with The Dirty air filter, it is important to you that you change it immediately before dealing with major complications that could cost you a lot of money.

If your vehicle suffers from other major mechanical problems, changing the air filter might not be worth it. Therefore, you must evaluate your vehicle's overall status and compare repair costs to your vehicle's price. If you realize that repair costs are piling up and there beyond your budget, you might make the most sense to sell the car and use its value towards a better vehicle.

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