Improve Car Heating and Cooling by Replacing Your Car Cabin Air Filter

Updated: Mar. 12, 2024

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

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

Tools Required

  • 4-in-1 screwdriver

Materials Required

  • Cabin filter or air purifier

Keep the air in your car clean: How to change cabin air filter

Dirty Filter

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Road debris, leaves, dust and pollen all clog a car cabin air filter.

Project step-by-step (4)

Step 1

Car cabin air filter? Where is it?

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Unscrew the glove box hinges. Then press in on both sides of the glove box to tilt it down and pull it free to access the filter tray.

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Step 2

Out with the old

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Slide out the filter tray and the old air filter. Note the orientation of the pleats and install the new filter in the same direction.

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New filter

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Step 3

In with the new

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Slide the filter tray back into place and reassemble the glove box.

What does a cabin air filter do? It cleans the air inside your car. 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 cabin air 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 cabin air filters have an instruction sheet—or the instructions may be on the manufacturer’s Web site.

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Step 4

No Cabin Filter? Add an Air Purifier

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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.

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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.

Next: Learn how to recharge your car’s air conditioner.