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    Most routine maintenance on your vehicle requires you to take it to a mechanic, but checking your air filter is something you can do quickly and easily on your own. It does not take too long, and you do not need to be an automobile expert to do it. It is important to change filters regularly to help keep your engine clean and working properly.

    How Do Air Filters Work?

    Before you check your air filter, it helps to know why you need to check it and what exactly it does for your vehicle. As the name suggests, it filters the air that reaches your engine so that the engine does not become contaminated with dirt and other fibres. Over time, dirt builds up on the filter, and eventually, it becomes clogged and no longer works. It also prevents air from reaching the engine as easily. Engines that do not receive enough air have to work harder and usually perform poorly. Cars with clogged filters use more petrol than cars with clean filters. They also release more carbon monoxide. Unfortunately, South Africa has one of the highest carbon monoxide emission rates in the world.

    When to Check Your Air Filter

    Different car experts and mechanics have different ideas for when to check and change your air filter. Some claim you can drive as much as 96 000 kilometres before a new one is needed. Some say you should change it every two years or 38 000 kilometres. To be safe, check the air filter every 9 500 kilometres. One thing to keep in mind is that the more you drive on dirt roads and the drier and dustier the areas where you drive are, the harder the air filter works and the more likely it is to need an earlier replacement. In these conditions, check the air filter every three months.

    How to Check Your Air Filter

    Before checking your air filter, make sure your car is parked on a flat surface, and be to engage the emergency break to ensure a safe inspection. In order to check your air filter, you must first locate the air filter housing. In older cars, the housing and filter are round, but in most modern models, they are rectangular. Either way, it is usually located on top of the engine near the driver's side. Once you find it, unsnap or unscrew the latches, and carefully remove the filter from the housing. At first glance, the filter will probably be dirty, but that does not mean you need to change it. Hold it up to a light so you can see through it. If you can see light through more than half of it, the filter does not require changing yet. If no light passes through, go ahead and change it. If very little light passes through, change it soon or the next time you go to a mechanic for routine maintenance. Colour is also a good indicator. New air filters are some shade of white, while dirtier ones become grey, brown or black.

    Cleaning Your Air Filter

    In some cases, you can extend the life of your air filter by cleaning it. Try vacuuming the surface where the dirt has collected to remove some debris. Just note that this will not remove dirt embedded in the filter. You can also try tapping the side of the filter on a hard surface to loosen debris. Never use soap or water to clean the air filter, as it will damage it, and once you place it back in your car, it can damage the engine.

    Replacing an Old Air Filter

    If your air filter does need a replacement you can usually purchase one at any store that sells car parts and accessories. Just know the year, make and model of your vehicle. However, note that not all air filters are created equally. Some are higher quality, and while they may cost more, they will provide more protection for your engine. Once you choose one, you can replace your old one. Simply remove the old filter, clean the air filter housing and replace it with the new one. Make sure the lid to the air filter housing fits securely on top and replace any latches or screws. Always check your vehicle's manual if you run into any problems.

    When it comes to car maintenance, drivers know to change the oil or rotate the tyres at regular intervals. Unfortunately, many people forget about air filters until a mechanic suggests a change. A dirty filter can end up being expensive due to the decreased rate of kilometres per litre of petrol used. It can also wreak havoc on the engine, leading to expensive repairs. If you want to keep your car running smoothly, set up a reminder on your calendar to check the air filter every three to six months. This may seem overly cautious, but you will appreciate the effort when you catch a dirty filter before it begins causing problems.

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