by Sam Dillinger (comments: 0)

The Dirty Air You Didn’t Know You Were Breathing

dirty cabin air filter

Pretty dramatic title, huh? Theatrics aside, this is actually a pretty accurate statement. For one reason or another, when we drive we generally do so with the windows up. The problem comes in when you stop to consider that there is still plenty of air for you, and your passengers, to breathe. It doesn’t matter how far you drive, or how long you're inside the car, you won’t run out of fresh air, so where does it come from?

The vehicle is not a sealed vessel but, due to the need to keep wind and rain on the outside where they belong (and snow if you live in the parts of the world that get that frigidly cold. I moved near the beach years ago to resolve that particular problem) all of the glass needs to be able to provide a tight seal. It’s not a very well known fact (mostly because not many people wonder about it) that there are vents built into the body of the vehicle to allow air to flow out. They also serve the purpose of releasing the pressure when the doors are closed. If they weren't there, you could damage your ears by slamming the door closed once you're inside, or break out your windows!

There is also the HVAC, Heating Ventilation and Air Conditioning, housing. This unit lives behind the dash board and is responsible for giving you hot and cold air to battle the outside temperature. It also allows for fresh air flow into the vehicle while you're driving. This is where our topic of discussion comes in. In most all late model vehicles there is a cabin air filter that’s inline with the fresh airflow to clean it out for you. This is hugely helpful for folks with allergies in the springtime, if you live on a dirt road, or spend a lot of time in traffic. Without this filter, you'd be breathing an awful lot more contaminated air from the cars you share your morning commute with.

The biggest problem of this whole system is that very few people are even aware their vehicle has this filter, let alone that it needs to be changed on a regular schedule to help keep your fresh air as clean as possible. Most manufacturers recommend changing this filter anywhere from 12,000 - 15,000 miles. If your commute does happen to be in heavy traffic, or if you live in a place with dirt roads and/or a lot of pollen, it’s very likely you'll need to replace it more often.

The cabin air filter is normally located just behind the glove box compartment. The glove box door is actually very easy to remove (see the video we have here on my own car) and the filter housing will be just behind it for most vehicles. A quick check of the owner’s manual will tell you if your vehicle has one of these filters or not. Once you’ve located the filter, just pop the cover off, inspect and replace if needed. This can cost $50-$60 at a repair facility, but you can do it for just the cost of the filter, and a few minutes of your time in the garage or driveway. That should help you breathe a little easier.

As always for my members, feel free to send me an email from

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Meet Sam Dillinger

My name is Sam Dillinger. I've been a professional, dealership technician for 18 and a half years. My first introduction to mechanical repair was when my own vehicle broke down in the fall of 1995. I was 18 and couldn't afford to pay to have it fixed. So I borrowed tools and asked a ton of questions and, eventually, was able to replace the clutch on my truck by myself. During the course of that project, I found that I really enjoyed having a wrench in my hand and figuring out the puzzle of disassembly and reassembly of a motor vehicle.

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