Best Car Air Filter Consumer Reports, Tips, Reviews, Ratings, and Guides in 2022
Whether you’re a casual weekend driver or a serious commuter, eventually you’ll need to replace your car’s air filter. But with all the different types and brands of filters on the market, which one should you buy? According to Consumer Reports, the best car air filter is the one that meets your specific needs. So, before you head to the auto store, take a minute to figure out what type of filter your car needs. Luckily, Consumer Reports has done all the research for you and created a guide specifically tailored to motorists. Check it out now and find the perfect air filter for your vehicle!
What is a car air filter?
Car air filters are designed to trap dirt, dust, and other debris before it enters the car’s engine. They’re usually made up of a combination of a filter element and a paper or foam housing. The filter catches large particles while allowing smaller particles to pass through the filter into your engine. This prevents damage from dirt, rust, and other contaminants that can damage internal components.
Most Common Types of car air filter:
There are three different types of air filters to consider when searching for a new filter.
Pleated paper car air filters: These tend to be the most affordable type of car air filter, and they’re easy to find in most auto parts stores. They have a limited lifespan but can last from 12,000 miles up to 100,000 miles depending on your driving habits and environment.
Semi-pleated paper car air filters: These tend to be a little more expensive than the pleated filters above, but they also tend to last longer. They’re still low-maintenance and easy for motorists with basic mechanical skills to change out. The cost is slightly higher than that of their pleated counterparts because the semi-pleated filters use a denser filter material that can lengthen their lives to 12,000 miles per year under normal driving conditions.
High-efficiency pleated car air filters: These filters offer the longest life and best filtration for your engine among paper types. They usually cost more than other types of car air filters, but they last much longer and provide superior filtration. However, they should be replaced more often if your car is driven in dusty environments.
What should you know about car air filters?
The first thing you should do before purchasing a new car air filter is to check your owner’s manual. It will save you time and money because the model number and size of the filter for your vehicle will be listed in the book. Always follow those recommendations when choosing a replacement filter.
When shopping for a car air filter, always review the product packaging carefully before purchasing. The package should indicate three things: what type of air filter it is (paper, foam, or cotton), how many pleats are on the paper filters (the more pleats, the better filtering power), and whether it comes pre-oiled or without oil. If they’re pre-oiled — an indication that they don’t need oiling — they’ll last longer but will cost more. Auto parts stores and some retailers sell car air filters that come pre-oiled, while most other stores don’t.
Choose a high-quality model from an auto parts store or retailer you trust to make sure the filter is made with strong materials and won’t tear apart during installation. Also, check out which types of cars use each type of filter and compare your findings with what you’re buying. Some paper filters only fit on specific makes and models of trucks that require a certain size filter — always check on this before purchase!
Factors to Consider before buying car air filter:
Media: Most filters are made with either paper, foam, or cotton as the media. Paper is the most common choice because it’s inexpensive and effective. Foam is more expensive but can trap smaller particles than paper car air filters. Cotton is also used in high-efficiency pleated car air filter designs, and they’re usually oiled out of the box to give them longer life spans. Look for a filter that uses multiple types of media because this will typically ensure better filtration quality for your vehicle.
Filtering capabilities: The better the filtering capability in a car air filter, the more expensive it will be. However, there are models available at all price ranges that provide adequate filtration for your vehicle’s make and model. Higher-quality filters trap smaller particles than lower-end ones because they use denser material or multiple layers of media in their designs to achieve superior airflow while improving filtration levels at the same time.
Environmental compatibility: Car air filters are generally environmentally friendly; however, some manufacturers include additives like oil in their paper products to give them longer life spans. Some people believe these additives reduce the overall performance of the filter, but most manufacturers that use oils in their filters say that this is not true. You can purchase either type of filter, but if you’re environmentally conscious, choose an oil-free model.
Filter design: The more pleats a car air filter has, the better its filtering capabilities are. Pleated designs use thicker materials to achieve higher airflow levels, but they help to trap smaller particles that cheaper flat models can’t trap at all. You should consider looking for a model with pleats because it will provide superior filtration quality for your vehicle’s make and model without compromising airflow levels.
Width: The size of the vehicle’s cabin plays an important role in determining how wide your new filter needs to be. If you buy too small of a filter, your HVAC system won’t properly cool or heat the cabin if it doesn’t fit into the ventilation system correctly. Airflow is just as important as filtration when buying filters for cars, so always check the width of your filter before buying one.
Length: Car air filters are available in either standard or custom lengths, depending on where you buy them from. If the filter is too short, it won’t fit into your HVAC system correctly and this will cause airflow problems for both cooling and heating systems. However, if the filter is too long for your vehicle’s make and model, it can make it difficult to install or remove when necessary. Auto parts stores offer basic length options that vary by brand name while retailers like Wal-Mart offer custom-length car air filters that can be cut down to size to ensure perfect compatibility with your vehicle’s ventilation system.
Shape: Most car air filters are rectangular in design with either straight or angled air inlets/outlets. However, some companies offer round filters that can fit into circular HVAC systems without any problems. Round models are more expensive because they’re not as common as rectangular ones, however, they are available for most popular makes and models on the market if you know where to look.
Brand name: Some people assume that brand-name car air filters are always better than their generic counterparts, but it’s important to remember that this is generally not true. The best way to find out which filter brands have the highest quality car air filters is by reading vehicle owner reviews online or asking friends with similar vehicles what type of car air filter they use so you can get an idea of which option will provide the best airflow and filtration for your vehicle’s make and model.
Price: While price is often a good indicator of quality, you should always check online reviews from other car owners to make sure the filter you’re buying offers good levels of both airflow and filtration. In general, cheaper filters use cheaper materials that allow more air particles to pass through them without being filtered out, while expensive models offer higher-end materials that improve filtration capabilities significantly compared to less expensive ones.
Maintainability: Almost all modern car air filters have easy-to-remove designs that allow you to clean or replace the filter element easily right in your garage. However, if a model has a pre-oiled paper design with an absorbent element that can’t be cleaned, you may have to take it into a professional automotive repair shop to get the elements replaced when necessary. These filters are more difficult to maintain because they usually need to be disposed of after their filtering capabilities are exhausted instead of being reused like other types of maintenance-free car air filters.
Durability: Many people make the mistake of assuming all car air filters are created equally, but this simply isn’t true. If you want your vehicle’s HVAC system to work properly, you should always buy a filter that isn’t flimsy or weak compared to others on the market. Cheap models tend to develop tears quickly while expensive models can last for years without any problems at all. The right balance of affordability and durability is available for most types of vehicles on the market, you just must do some research first.
Waterproofing: While it isn’t very common, some car air filters are susceptible to water damage if they’re exposed to moisture over time. If you live in a particularly humid climate where HVAC systems are often exposed to rain or snow, you should always check vehicle owner reviews before buying every filter type to make sure they don’t develop leaks over time.
Filtration Capacity: Not all car air filters are made to trap the same types of particles that circulate through your vehicle’s HVAC system. To improve your ability to breathe in polluted environments, you should look for a filter with a high filtration capacity. More expensive filters can be washed and reused several times without losing their filtering ability while cheaper models tend to have lower filtration capacities that diminish over time.
Design: Modern car air filters are designed to fit snugly into specific spaces in your vehicle’s HVAC system. The best way to make sure you get the right type of filter for your vehicle is by carefully reading notes about its design or asking a mechanic to help you find one that fits properly.
Size: Air filters are sold based on their size, not their actual dimensions. To choose the right-sized car air filter for your car, truck, SUV, or van, you will need to know both the model and year of its make and model so you can find a compatible replacement option.
Warranty: While warranty information isn’t critical when you’re looking to buy a filter, it can be useful if the warranty for a certain model is particularly long. After all, the best car air filters are designed to last for years without showing wear and tear from normal regular use. Cheaper models that don’t have a strong track record or a warranty may only work correctly for a year or two before they start developing problems because of poor construction materials.
Filter Efficiency: Many car air filters have both primary and secondary levels of filtration to improve their overall function while also prolonging their lifespan considerably compared to cheaper models with fewer layers of filtration. In general, higher-efficiency filters will retain more particulate matter in the air so your vehicle’s HVAC system will operate more efficiently.
Effectiveness: In general, car air filters are designed to reduce the amount of particulate matter in your vehicle’s cabin by trapping them inside a mesh-like matrix that lines the inner surface of the filter media itself. They do this by forcing air through a thin filtration layer and trapping all traces of the particulate matter before sending it back into your HVAC system.
Style: Car air filters come in several different styles that are designed to fit into specific spaces within your HVAC system. You can choose from round, flat, or panel-style filters based on the model of your vehicle and personal preference.
Material: The best car air filters are made from either cotton, paper, or a combination of the two. Cotton models tend to be more effective at trapping particles in your vehicle’s cabin but can also cost significantly more than cheaper alternatives with similar filtration qualities.
The Pros and Cons of car air filter:
Most car air filters are relatively inexpensive to replace compared to the cost of servicing your HVAC system.
Most models only need to be replaced once every 15,000 miles or within 12 months of your vehicle’s make and model year for maximum efficiency and performance
Replacing your filter on a routine basis helps prolong the lifespan of important components like the heating and cooling coils inside your HVAC system.
Car air filters aren’t common items so they can be more expensive than most people realize when you pay retail prices.
Most units only last one or two years before they start showing visible signs of wear and tear that can impact their filtration capabilities until they eventually fail.
How does a car air filter work?
Car air filters are designed to remove harmful pollutants that can enter your vehicle’s cabin through the AC system. They do this by forcing incoming air through a thin filtration layer before sending it back into your HVAC system to improve its overall performance and efficiency.
How often should you change the car air filter?
Most car models need to have their filters replaced at least once every 15,000 miles or after 12 months of use no matter how old or new they feel like they may still be inside your vehicle’s AC system. This simple step will significantly prolong the lifespan of your entire HVAC system while also reducing the risk of unpleasant respiratory health issues for all passengers in the front and back seats during daily commutes and long road trips alike.
What happens if you leave a car air filter unchanged for 2 years?
Leaving a car air filter unchanged for two years or longer can dramatically reduce the airflow inside your vehicle’s cabin, which can lead to unpleasant respiratory health issues and cause permanent damage to your heating and cooling coils as well as your HVAC system in general. Therefore, it’s best to replace them no matter how old they feel like they may still be.
Does AC service help or hurt car air filters?
Either way, it harms filters because of hot, high-pressure oil spray on metal parts causing microscopic tears in a mesh-like matrix containing fine particulate matter. Allowing particles into the ventilation path that cannot keep out by relatively low-tech filters suggests you change them frequently.
How do I know if my car air filter needs replacing?
Your vehicle’s air filter should be replaced without any visible signs of wear and tear present inside or outside its packaging. If you see yellow, brown, gray, sticky notes, extremely heavy dirt build up inside it, or notice a significant drop in airflow from your AC vents after you start it up, it might be time to replace the original filter inside your HVAC system with a brand new one as soon as possible.
Why do I have to replace my car air filter?
Car air filters are designed to trap extremely tiny particles inside your vehicle’s cabin to improve airflow and overall performance. However, over time all screens get clogged up with dust, dirt, pollen, bacteria, or other particulate matter that can impact the efficiency of your HVAC system until they eventually fail due to overuse.
Does replacing a car air filter affect MPG?
Replacing an old car air filter improves the flow of air throughout your vehicle’s cabin which generally results in improved fuel economy for both city and highway driving conditions depending on how dirty or clean it was before you replaced it.
Why should I choose OEM replacement filters?
OEM (original equipment manufacturer) replacement filters are designed by the same company that made your car’s AC system, so they know exactly how it needs to fit and function without causing any damage or negative impacts to its delicate inner workings.
Can I clean a car air filter?
No, you should never try cleaning a dirty air filter because it will only push dirt and dust particles back into the ventilation path of your vehicle. It would be best to replace it as soon as possible with a brand new one instead.
What can happen if I don’t replace my car’s air filter?
Not replacing an old car air filter reduces airflow inside your vehicle’s cabin which can impact visibility, increase concentration levels behind the wheel for even minor periods, and lead to unpleasant respiratory health issues.
What is the difference between cabin and engine air filters?
Cabin air filters are designed to trap particulate matter inside your vehicle’s cabin to improve the flow of air throughout your vehicle. Engine air filters are designed specifically for the demands of internal combustion engines and are much higher quality than standard car air filters or cabin air filters because they’re made with extremely tough synthetic paper material that can capture significantly larger amounts of dirt without tearing.
Is it okay to drive without an air filter?
Driving without a working air filter inside your vehicle’s cabin will immediately damage the heating and cooling coils of its HVAC system because they are constantly being hit by extremely hot, high-pressure oil and fuel spray under the hood. This can cause permanent damage to your AC unit’s coils which may require expensive repairs or replacement later down the road if it is allowed to happen repeatedly over time.
How often do I need to change my car air filters?
You should replace your car air filters at least once per year (preferably every six months) for best performance and maximum airflow throughout your vehicle’s cabin. Beyond this point, you risk clogging up the ventilation path of your vehicle’s cabin with excess dirt and particles which can not only impact comfort levels but also pose a safety risk for yourself and passengers inside the vehicle.
Always remember to check your owner’s manual for more information on how often you should change your car’s air filter as it varies from vehicle to vehicle and can even depend on where you drive as well as various environmental factors.
Which type of filter provides better filtration?
OEM replacement filters provide better filtration than cabin air filters because they are designed to specifically trap particles as small as one micron in size. However, engine air filters offer better overall filtration and can capture significantly larger amounts of dirt and airborne particles due to their thick and durable construction materials.
Are replacement filters expensive?
Replacement filters are generally priced at under $10 for standard cabin and engine air filters over the counter at most auto parts stores, although they can go as expensive as $20 or more depending on the brand and other variables which you would need to check beforehand.
What is a high-efficiency filter?
A high-efficiency (HE) filter is an aftermarket car air filter replacement that offers better filtration levels than OEM replacement filters by using extremely fine mesh materials like cotton gauze and nylon instead of flimsy synthetic paper media found in other types of low-quality aftermarket car air filters.
Are there any promotions when buying the best car air filter replacement?
Always look for special promotions when buying car air filters to save yourself up to $10 or more per filter depending on the brand, quantity, and where you purchase them over the counter. Discounts are offered by many manufacturers as well as individual parts stores which you can ask about before making your purchase if there is a particular model that you need.
Which brands offer the best car air filters?
The best brands of aftermarket car air filter replacements that provide excellent filtration levels include K&N (especially their 33-2435 model), Purolator, Denso, Bosch (OEM manufacturer), Fram (OEM manufacturer), ACDelco (a GM original equipment supplier), Amsoil, Beck Arnley, and more.
Is that product’s return policy any good?
Always read through the return policy on more expensive aftermarket car air filters to make sure that you can’t be charged more than $10 or so for a restocking fee if you need to return it and get a different size or replacement model. Some manufacturers may also include the replacement of your vehicle’s cabin filter as part of their warranty promotion which would cover any inconvenience and keep things hassle-free in the long run.
The best car air filter replacement is always one which you can easily find at a local store near you. Car owners need to replace their car’s cabin and engine air filters at least once per year or every six months depending on vehicle model, driving conditions, and environmental factors of the region where you live for maximum airflow quality and efficiency of your vehicle. Cabin air filters should be replaced more frequently than engine air filters as they get clogged up with dirt and other particles faster because they are prominently positioned in an area that is prone to get dirty from various types of airborne contaminants from the roadways all over town.
If you want the best possible value for your money, then go with an OEM replacement engine air filter due to its superior filtration capabilities and more durable construction materials which typically last the lifetime of the vehicle or longer.