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What Happens If You Have A Dirty Cabin Air Filter?

Change the air filter

If you're wondering, “what happens if you have a dirty cabin air filter?” you might deal with weird, musty smells coming from the AC system, visual debris and contaminants entering your cabin, troubles with the defogging and defrosting system, and complete damage in the air system blower in some difficult situations.

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Your car contains a lot of filters responsible for cleaning up certain components. These filters need to be cleaned all the time to achieve the proper job. Failing to keep these clean filters results in many negative consequences, and some of them might be critical, while others might impact how comfortable you are in your car.

Since the cabin air filter has to do with your health and safety, you must learn what happens if you have a dirty cabin air filter. This article helps you understand what you will experience when you ignore replacing or cleaning the cabin air filter. It will also walk you through the main benefits you'll get from maintaining a clean air filter all the time

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

Before we dive into the details about “what happens if you have a dirty cabin air filter?” It is critical to understand what the air filter in the first place is and why it is important.

The air filter is in the vehicle's cabin area and is responsible for maintaining fresh, clean air inside your vehicle all the time. Therefore, it's critical to differentiate between the cabin air filter and the commonly known engine air filter.

The engine air filter is a different filter in the engine compartment and is responsible for cleaning the air getting inside the engine to be burnt during the combustion process. Obviously, the engine air filter is the one that has to do with how the engine performs, and when it's dirty, you might deal with significant problems.

On the other hand, the cabin air filter is also important because it does not allow any debris or contaminants from getting inside your vehicle .that's why the cleaner the oil filter, the fresher the air inside her car, and this becomes extremely critical if you're having some respiratory health-related problems.

When maintaining a clean cabin air filter, you'll achieve the following benefits:

  • Get rid of any contaminants, pollutants, dust, or bacteria from the air getting inside the vehicle
  • Prevent any weird bad smells that could come from the HV AC system and impacts how comfortable you are when driving your vehicle
  • Ensure that there is enough flow of air towards the defogging and defrosting systems, which impacts your visibility and prevents hazardous situations

What happens if you have a dirty cabin air filter?

One of the worst things that could happen when your air filter is dirty is complete or partial damage to the system air blower motor. However, the good news is that your vehicle will show you some initial symptoms indicating that the air filter is due for replacement before you get to the point where the air system blower motor fails.

Let's take a closer look at some of the common symptoms that he'll experience when your cabin air filter is dirty:

1-    Strange smell

One of the first negative consequences of a dirty air filter is a weird, unpleasant smell coming from the AC system. Automotive experts always indicate that whenever you notice any strange smell coming from your vehicle, you must never ignore it because it's a way for your car to bring your attention to resolve internal problems.

2-    Debris and contaminants entering the cabin

When the air filter is completely clogged, you'll start seeing some debris and contaminants coming inside the cabin, which is not a pleasant situation, especially if you're driving some family members or friends.

3-    Issues with visibility

The cabin air filter is also connected to the defrosting and defogging systems. That's why when the cabin air filter is clogged; you'll find it hard to get rid of fog or frosting on the windshields, which impacts your visibility—so depending on your driving environment and the weather, dealing with a dirty cabin air filter might significantly hazardous situation.

4-    Loud noises from the blower motor

Finally, when the cabin air filter is not clean, you'll experienced some weird loud noises coming from the blower motor indicating that it's not receiving enough air and something is clogging the pathways.

As a rule of thumb, whenever you notice any strange noises coming from any component around your vehicle, you should take it seriously and consult your mechanic to resolve the problem before it gets more complicated and results in repairs that require a lot of money.

Since replacing the cabin air filter is a very simple job, you always recommend that you replace the air filter immediately whenever you deal with the mentioned symptoms. This helps you eliminate the problem and ensures a healthy environment inside your car. You never want to get to a point where the air system blower motor fails, and you have to install a new component because it adds up on repair costs.

How often should I replace The Dirty cabin air filter?

Typically, you might need to replace the cabin air filter once every 12,000 miles or 12 months, whichever comes first. However, if you notice that some symptoms indicate that the cabin air filter is clogged, you'll have to replace it before hitting the 12,000 miles.

Placing the air filter in your cabin might also be impacted by your driving environment. For example, if you feel that the area around you or the season contains a lot of debris or contaminants, you'll need to replace it more often than other people who drive in cleaner environments.

Can a dirty cabin filter affect engine performance?

No, a dirty air filter does not necessarily have to do with your engine performance because there is a common misconception that the cabin air filter is the same as the engine air filter.

As we indicated earlier, the cabin air filter is located inside the cabin and has to do with the AC system and the airflow inside your vehicle's interior. At the same time, the engine air filter is in the engine compartment and is the one who's responsible for impacting the engine performance when it starts.

Note that sometimes a dirty air filter in your cabin might indirectly impact engine performance by causing additional stress when it's dirty, especially if you turn on the AC system. However, this situation is very rare, and this happens only when your engine is already weak, enhanced certain problems.

Will a dirty cabin air filter affect AC?

Of course, yes! The cabin air filter is directly related and linked to the AC system, and when the filter is not clean, it impacts the amount of air getting inside the vehicle and affects the ability of your AC system to cool down the air. That's why you'll notice that whenever you turn on the AC system, the system is just blowing warm air rather than cold air.

This problem with the AC might be linked to other potential faulty components, which means that your mechanic needs to perform a thorough inspection before confirming that it's an issue with The Dirty cabin air filter.

Can a dirty cabin air filter make you sick?

It depends.

The cabin air filter impacts how clean the air gets inside your vehicle. That's why if you have certain health conditions, if cold air coming inside the vehicle is contaminated, you might feel sick. In other words, certain air contamination levels due to Dirty air filters might lead to some allergic reactions that might be more severe for people suffering from sinus congestion.

Thoughts, if you don't feel OK when driving your car, consider checking the cabin air filter and if you find it dirty, check with your mechanic if you need to clean it up or replace it. This obviously depends on how old the air filter is and how dirty it is.

Can I run my car without a cabin air filter?

The short answer is yes, you can run your car without a cabin air filter, but it's never recommended. The cabin air filter won't stop your vehicle from functioning but running a car without a cabin air filter leads to significant damages in some time.

The cabin air filter does not only help you breathe clean air by preventing particles from getting inside the vehicle, but it also eliminates any dirt or contaminants from getting to the HV AC system, which impacts how the AC system functions.

Therefore, it's never a good idea to continue driving your car with that dirty air filter or without an air filter. Replacing the air filter is not a complicated job and doesn't require a lot of money. Therefore, there is no clear reason for continuing to drive your car without and cabin air filter.

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

To replace a cabin air filter, expect to pay between $15 and $50. Labor costs might add up to this price range, and that's why many drivers prefer to replace their air filters themselves because the parts are not very expensive, and the job is not very hard.

Are all cabin air filters the same?

No, there are different types of cabin air filters that you might experience and find in the auto market. Each filter has its characteristics, which means that you can achieve better airflow and better quality when choosing certain cabin air filters.

Autoguide.com performed a thorough job in reviewing all available cabin air filters in the market as of 2021-2022, and let's take a closer look at what they recommended for cabin air filters to consider when you are looking for a replacement:

  • Epauto Replacement Cabin Filter With Activated Carbon
  • Fram Fresh Breeze Cabin Air Filter with Arm & Hammer
  • Ecogard Premium Cabin Air Filter
  • Mann Activated Carbon Filter
  • Potauto Cabin Air Filter
  • K&N Washable Reusable Cabin Air Filter
  • TYC Replacement Air Filter
  • AC Delco Cabin Filters
  • ATP Automotive Carbon Activated Air Filter
  • Purolatorone Cabin Air Filter
  • Bosch Carbon Activated Cabin Air Filter

What are the benefits of changing the cabin air filter?

There are a lot of benefits you'll achieve from replacing the cabin air filter, including:

1-    Enhancing the HV AC performance

As indicated earlier, a clogged cabin air filter leads to weird noises and strange airflow in the HV AC system. Therefore, when you replace the cabin air filter, you'll immediately notice a significant improvement in the HV AC system performance.

2-    Eliminates bad odors

Dirty cabin air filters generate a weird musty smell. When you install a new higher-quality cabin air filter, you'll immediately notice a significant improvement, and you'll have the better and more comfortable right.

3-    Get rid of some allergic reactions

Finally, if you have certain allergies, maintaining a clean air filter helps you eliminate any of these reactions by eliminating all pollen, dust, and other particles that could impact your health.


Simple components like the air filter might impact your driving experience significantly. For instance, when the cabin air filter is dirty or clogged, you'll notice some musty smell coming from the AC system, weird loud noises when the AC system is turned on, problems with the defogging and defrosting airflow, and others.

Therefore, you must keep an eye for any symptoms indicating that the air filter in your cabin is clogged. This way, you enjoy fresh, clean air inside your car, which is a significant element if you are dealing with respiratory problems.

Note that no matter how much effort you put towards keeping a clean air filter and maintaining your vehicle if your car has major mechanical problems, it might not be worth your time and effort replacing the air filter even if it's clogged. Therefore, experts recommend evaluating your repair costs and checking whether it's the time to sell your vehicle and use its money to buy a better car.

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