Getting to Know Your Vehicle’s Filters

October 20th, 2023 by

A mechanic is shown performing a car air filter replacement.

For some people, proper car maintenance is a passion—something that gets them out of bed in the morning, and they live for the chance to pop open their hood and tool around. For others, car maintenance is an annoyance—something they have to deal with begrudgingly and ideally as infrequently as possible. Many of us fall somewhere between; while we enjoy the satisfaction of properly taking care of our vehicles, we also know that getting into some car care projects can be pretty intimidating. Fortunately, there are a lot of simple things that you can do to keep your vehicle in great shape…

Some of the easiest things are your vehicle’s filters, which each provide an essential function to keeping things running beautifully. Knowing when you need to check your oil filter or when to perform a car air filter replacement will keep your car in the best shape possible. Best of all, these are simple and inexpensive things to consider, so you don’t need an automotive engineering degree or a beefy bank account to tend to them. Let’s look at these filters and learn about them in depth…

The Engine Air Filter

There are four main filters you should know about, and we’ll start with the engine air filter. You’ll find there are two filters on your vehicle related to air and two related to fluids, but this first one involves the air that flows to your engine.

As you might know, internal combustion engines function by creating fiery explosions that drive pistons up and down; the energy from those explosions is turned into mechanical energy that propels your vehicle forward. In order for those crucial explosions to occur, three things are needed: fuel (the gas from your tank), ignition (provided by your spark plugs), and air (sucked in from outside) which mixes with the gas upon a spark to create optimal performance.

That air doesn’t come from a mysterious source; it simply flows into your engine from outside while you drive. In order to keep the combustion at peak levels and avoid damage to your engine, your car has an air filter that prevents dust, particulates, and things like insects and pollen from getting into the engine. This air filter is crucial for keeping your vehicle in the best shape possible, and it gets pretty dirty over time, as you can imagine.

You should always refer to your vehicle’s service schedule. As an example, looking at the schedule for a 2020 Chevy Silverado 1500, we can see that the air filter should be checked about every 7,500 miles and replaced either when an indicator comes on or about every 45,000 miles at most.

The Cabin Air Filter

The other filter that deals with air for your vehicle is the cabin air filter, although most people simply call it a “cabin filter” to avoid potential confusion with the air filter for your engine.

This filter is a part of your vehicle’s heating and cooling system; whether you have standard air conditioning or a more elaborate multi-zone climate control system, the way it functions is ultimately quite similar. Air is pulled into the system from outside your vehicle, then either cooled or heated, and then that air blows out to various parts of your car’s interior to control the cabin temperature and keep everyone comfortable.

Your cabin filter is there to keep out as much stuff as possible so that the air that reaches you is clean and free of pollutants. This kind of filter can help block smog, pollen, dirt, dust, bacteria, and other sorts of outside elements that you really don’t want to have blowing on your face and going into your lungs.

As you might imagine, this filter does a lot of work, and it is imperative to ensure you have an enjoyable driving experience—particularly if you or your passengers suffer from allergies. Using the 2020 Silverado 1500 as our example again, Chevy suggests replacing the cabin [air] filter about every 22,500 miles; this can be more difficult to access than the [engine] air filter, but you can still change it yourself if you want.

An oil filter is shown near the engine bay.

The Oil Filter

The first of two major filters used with fluids, your oil filter is one of the most important components in your vehicle and also one that takes some of the most abuse. Motor oil—or engine oil—is a crucial element of your vehicle.

Those fiery explosions we mentioned a moment ago in your engine create a tremendous amount of heat. Coolant in your vehicle helps with much of this, but if the moving parts in the engine generate more heat and friction, they could damage each other, and your engine would destroy itself. Your motor oil lubricates all those moving parts to help minimize friction and keep everything running smoothly.

While it’s in use, your motor oil will break down over time, and it gets dirty due to the processes going on inside the engine. That’s why you have an oil filter that the oil runs through to help keep it clean and eliminate dirt, debris, and other fine particulates—such as the oil’s own degradation clumps—that accumulate while you’re driving.

Since this filter is in use the entire time and is vital for your motor oil to be able to do its job, this is a filter that you never want to ignore. Chevy recommends the oil filter should be checked whenever the engine oil is checked—about every 7,500 miles—and should be replaced with every oil change.

The Fuel Filter

The last significant filter you should keep in mind—and the second one for fluid—is your vehicle’s fuel filter. While the oil filter is there to keep the motor oil coursing through your engine clean, the fuel filter helps clean the gas in your vehicle as it goes from your fuel tank to the engine.

Remember how we talked about the things needed for combustion in your vehicle? Just like your air filter keeps the air used in combustion clean of dirt and pollutants, the fuel filter does the same thing for the gas before it reaches that point.

Gas can get dirt, rust, and other types of grit in it during refinement, at the gas station, as you’re pumping it, and even while it’s sitting in your tank. By running it through a filter before it gets to your engine, your vehicle helps minimize dirt buildup in the engine itself and keeps performance at its best.

Dirty gas can reduce your vehicle’s fuel efficiency and make for a worse driving experience, so this is very important. Your driving habits can dictate how often you need to change the fuel filter, but about every 20,000 miles is typically recommended.

A mechanic is shown holding a clean fuel filter.

Keep Your Filters in Great Shape at McCluskey Chevrolet

As you can see, you don’t have to keep track of too many things to ensure your vehicle runs beautifully, and there are just four main filters you should have in mind. The simplest things to remember are to replace your oil filter when you have your oil changed, replace your cabin air filter and fuel filter about every 20,000 miles or every two years, and be sure to check your engine air filter regularly and replace it as needed.

Of course, if you have service professionals who you trust to take care of everything for you, then this becomes a lot easier. Call or visit us at McCluskey Chevrolet for your next scheduled service, and we’ll keep your car in great shape for many miles ahead.