Owning a car can be expensive. Part of that expense is the regular maintenance that keeps your car running efficiently, which is why it’s not a bad idea to learn to handle some standard car maintenance yourself.

It’s not enough to have mastered the art of the oil change or keeping your tires perfectly inflated. To keep your car performing well, you should also pay more attention to the air filter in your engine.

What Does the Air Filter Do?

Your car has an air filter to keep dust, dirt, bugs and other random air particles out of your engine. As that filter catches more and more of those particles, it gets clogged up, gradually letting less and less air through to the engine. This lack of air harms your engine's performance, which in turn reduces your gas mileage, costing you more money at the pump.

Unfortunately, it may not be obvious that your air filter needs replacing while you’re driving your car. You can’t feel it like you would if a spark plug went out, for example. This means you have to check your air filter regularly to clean it out and change it when the time comes. Your car’s manual will tell you when it should be changed, but 15,000-30,000 miles is a decent estimate.

The good news is that your air filter is probably easy to get to, and it’s definitely easy to clean and change. Doing this yourself can save you a lot of money.

How to Clean Your Air Filter

1. Locate It

Generally, a car’s air filter is easy to get to. First, check your car’s manual, or search for it online if you don’t have it. (There are websites where car manuals are posted.) The manual will show you where to find the air filter. Some air filters will be in a cylindrical casing; others will be flat and rectangular.

2. Remove It

Once you’ve found the filter, it should come out pretty easily. Most likely, you’ll just have to loosen a couple of wing nuts or remove a few clamps. If you’re uncomfortable, ask your mechanic to show you the next time you take your car in for service.

3. Clean It

Once you have the filter out, it's time to get it clean. You can start by tapping it on your bumper to shake out any loose particles. At this point, you can choose to wash your filter with a cleaning solution or kit or just vacuum what you can out of it. Washing it will take more time and you’ll damage your engine if you put it back in wet, but it will get the filter cleaner. Vacuuming the filter is a simpler and quicker process, but it won’t get the filter as clean. But if your filter is so dirty that the vacuum can't really help much, it’s probably time to change it altogether. Give the filter a lot of attention with the vacuum, making sure to hit every fold.

4. Clean the Housing

The next thing to do is clean the casing that houses your filter. If it isn’t that dirty, a disposable shop towel might do the trick. Or you can give it a quick once-over with the vacuum while you’ve got it out. Just make sure you get out any loose dirt or debris so it doesn’t go right back into the filter as soon as you start up the car again.

5. Put It Back

When the filter is clean and dry, all you have to do is put it back in its housing and replace the wing nuts, bolts or clamps. Make sure you don’t put a wet air filter back into your car. Check to make sure it’s securely in place, and then watch your gas mileage improve.

How to Replace Your Air Filter

1. Find Your Part

If you decide that your filter needs to be replaced, you’ll first need to find out what kind of filter you should replace it with. Your car’s manual should tell you what filter to purchase, or you can check the one in your engine and match it. Otherwise, you can search online at any auto-parts supplier’s website by entering your make and model year to find replacement parts.

2. Remove the Old Filter

Once you have your new filter ready to go, take out your old filter just like you did to clean it. While you’ve got it out, take a moment to clean out the housing for it so there’s no dirt and debris to jump right into your new filter as soon as you have it in there.

3. Put In the New Filter

Make sure your new filter is completely out of its packaging and free of any dirt, and then put it in where the old filter was. It’s really that simple. You can save quite a bit of money on parts and labor doing it yourself, rather than paying a mechanic.

To watch a helpful video on how to change your air filter, go here.

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