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Engine Air Filters Vs Cabin Air Filters: Is Cabin Air Filter And Engine Air Filter The Same?

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The main difference between engine air filters vs a cabin air filters is that the engine air filter is responsible for preventing or contaminants into the engine and damaging it. On the other hand, the cabin air filter filters the air getting inside your vehicle, which impacts how clean the air you're inhaling as you're driving.

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Your vehicle contains a lot of different filters, and each filter performs a different job. In general, these filters are responsible for preventing any contaminants or debris from getting to sensitive components and causing major damages.

Maintaining perfectly running filters is one of the most important jobs that you must keep all the time if you don't want to deal with major breakdowns that could cost you thousands of dollars.

There is a common misconception that engine air filters and cabin air filters are the same, and typically, they're referred to as air filters. However, that is not the case. This article walks through the difference between engine air filters vs cabin air filters. It highlights the job of each one and explains to you the importance of each one of them.

Engine air filters vs cabin air filters: is the cabin air filter and engine air filter the same?

Many drivers and even mechanics use the term air filter to refer to either the cabin air filter or the engineer filter. That's why it can be a bit confusing for inexperienced drivers to differentiate between the two, thinking that they are the same.

Let's take a closer look at the difference between the cabin air filter and engine air filter:

1-    Cabin air filter

Your cabin air filter is a small minor component responsible for cleaning the air getting inside your vehicle. With this filter, all contaminants or debris coming from the outside do not make their way to your vehicle, and that's why you'll breathe cleaner air.

This filter is extremely critical for people with respiratory problems or probably allergies that might impact their health. However, when the cabin air filter is partially clogged, your vehicle won't necessarily stop working, and you'll still be able to drive the car, but you're going to be inhaling air that is not filtered.

2-    Engine air filter

On the other hand, the engine air filter is a more critical component, although it's not very expensive. It is responsible for ensuring that the air getting inside the engine is clean enough to maintain the job for your engine to perform properly.

Unlike the cabin air filter, when the engine air filter is clogged, you'll deal with major breakdowns that could cost you the entire engine. In addition, you'll notice that your vehicle's overall efficiency is dropping significantly, and you might need to use more gas or deal with situations referred to as low gas mileage.

Since the engine air filter has to do with your engine's performance, it is very critical that whenever you deal with air filter clogging to take care of it immediately, which means that if you can wait on a dirty cabin air filter, you cannot do so when dealing with a dirty engine air filter.

Which is more important, the engine air filter or the cabin air filter?

In general, automotive experts recommend having clean filters all the time, whether it's the engine air filter or the cabin air filter. However, if you're looking for prioritization and what's more critical to take care of, it's the engine air filter.

Yes, with the cabin air filter being dirty, your vehicle's interior won't be as clean as before, but it won't impact your vehicle's drivability. In addition, you are often driving with the windows opened, which means that you are already inhaling unfiltered air most of the time. Thus, some drivers even drive their vehicles when the cabin air filter is not in the car.

However, when the engine air filter is completely clogged, you might deal with significant breakdowns that do not wait, which means that if you must choose between replacing the engine air filter or the cabin air filter, you should go with changing the engineer filter immediately.

Does engine air filter affect AC?

Not necessarily. As we indicated earlier, the cabin air filter is the one connected to your AC system. When it is completely clogged, you might deal with inefficiencies in how the age system operates.

However, suppose the engine air filter is completely clogged. In that case, you'll deal with the drop in new vehicles' overall efficiencies, and probably this might impact how your vehicle operates, including how the AC system operates as well.

What happens if you don't change your cabin air filter?

Although we mentioned that your vehicle will still run if you have a clogged cabin air filter, there are many negative consequences that you might deal with, including:

1-    Issues with your health

Since the cabin air filter cleans any air that gets inside your car, ignoring her place, this air filter leads to inhaling dirty air, as we indicated earlier. That's why if you have certain health conditions related to your respiratory system, it is critical to maintaining a clean air filter all the time.

2-    Troubles with the HV AC

Running a vehicle with a dirty air filter all the time leads to damages in your HV AC system. In addition, this system will work more stressed, and this might lead to shortening the lifetime of the system, which could cost you a decent amount of money to get it repaired.

3-    Issues with the window fog

Depending on your vehicle and the season you're driving in, dealing with a dirty air filter might lead to impacting your visibility. For example, if you're driving during foggy weather, you won't be able to clear the windows because this system is connected to the AC system. Thus, if you know that you frequently drive in certain weather conditions that could require needing the window clearing system, you must maintain a clean cabin air filter.

4-    Troubles with weird odors

If you ignore replacing the air filter for a long time, you'll feel that the car smells more like a dusty or musty smell. That's why you'll feel that the driving experience will be uncomfortable most of the time. Thus, to prevent dealing with these weird odors, we recommend that you replace the air filter immediately.

What's the difference in cost between the cabin air filter and engine air filter?

Both air filters are not very expensive; however, the cabin air filter is slightly cheaper than the engine air filter. The cabin air filter cost ranges from $15 to $25, while the engine air filter ranges from $20 and $85.

The good news is that replacing both the cabin air filter and the engine air filter is not a complicated job, which means that it's something you can do by yourself to save a ton on labor costs. If you don't feel comfortable replacing any of them, leaving it to professionals and having a mechanic do the job is better. You don't necessarily need to go to a dealership where labor cost is much more expensive, but you can rely on a small independent shop.

What are the common symptoms of a dirty engine air filter?

As we indicated earlier, replacing the engine air filter is critical because it impacts how your vehicles function. That's why you must keep an eye for symptoms indicating that the engine air filter is going bad or about to go bad.


Let's take a closer look below:

1-    The filter will look dirty

If you take a closer look at the air filter and perform a quick visual inspection, you'll see that the filter is dirtier than before. That happens, it might indicate that you need to replace the filter immediately.

2-    Reduction in the vehicles fuel efficiency

If your engine does not receive the required amount of cleaned air, you'll see a significant reduction in your vehicle's overall fuel efficiency. This is because the engine will be stressed all the time, and it will require an additional supply of fuel to generate the required energy. Thus, you'll realize that you need to visit the gas station more frequently than before.

3-    Engine problems, including misfiring

Your engine requires a specific amount of fuel and air to be mixed with a spark supply. If there is any problem with the mentioned elements, you'll deal with engine misfiring. Since the air filter might impact the airflow from the intake valve to the engine, it is rare to deal with engine misfiring because of a clogged air filter.

4-    Weird engine noises

Because the air filter is not clean, your engine will stress to pull the right amount of air needed to generate the combustion process.  Therefore, you might experience some weird hiccups or vibrations coming from the engine site. Whenever you notice any weird noise coming from your vehicle, whether related to the engine or not, you must take it seriously because it can be linked to a serious problem.

5-    Illuminating check engine light

Depending on the severity of the air filter clogging, you might realize that your vehicle throws a check engine light, especially if you're dealing with engine misfiring. However, when that happens, you cannot immediately replace the air filter because the issue might be linked to another thing. Therefore, you will need to consult your mechanic and get an idea about what needs to be fixed.

6-    Fuel smell

Finally, since the engine uses more fuel than air, it will be obvious that the engine is overconsuming fuel, which will appear in a strong fuel smell. The fuel smell might be linked to an internal fuel leak, which can be a serious issue; why. You must take it seriously and have your mechanic perform a thorough inspection to confirm the culprit and fix your vehicle.

Engine Air Filters vs Cabin Air Filters: Final Thoughts

Many people get confused between the engine air filter vs the cabin air filter. That's why it is critical for you as a driver to understand the main difference, so you don't deal with major complications underestimating one of them.

The cabin air filter is linked to your AC system, which is supposed to clean the air getting inside the vehicle. However, the engine air filter cleans any air inside the engine and combines with the fuel to generate energy.

Since the engine air filter is involved in the engine's performance, you must maintain a perfectly clean engine air filter all the time. However, even if the cabin air filter got clogged, it doesn't necessarily mean that you'll stop driving your vehicle.

If a dirty engineer filter leads to complete engine damage, it is not the end of the world because you can still sell your car and use its value to purchase a better vehicle. Not many potential buyers are interested in buying a vehicle with major engine problems, but cash cars buyer does.

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