Replacing the fuel filter in your car is a pretty standard bit of maintenance that you should get taken care of regularly. Luckily, compared to many repair jobs that you can do on your car, replacing the fuel filter is fairly cost-effective. It will probably cost you between $50 and $175 to get your fuel filter replaced by a mechanic.
Obviously, there is going to be a range of costs based on where you live in the country, and the make, model, and year of your vehicle. The fact is that repairs done in Beverly Hills are probably more expensive than repairs that are done in small town Montana. Likewise, if you're driving around in a Toyota Corolla, the cost of replacing a fuel filter will probably be different than the cost of replacing the fuel filter if you're driving a McLaren F1.
Even within the same town, the cost of jobs like this can vary greatly. A lot of businesses will offer deals on things like fuel filter replacements if you're going in to get other work done. And no doubt that you've already noticed what one mechanic charges can be greatly different from one another mechanic in town charges.
We always recommend doing your due diligence and researching the mechanic before you get any job done, even one that is as small as a fuel filter replacement. It's always best if you have a mechanic that you consider yours, one that is reliable and trustworthy who you know will provide quality service at a good price. If you don't have a mechanic like that right now, then your best bet is to rely on some guidance from friends and family who have experience.
Another good way to figure out if a mechanic is going to be trustworthy and also reliable is to check out online reviews. Both Google and Yelp are extremely helpful in letting you check out the reviews posted by other customers to give you an idea of the kind of service you can expect with any given mechanic. It's never a bad idea to consult with these to help you determine to whom you should give your business.
If you're in the market to simply replace the fuel filter on your own, you could always head to AutoZone and see what it costs to buy the filter brand new. New fuel filters are surprisingly cheap, and you can find them for as little as $4 while others can get up to around $40. It's important to make sure that you get a fuel filter that actually fits in your car, however. You can check with your owner's manual to find out exactly what kind of filter you should be getting before you put any money in it.
What is a Fuel Filter?
Every time you fill up with gas at the pump, there's a potential for contaminants to get into your fuel tank. The fuel filter is part of the fuel system that takes the gasoline from your tank and sends it to the engine of your car where it will be ignited in the combustion chamber to provide power to the vehicle. The filter is there to catch any small bits of dirt, debris, or whatever else might have gotten into the fuel so that it can't contaminate the engine and cause issues with the combustion process.
Fuel filters work the same as any other filter in your vehicle like the air filter or the oil filter. There is like a fine mesh film inside of it that the fuel is filtered through and even the smallest impurities will be caught. As you can imagine, if the filter ends up getting clogged with too much debris and mess, it's going to affect the overall performance. Likewise, if it breaks down, then it won't be able to properly filter out the debris which in term can get into the engine of your vehicle.
There are a couple of places in your car where the fuel filter could be located. It could be inside the fuel tank itself right where the fuel exits the tag into the fuel line. It could also be somewhere further down the fuel line closer to the engine. Typically, this will be accessed from under the car. Your best bet if you're looking for it and aren't sure where to find it is to check your owner's manual to find out for sure.
Symptoms of a Bad Fuel Filter
There are some definite signs that you should look out for if your fuel filter has started to fail. As with any problems in your vehicle, there could be other causes for some of these problems. That said, your fuel filter is a good place to start looking if you notice any of this happening.
- Engine Stalling: When your fuel filter is clogged with debris or otherwise malfunctioning, the correct amount of fuel is not going to be getting through to the fuel injector and into your engine. When you're not burning the right amount of fuel, then your car is simply not able to function properly. That's going to lead to things like engine stalls.
- Engine Misfires: If your fuel filter is clogged enough then you'll notice that as you put greater stress on your engine, it will start to misfire. When you are accelerating to a high-speed or heading up a steep incline, the demands on your fuel will be greater. With a clog in the filter, you won't be able to get the precise mix needed for combustion to occur and you'll be getting misfires. If this happens over a prolonged amount of time you can cause some serious damage to your engine.
- Lack of Engine Power: One of the easiest ways to pinpoint the problem with an issue in your fuel filter is when your engine isn't able to keep up with the demands you're putting on it. This occurs most often when you're trying to go over a hill or some other kind of inclined. As you press down on the accelerator, you'll notice that the engine isn't responding the way it should and you might actually end up getting reduced power over what you had been experiencing instead of an increase. This is because you're not able to increase the amount of fuel being fed into the combustion chamber. The engine will be working as hard as normal, but it won't have the matching fuel to meet the demand, and that leads to the lack of power overall.
- Car Won't Start: In the cases of a severely fuel filter clogged, even when you have a full tank of gas you may not be able to get the engine to start. This means you have a completely clogged filter however and no fuel is getting through. This would be exceedingly rare, and you would have noticed some of these other issues happening earlier. You should have been experiencing things like misfires and stalls prior to this happening. The only way that this would happen out of the blue and your fuel filter would be the cause without there being other symptoms would be if some excessive contaminant had been added to your fuel tank.
- Check Engine Light: The check engine light is a very vague warning for most drivers. It can mean any number of problems has occurred, so it doesn't really narrow the field down to your fuel filter. However, if your fuel filter has failed it may trigger this light going off due to a lack of fuel pressure. Many cars have a pressure sensor to check the pressure of the fuel line, and a clogged filter will trip that sensor and then caused this light to go off.
- Bad Fuel Pump: If your fuel pump is not functioning properly the fuel filter could be the culprit. When the filter is too badly clogged then the fuel pump will be working overtime to try to draw more fuel. Consider it like when you're vacuuming in your house and something blocks the end of the hose. It could end up burning out to the whole unit because it's unable to do its job properly with a clog in the line.
Can I Replace My Own Fuel Filter?
A fuel filter will typically last at least 30,000 miles. That used to be the old rule of thumb for changing them in fact, but these days fuel is a lot cleaner than it used to be and a fuel filter will not be under as much stress from routine driving. Why old filters were recommended to be changed every 30,000 miles, some of them can last as much as 60,000 miles or more now especially if you're using high quality fuel in your car.
Replacing the filter is a fairly simple task relative to some other car repairs. If you're confident doing things like replacing the oil filter in your car, changing tires, and so on, you may be able to handle changing the fuel filter on your vehicle as well. You need to get your car out on jacks to pull this off, so if you're not confident doing that, then it may be best to get a mechanic to do this for you.
As with any repair jobs, if you've never done it before, your best bet is to look up some guides online that can walk you through it. There are a number of websites that can give you a step-by-step process for replacing the fuel filter in your car.
Thanks to the popularity of YouTube, there are also a wide array of very high quality videos made by skilled, licensed mechanics who can also guide you through the process of changing your fuel filter. These are great because you get to watch and real-time how it works which can make it easier then repeating written instructions for some people. And of course, you can always go back and watch parts again if you aren't sure about how something is done.
As we mentioned, a new fuel filter can be as little as $4. When it's something that cheap, it's definitely in your interests to learn how to make the repair yourself if you want. You can save yourself a significant sum of money if you're able to handle this task on your own, rather than taking the time and money to get a mechanic to do it for you.
One thing to be aware of is that it can actually be problematic to try to change your filter if it hasn't been changed in a very long time. If it's been over 100,000 miles since it was done it could be so called that as you try to remove it, you may end up dumping contaminants into the fuel line. That could be worse in the long run, so in this case it might also be in your best interest to let a mechanic get the job done.
The Bottom Line
When your fuel filter is not working properly the problems that it can cause for your engine are definitely things you want to be on the lookout for. If you are suffering from things like misfires and stalls, that means that you're putting a lot of extra stress on your engine as it's trying to properly burn fuel but coming up short.
In time it could cause some serious damage to the pistons in the valves in your engine. for the cost of a $4 fuel filter you could end up saving ourselves several thousand dollars worth of damage to your engine. It's not hard to figure out the math on this one and see that replacing your fuel filter is something you really want to do as soon as you realize it's a problem.
It's a cheap fix even if you go to a mechanic to get it done, and if you do it yourself it's extremely cost effective as well. There's no reason not to get it done as soon as you realize there's a problem.