You know to clear out your clothes dryer's lint filter every time you use it so that your laundry dries quickly and your machine runs efficiently and stays in tiptop shape. And your furnace filter likely gets a cleanout on a regular basis to prevent dust, dirt, molds and bacteria from blowing about your home. When filters are clean, machines run better, their parts last longer and your energy costs are lower because those machines and systems don't have to work overtime. The same applies to your car.
When your car's various filters are cleaned or replaced on a timely schedule, your car performs better and thus gets improved fuel mileage because it doesn't have to work harder while in use. For example, the Car Care Council advises to "replace dirty or clogged air filters in older vehicles to improve gas mileage by as much as 14 percent."
When your filters are neglected, contaminants from the environment and from within the car's systems -- including contaminants your car creates through chemical reactions, wear and condensation -- can put your vehicle at risk for extremely pricey parts replacements and even complete breakdown of the car itself.
With so many working parts, a car needs a line of defense against contaminants, as well as a smooth flow of air, fuel and oil throughout the system to stay in prime working order. Filter maintenance is an easy and inexpensive method of protecting it.
Here are the main filters to care for before they cause damage to your vehicle:
--Air filter. The air filter prevents damaging dirt, debris, dust, bugs and other contaminants from entering your engine's carburetor air intake. When your air filter is dirty, your engine has to work harder, which could result in lower gas mileage, higher emissions, emissions problems during inspections and even a loss of engine power. When an old air filter is replaced, you'll notice better performance right away, such as improved acceleration and improved throttle response.
--Cabin air filter. A relatively new type of filter that began appearing in vehicles in 2002, the cabin air filter prevents dust, pollen, dirt, soot, smog, smoke and other contaminants from entering the inside of your car via your air conditioning and heating vents. This filter is a must if you suffer from allergies. Those with allergen sensitivities can tell when their filter isn't entirely clean; they start experiencing allergic symptoms such as sneezing and sniffling while in their vehicles. Even those without allergies may suffer, because a clogged air filter can cause poorer air quality inside your vehicle than exists outside on the street. When this filter is allowed to get dirty and clogged, you'll experience weaker air flow from your vents, which can tax your engine and also cause delays in cooling or warming up your car's interior. Plus, dirty filters can cause destruction of the HVAC systems in your car. Cabin air filters should be replaced every 12,000 miles to 15,000 miles, or per the owners manual, according to the Car Care Council.
--Fuel filter. Even a small reduction in fuel flow can greatly impact your car. Rust, dirt, sediment and other fuel impurities are captured here so that they don't enter the carburetor and clog the system's jets. A dirty or clogged fuel filter can cause reduced fuel supply to the injectors, poor acceleration and lesser fuel economy -- meaning your tank of gas doesn't get you as far as it usually does. You may also notice vast differences in how often you have to refuel for the same distances. Neglect of this filter can also cause a complete vehicle breakdown.
--Transmission filter. This filter is essential to trapping dirt and metal filings from within the working parts of the car, protecting the delicate internal transmission mechanisms.
--Engine oil filter. This filter traps sludge, dirt and even metal filings, allowing only pure oil to circulate throughout the engine for optimal efficiency and the protection of all of your engine's valuable parts.
In general, car filters should be replaced every 12 months or 12,000 miles, but your particular car model may have its own specific filter-cleaning schedule, which you'll find in your owners manual. Your personal, trusted car mechanic also can advise you on which filters need to be cleaned or replaced more often for your car's best performance.
While it is possible to change your own filters, your mechanic can take care of these maintenance tasks. A big advantage of professional attention to filters is that while under the hood, your mechanic may spot a potential problem brewing elsewhere and take care of it before it becomes a pricey problem for you.
When you change your car's filters on a regular maintenance schedule, or as needed, cleaner air, fuel and oil flow freely through your vehicle as they would if it were a new car, reaching peak performance and reducing the risk of any car part replacement needs. These filter cleanings and replacements are far less expensive than, say, a replacement of even one car part. So it's an ounce of prevention that can really pay off.