A dirty, clogged air filter can really mess up your vehicle’s performance. Changing it regularly can increase your fuel economy, increase your horsepower, and improve torque as well.
We researched several brands of air filters and have determined that the K&N 33-2395 High Performance Air Filter is our best overall pick. We have also included two other quality air filters that are at the top of the list for you to consider.
Don’t forget to check out the informative buying guide that we have put together that will help you find the best air filter for your vehicle.
Top 10 Car Air Filters
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Car Air Filter Buying Guide
There are many two different categories of air filters. Below we have listed the two different categories along with a description of each so you can understand the differences.
Universal – Universal filters for your vehicle offer plenty of flexibility that takes your specific vehicle’s cold air intake design into consideration. They are very popular because they fit a large variety of design configurations and types. Most of the Universal filters can be clamped right onto your current air intake system even if it doesn’t match the exact size. Another popular aspect of the Universal air filter is that it is usually inexpensive when compared to custom air filters.
Custom-Fit – Putting a custom fit air filter in your vehicle has the same effects that a Universal does, it will improve your gas mileage, increase horsepower and torque and extend the life of your engine. The difference between a Universal air filter and a custom fit is that the custom fit will be made for your specific make and model vehicle. They are more expensive than the Universal filters but they will fit perfectly in your vehicle and will be easy to install. The design of custom fit filters also takes care of fine grit that can get by Universal filters.
Car Air Filter Types
When you first purchase your vehicle it will already have an air filter installed. If it is purchased new, it will be a factory installed filter. If you are buying from a private owner you may find that the factory installed filter has been replaced at some point with a Universal. Below we have listed the different types of air filters and their differences and functions.
Paper – Paper filters are the factory installed filters that come with the vehicle when you purchase it or the kind that the dealership charges you way too much to replace if you get your vehicle serviced at the dealership. This type of air filter does not have a very long lifespan and can cost you a lot more in the long run. How often you have to replace the filter will depend on the environment you live in and the driving conditions.
Stock Replacements – These filters are designed to fit most of the vehicles that are on the road. When it is time to replace the paper filter that came with your vehicle, a stock replacement will fit perfectly into you air box and seal properly without leaks. A lot of the stock replacement air filters are washable and reusable and are built from premium materials that can handle all different types of driving conditions. These air filters are designed to last the lifetime of your engine and will do their part to make sure that is a long time.
Oil Bath – Oil bath air filters are found on antique and classic vehicles. This type of filter was around before paper filters were created. The unique design of oil bath filters, where dirt, dust, bugs, etc. settle into a medium that has been oil-soaked such as foam or mesh, or even a pool of oil, improves airflow to the engine.
Washable/Reusable – Reusable air filters are a little higher in cost than stock replacement filters. They definitely save you more in the long run because when they get dirty, instead of replacing them, you simply use a recharge kit to clean the existing filter and use it again. These filters will last the lifetime of your engine and even longer if you replace the engine and use the same filter. (assuming it fits properly) A few different types of washable filters include foam and cotton gauze. The foam filters are made from polyurethane that has been soaked in oil and are great for vehicles that are driven in dirty, dusty conditions regularly.
Cabin – Cabin air filters are for the cabin of your vehicle and not the engine. Cabin filters clean the air that comes into the interior of your vehicle through the vents, heating or A/C system. Without a cabin filter installed on your vehicle, all the dust, pollutants, and dirt can come right into the interior of your vehicle where you can breathe it in. Not a healthy situation for you or your passengers.
Regular Air Filters vs. Air Intake Filters
There is a very definite difference between regular air filters and air intake filters. An air intake filter has a tube shape and the filter is on the end. These are cold air intake systems and can be commonly found in trucks and sports cars. They are designed to have a major impact on horsepower and performance. If your vehicle has an aftermarket air intake system installed, more than likely you have an air intake filter as well.
The other type of filter, the regular box filters are much more common and can be found in any type of vehicle, not just sports cars. They are designed to increase overall performance and allow for maximum air flow.
Replacing Your Car Air Filter
Most air filters for your vehicles need to be changed or at least cleaned every year so that you get the best performance and gas mileage possible from your vehicle. How often you use your vehicle will be one of the factors that determine how often that filter should be cleaned or replaced.
Where you are driving is another factor. If you drive a lot in dirty, dusty conditions the air filter may have to be changed more often. Check your air filter every two or three months to see how dirty it is going. Many people automatically get the air filter changed when they get an oil change.
Do your best to follow the replacement schedule that is recommended for your specific vehicle. A loose guideline is replacing paper filters about every 10,000 to 12,000 miles and replacing the cotton gauze type that is washable should be re-oiled after proper cleaning about every 50,000 miles. If you notice your vehicle’s engine seems a bit sluggish or your gas mileage goes down a bit, check the air filter. It could be the culprit.
Locating the Car’s Air Filter
Finding the air filter in your vehicle is not too difficult even if you are not very familiar with engines. We’ve added some information on locating both the engine air filter and the cabin air filter so you can determine if they need to be changed and then change them.
Engine Air Filter – Engine air filters are conical, round, or panel-shaped which will be dependent on the type of vehicle you have. The air filter is located towards the front of the engine and is covered by a protective housing. There will be a section of the housing open where large volumes of air can be sucked into the sir intake. The filter has to be mostly protected or it would be clogged rapidly and affect the car’s performance.
Cabin Air Filter – The panel shaped filter for the cabin of your vehicle is usually located under the dashboard of your vehicle. The primary role of the cabin filter is to protect you and your passengers from dirt, debris, and dust being inhaled. They also catch mold spores, allergens, and fumes from the exhaust. The cabin filter does not have any effect on the engine’s performance but it will improve the interior of your vehicle and prevent sneezing, headaches, and musty smells.
Making sure that the engine air filter and cabin air filters are clean and free of debris, dust, and dirt will ensure two things: your engine will run better and last longer and the interior of your vehicle will be dust free and free of musty or exhaust smells. Both are equally important.
Checking both of these filters can be easily incorporated into an annual tune up and taken care of when you get your oil changed. Get into the habit of checking your air filter regularly; every two or three months is more than enough unless you notice one of the symptoms we’ve mentioned above.
The three top rated air filters on the market that we have featured above are excellent choices when you are looking to replace your current air filter. Make sure that you purchase the appropriate air filter for your make and model so it fits properly and does the job it is supposed to do.
Checking and replacing the air filter and cabin filters on your vehicle will extend the life of the engine, prevent major mechanical problems from occurring due to dirt and grit getting into your engine and are an easy preventative maintenance step you can do to improve your gas mileage that doesn’t cost much at all. It is much more expensive to fix what dirt and grime can do to your engine once it gets in, even in very small amounts than it is to replace the filters regularly.