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What Is an Air Filter?

An air filter is one of the most important components of a car. Many people don’t realize that a car must “breathe” in air and mix it into the fuel for it to run. As the air enters, the filter removes any dirt or foreign particles that could ruin the engine or lower the car’s general efficiency.

Luckily, a car air filter is quite affordable. Despite the important role it plays, it is actually a fairly simple component. It is made of a fibrous material (quite similar to paper, cotton or fabric—depending on the brand) which is folded like an accordion and encased in a plastic or metal frame. This fits perfectly into the car’s air filter holder (often made of plastic or metal). A plastic cylinder connects these componens and also acts as a channel for the air.

The air filter material is often oiled. This serves the purpose of increasing air flow and trapping more dirt and unwanted substances. However, it also means that the air filter can get quite filthy—and once it’s blocked, several problems can happen.

A dirty air filter can lower the car’s efficiency dramatically, affecting gas mileage. It can also cause the spark plugs to malfunction. Since it’s clogged, less air can enter the car, causing an improper fuel-to-air ratio.

To avoid this, it is important to change the air filter periodically. It is recommended to do this once a year, or even more if you live in a heavily polluted area or travel frequently on dirt roads. A mechanic can change the air filter during oil changes or annual tune-up.

Featured in Autos