Drivers know that with a new car purchase comes a lifetime of maintenance. Responsible car owners stay on top of scheduled services from the first checkup to the last-gasp service. However, one piece of the maintenance routine that sometimes gets overlooked is the replacement of the cabin air filter, in part because the item does nothing to affect engine performance; additionally, the piece is often hard to reach, located out-of-sight and out-of-mind. Because a dirty cabin filter can certainly degrade your car’s interior air quality, take a moment to examine the ins and outs of filter replacement.

What Does the Cabin Air Filter Do?

Before adding a cabin filter to your auto parts purchase list, you should first understand why you periodically need to make the exchange. Cabin filters strain fine particulates, primarily dust, dirt and pollen, from the air entering your car’s vent intakes. High efficiency, folded models provide the most purification. Note, however, that cabin filters do not prevent particulates as small as airborne viruses from entering the cabin.

Why You Need To Change the Cabin Air Filter

This process is important for those with allergies, but successful filtering helps every occupant breathe more easily. Over time the filter becomes clogged. You may notice then that the air in your car smells dusty and that you sense a restricted flow of air through the vents. Counterintuitively, the musty smell seems more pronounced when you have the air conditioner set to recirculation mode. That effect results because the dirty air continues to circulate around the cabin.

Where Is The Cabin Air Filter Located?

Unfortunately, there is no standard cabin air filter location; jump among various car models, and you may have to dig around in different parts of the interior to find one. In most cases, however, they are in proximity to the glove compartment and accessible from the inside of your car, though some are reached from under the car’s hood. Thus, consider the following, general approach to be a solid outline for changing your filter.

Steps To Changing Your Cabin Air Filter

Your car’s operation manual may provide guidelines for how to change your cabin air filter. Otherwise, follow these steps: Place a cloth on the seat to prevent dust and debris from staining it. Remove pins holding your glove compartment door in place if necessary; you may have only to open the door to see the filter. Pull out the filter gently to minimize spreading dust, and note its orientation. Wipe and vacuum the filter’s holding area. Finally, install the new filter in the same orientation as the one you removed.

How Often Should You Change Your Filter?

When you notice those signs of a dirty filter, you should make the exchange. Otherwise, most recommendations state that filters should be changed at least every 15,000 miles; your owner’s manual will provide guidance. If you drive where conditions are continually dusty, replace the part more often as necessary.

For most people, the car’s interior is a sanctuary on the road. Drivers appreciate it when the car shuts out the noises and odors from the surroundings. Making a mental note to routinely change your cabin air filter will keep your interior — and lungs — free of the outside gunk.