Improve Car Heating and Cooling With a New Cabin Air Filter

Improve your car's cooling and heating and save $70!

Save big money when you replace a cabin filter yourself. It's quick, easy and a screwdriver is the only tool you need. Don't have a cabin filter? This article includes a tip on how to keep your car air clean without one.

By the DIY experts of The Family Handyman Magazine

Keep the air in your car clean

About half of all newer cars are equipped with a cabin air filter. If your car has one (check your owner's manual), you're supposed to change it every 12,000 to 15,000 miles, or once a year. But if you're like most drivers, you're still driving with the original filter and it's likely clogged. It's not just a comfort issue. Just as a clogged furnace filter reduces the furnace's efficiency, a clogged cabin air filter reduces the efficiency of the heating and cooling system for the car interior.

A clogged filter can also cause major window fogging problems and contribute to lower gas mileage. And because of the sluggish airflow, eventually you'll have to replace a burned-out blower motor for $150 or more.

The good news is that cabin air filter replacement is a do-it-yourself project. A local service center quoted us $95 for the filter and labor on a 2003 Toyota Camry. We saved $70 by doing the job ourselves. The filter cost only $25 at the dealer, and the job took less than 30 minutes. In most cases, you'll only need a Phillips screwdriver. You can usually find replacement instructions in the owner's manual.

Our Camry's air filter setup is shown. But locations vary depending on the make and model of your car. In fact, some luxury cars are equipped with as many as three different types of filters: one for fresh air, a second for recirculated air and a third made of activated charcoal to remove odors. It's best to replace all three filters at the same time.

If your manual doesn't show how to find and replace the filter, ask the dealer parts department for instructions. Many new filters have an instruction sheet—or the instructions may be on the manufacturer's Web site.

No Cabin Filter? Add an Air Purifier

If your car isn't equipped with a cabin air filter, you're not out of luck—you can still add an ion purifier. Ion purifiers generate billions of negatively charged ions that attach to viruses, bacteria, dust and pollen. The particles are then attracted to positively charged surfaces like your plastic dashboard. Once they settle, it's just a matter of using a spray cleaner on all the hard surfaces to wipe away the pollutants.

We conducted a quick Internet search and found several different types of automotive plug-in ion purifiers. We chose one that plugs into the cigarette lighter. It comes with an extension ion generator that attaches to the louvers on a dash air vent. That feature allows you to direct the flow of ions toward the passenger seat or the backseat—important if you carry passengers with allergies. And because it works with the car's blower system, it doesn't need a built-in blower fan like some other units.

The AirTamer ionic purifier plugs into any 12-volt
DC power source. It comes with an extension ion
generator that attaches to a dash vent.
AirTamer A400 by Filterstream.

Required Tools for this Project

Have the necessary tools for this DIY project lined up before you start—you’ll save time and frustration.

  • 4-in-1 screwdriver

Required Materials for this Project

Avoid last-minute shopping trips by having all your materials ready ahead of time. Here's a list.

  • Cabin filter or air purifier

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