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Symptoms Of A Bad Cabin Air Filter: What Happens When The Cabin Filter Is Clogged?

Symptoms Of A Bad Cabin Air Filter: What Happens When The Cabin Filter Is Clogged?

Here are the common symptoms of a bad cabin air filter:

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  1. Reduction in the airflow
  2. Strong bad smells
  3. Troubles with the window fog
  4. Issues with the heating and cooling system

Your vehicle contains several filters, and everyone is responsible for a certain job that prevents any contaminants or debris from getting to sensitive components. For example, the cabin air filter is responsible for cleaning out the air around you and the passengers. Of course, you need to replace this filter whenever it gets clogged, but the question always remains, how do we know if the cabin air filter is clogged?

This article provides you with some detailed information about the common symptoms of a bad cabin air filter. Whenever you notice any of these symptoms, we highly encourage you to inspect the air filter and replace it if needed.

Symptoms Of A Bad Cabin Air Filter

What is a cabin air filter?

Before diving into the details about symptoms of a bad cabin air filter, every driver needs to understand the main purpose of the cabin air filter in the vehicle.


There is a common misconception that the cabin air filter is the same as the engine air filter. However, that's not the case. The cabin air filter is the filter located underneath the glove box, and it's responsible for filtering out any air getting inside the vehicle and passengers breathing. On the other hand, the engine air filter is located next to the engine compartment, and it's responsible for filtering any air getting inside the engine cylinders.

Based on the purpose of the cabin air filter, you'll need to replace it immediately whenever you feel it's clogged because otherwise, you'll deal with some health issues related to inhaling dirty air. Therefore, the cabin air filter becomes a critical component, especially if you have some allergy or other respiratory problems that are impacted by dirty air.

Some modern vehicles rely on new technologies to filter the air significantly purify it to a very high point. For example, Tesla utilizes a new technology that provides clean air inside the vehicle tens of times cleaner than the filtered air in regular vehicles.

No matter what type of technology your vehicle relies on, it is important that you keep an eye on this air filter and replace it whenever you think it's dirty.

Symptoms of a bad cabin air filter: what happens when the cabin filter is clogged?

Since the air filter collects all debris and contaminants, it's expected to get clogged over time. Therefore, whenever you know that the air filter is clogged, you'll have to replace it to enjoy the clean and fresh air. However, failing to replace the air filter impacts the quality of air and impacts certain systems in your vehicle that rely on the air filter.

Let's take a closer look at some of the common symptoms of a bad cabin air filter that you will notice once it's clogged. Of course, whenever you notice any of these symptoms, you must replace the filter right away:

When Should I Replace the Cabin Air Filter

1.    Reduction in the airflow

The first and most common symptom indicates that your air filter might be clogged when you notice less flow getting inside the vehicle. For example, have you tried turning on the AC system or probably the heating system and realized that there is very limited flow coming in? That could be a problem related to a clogged air filter.

If that's the case, you'll need to inspect the air filter and other components because the problem may also be related to another culprit. Once you confirm it's the air filter, you should either clean it up if possible or replace it if needed.

2.    Strong bad smells

The cabin air filter is expected to clean out any air coming from the outside. So, for example, if you're driving around some factories or other areas that have smoke due to fires or others, you shouldn't smell these strong smells inside your car. The air filter should take care of all these depending on the air filter's quality.

However, if you realize that you are starting to smell all the bad smells from the outside, getting your air filter replaced might be a point. The dirtier the air filter, the less efficient it is in preventing bad smells from getting inside the car. Furthermore, even if there is no smell coming from the outside, you might start smelling the dirt or pollution sitting on top of the air filter itself.

3.    Troubles with the window fog

While most of the cabin air filters issues have to do with the quality of air getting inside your car, this air filter plays a very important function, which is functioning the anti-fog system.

If you've ever tried defogging the windows and realized that this system is not working, it could be a simple problem with a bad or clogged air filter. Therefore, we highly encourage you to check it out and replace it if needed.

4.    Issues with the heating and cooling system

Unsurprisingly, a clogged air filter also impacts the functionality of the heating and AC system. Since all the air should flow through the air filter first before it gets to the heating system and therefore into your vehicle, it's not surprising to know that when the air filter is clogged, you'll deal with AC system problems.

When the air filter is clogged, very little air can get inside the system. Therefore, your AC system or probably the heating system will not be able to adjust the temperature of your vehicle's interior properly.

Of course, the issues with the AC and heating systems are very broad and can be related to a long list of potential culprits. Therefore, your mechanic needs to perform a thorough inspection before confirming whether it's a bad air filter or not.

Symptoms Of A Bad Cabin Air Filter

Can I run my car without a cabin air filter?

While yes, you can't drive your car without the cabin air filter, that's never a good idea. Of course, your vehicle will not stop working when there is no or when the cabin air filter is broken, but you'll notice some of the mentioned symptoms of a bad cabin air filter, especially when using the AC and heating systems.

At some point in time, if the cabin air filter is not in the vehicle or if it's not in good condition, it's expected that you'll need some expensive repairs to the AC and cooling system. Therefore, you must have a good cabin air filter in your vehicle because it's not very expensive and replacing it will not be a very big deal.

Is the cabin air filter worth changing?

Many inexperienced drivers believe that if the component impacts the vehicle's driveability, it's not worth replacement. However, that's not always the case.

For example, even if the cabin air filter will not necessarily stop your vehicle from working when it's clogged, you must get it replaced as soon as possible. So that's only you'll enjoy fresh and clean air, but also, you'll have a more functioning AC and heating system along with a functioning defogging system.

Replacing the cabin air filter becomes essential and a must job if you have some allergies. According to recent statistics, drivers notice drastic changes in the number of allergies and allergy reactions, especially in spring and fall, once they replace the air filter.

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

Luckily, replacing the cabin air filter is not a complicated job, and it will not cost you a big deal. According to automotive experts, replacing the cabin air filter should cost you $70 and $100. However, if you decide to replace it yourself without needing a mechanic, it shouldn't cost you more than $50.

Therefore, it might be worth learning how to add a list of cabin air filters yourself because the job will not have a lot of potential consequences. In other words, many of the maintenance and car repairs should be performed by professional mechanics to avoid dealing with some mistakes that could cost you thousands of dollars. However, when replacing a cabin air filter, there's a very high chance that you will introduce any mistakes because the area you're working around does not have many components. You'll be dealing with just a couple of them.

Thus, we highly courage you to look into some of the available YouTube videos or other online articles that walk you on a step-by-step basis to replace the cabin air filter yourself. The only thing you need to keep in mind is to purchase the right filter and understand how to put it in the right direction.

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How to replace a cabin air filter?

Since replacing the cabin air filter is not a big deal, we would like to provide you with a quick summary of the main steps needed to replace the cabin air filter. Let's take a closer look below:

1.    Choose your working area

Although replacing the cabin air filter doesn't require intensive labor or specific tools, you'll need to replace it in an open area where there is a lot of ventilation. This is because the filter itself might be dirty, and it has some debris or contaminants that you don't want to inhale in large quantities.

2.    Purchase the filter

The other thing is you will need to purchase the filter before starting to work because otherwise, you might deal with a long replacement time. You can always refer to your vehicle's owner’s manual to get detailed descriptions about what type of filter your vehicle relies on.

You can also search online for your vehicle's specific type and brand to get an idea about what type of air filter fits it.

3.    Locate the cabin air filter

After purchasing the air filter, you'll need to park your vehicle in a flat area and prepare it for replacing the cabin air filter. Then, you'll need to refer to your vehicle's owner’s manual to locate the cabin air filter.

4.    Remove the old filter

Once you locate the filter, you'll need to take it out. But before you take it out, you should probably take a picture or note the direction of the cabin air filter because you'll need to install a new one in the same way. Also, it might be a good idea to compare the old filters to the new ones to confirm that you purchased the right one or at least the right size.

5.    Install the new filter

In the same fashion, you can slide the new filter in the right place and ensure that you put it in the right direction. Again, there should be some arrows on the filter itself showing you where the direction of air should be.

Symptoms of a bad cabin air filter: Final thoughts

Although the cabin air filter might not necessarily impact the driveability of your car, it is essential to have a clean air filter to enjoy the fresh air and prevent respiratory and health problems.

Since the air filter is expected to get clogged over time, you'll need to learn about some of the common symptoms of a bad cabin air filter. This way, you can replace it immediately whenever needed. But, of course, if there are several other major problems in your car, it might make the most sense for you to check out these problems and fix them before focusing on the cabin air filter.

Sometimes these problems might be beyond repairs or require extensive labor and maintenance costs. That's when automotive experts typically suggest replacing the vehicle itself and purchasing a better one that doesn't have any problem.

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