Have you checked your cabin air filter lately?
Over the years, the automobile has become less and less user-serviceable, that is, they need less maintenance. Oil changes are now up to 15,000-mile intervals in some cases, and some transmissions are rated for the lifetime of the vehicle, such as in the case of most Toyota and Lexus vehicles, which are built for 250,000 miles. On top of this, there are some maintenance items that can only be done by a service technician with the right training and experience. To check or adjust the “lifetime” transmission fluid in newer Toyota vehicles, for example, the scan tool is absolutely necessary to make sure the fluid is in the proper temperature range.
Still, is there anything left that the average DIYer can tackle at home with a basic tool set? Well, we know is that the engine needs to “breathe” and, to protect the engine from abrasive particles and dust, an air filter keeps that stuff out. Given a screwdriver or nut driver, a DIYer can easily change the engine air filter on most vehicles. Keep in mind, however, an air filter needs to be considerably dirty before it starts to impact engine performance. It may be a minor maintenance item, but could be one of the few things that a DIYer can do to maintain engine performance and fuel economy, aside from driving responsibly.
Hold your breath for as long as you can, and then consider that you, too, need to breath in order to live. Our air filters, the hairs in our nostrils, however, aren’t nearly as effective as the air filter in an engine. Given that driving a few miles down a dusty road potentially exposes us to a few miles of dust, dirt, insects, animal droppings, and pollen, the idea of a cabin air filter makes a lot of sense. If you suffer from allergies, this makes even more sense. Many cars after 1995 or so are equipped with cabin air filters but, because they are hidden, they are often forgotten.
So, when was the last time you checked your cabin air filter? Again, it takes quite some amount of debris before the cabin air filter starts to have adverse effects. A “stuffed” cabin air filter can impede air flow, slowing down air delivery in the climate control system, or can start to grow fungus or mold which, in itself, can trigger allergic reactions, or at least stink up the car. Most manufacturers recommend regular cabin air filter changes, typically 15,000 miles or so, but it really depends on where you live. Dusty roads or a particularly bad pollen season can choke a cabin air filter in far less than 15,000 miles, so you may need to replace it every two or three months.
Fortunately, access to the cabin air filter is still something that the average DIYer can get, following some good instructions and being very careful. Usually, some very basic hand tools will be required, much the same as replacing the engine air filter, and it should take a first-timer less than thirty minutes to accomplish. Because you’ll have to remove and replace plastic parts, be very careful with the tools you are using and how you use them, so as not to mar the interior appearance of your car. Installing a new cabin filter will restore air flow and filter out much of the dust and pollen that we encounter every day, for at least a little bit of relief on our daily drive.