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How Often Should You Change the Cabin Filter in a Car?

Replacing the cabin air filter inside the car.

Cars have many types of filters. An important one for the quality of the air you’re breathing while driving down the road is the cabin filter.

This filter helps to take the air that enters the vehicle and cleans it for ventilation inside the car. 

The clean air comes into the car through your vents, and this process happens every time you turn on the climate control system.

While sitting in traffic the other day, there was a terrible smell in my car. I thought of the cabin filter and wondered about the last time I replaced it.

I drew a blank.

What’s the Lifetime Usefulness of a Cabin Air Filter?

A quick search on the internet shows that many car owners don’t know how often they should change their cabin filters. Experts at various car dealerships all claimed 15,000 miles.

A quick check with Bumper, an automotive information website, shows a different take on how often to change it.

A car advice blog spoke with the chief mechanic at Momentum MotorSports in Quebec, Canada, who simplified the process for readers. Gregory Prokopenko explained,

“I suggest to clients that the air filter be changed once per year and inspected every service. For areas with high dust or harsh winter conditions, that interval can go up to two or more per year.

You don’t want to be losing performance or fuel economy. It also can get to the point where the filter is so dirty that particles start making their way into the engine and causing possible damage.”

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Wait.

The pandemic changed my travels over the past year, and I’ve been driving more. I have no idea how many miles I’ve gone over the last 12 months. So, I have to change it more often.

Are there any other situations that increase (or decrease) how often I should change the cabin filter in my car?

We’ve been choking on pollen after a dry winter and rainy spring. I need to change the filter now to improve the air quality when I have my windows up and AC blasting.

What Are the Signs that it’s Time to Change the Cabin Filter?

I hate to be wasteful. That’s why I wonder if any signs tell me when to replace the cabin filter.

That’s a good question.

It turns out that there are a few symptoms that will tell you it’s time to change the cabin filter in your car.

The first sign is visible wear on the filter material. The second sign is a musty smell when you turn on your air conditioning. If you can see the filter’s fibers, it’s time to change it.

The third sign is a reduced ability for the ventilation system to cool down your car. It takes longer to feel the AC working. This could be a sign that the cabin filter is restricting airflow.

After reading the Bumper blog, I decided it was time to change it. I didn’t want to damage my SUV by letting it go too long.

Can I Change the Air Filter Myself?

The cabin filter is a specific part to change. You can get the new cabin filter for your car at any auto parts store. However, it might not be as easy to reach. As vehicles get more complex and compact, getting at the filter might be more challenging.

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Most car manufacturers recommend that you have your mechanic change the cabin filter. It requires some disassembly to get to it, so they want a trained professional to make the change.

I can vouch that I went and got my manual and tried to change the filter in my 2018 Ford Escape.

It was a tight squeeze, and I couldn’t reach it to get it out. I asked my son to try, and despite smaller hands for better maneuvering, he couldn’t get it.

I was trying to save some money on the new cabin filter, but after a few minutes of struggling, I realized it would be better to have my mechanic change it.

How Much Does a Cabin Filter Cost?

The cabin filter for my Ford Escape was a little over $20. Of course, once I took it to a professional, they couldn’t use the one I purchased, and they had to sell me a new one.

The cost of the cabin filter will vary according to the make and model of your car. If you take it to a mechanic or similar shop, the price is the same, no matter how hard it is to locate and replace.

Plus, you won’t end up greasy, dirty, frustrated, or with sore hands like I did before I gave up.

Changing the cabin filter in your car is an essential part of car maintenance, yet it’s something that many drivers don’t know about or forget to do.

Depending on your driving habits and the environment you live in, you may need to change your cabin filter more often than the recommended 15,000 miles.

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Look for visible wear, a musty smell when the AC is on, and a reduction in air conditioning power as signs that it’s time for a new cabin filter.

If changing the cabin filter seems like too much work or you’re not sure how to do it, take your car to a mechanic—they can usually replace it quickly and easily.