What are the Signs of a Dirty Air Filter and How to Avoid Them

Learn how to recognize signs of a dirty air filter and how to avoid them for optimal performance of your vehicle's engine.

What are the Signs of a Dirty Air Filter and How to Avoid Them

A clogged air filter with dirt is an obvious sign that it needs to be changed. Performing a visual inspection is an easy way to find out if your air filter needs to be replaced. A new air filter is usually white or off-white in color, while a dirty air filter will look darker with dirt and debris visible. In the case of a reusable K&N filter, it will be more plum-colored.

A dirty air filter reduces the amount of air supplied to the engine, which can cause an increase in unburned fuel, converted to soot waste. Soot can build up on the tips of the spark plugs, making them unable to emit a proper spark. This can cause the car to move sharply at idle and, in some cases, the engine may fail. An internal combustion engine needs to mix approximately 10,000 litres of air with each litre of fuel to operate.

Air enters the engine through the air filter. Without adequate air intake, the fuel mixture will be too rich in fuel, so it won't burn properly and the engine will run out of oxygen. Most manufacturers recommend replacing your air filter every 12,000 miles (approximately 19,000 km) or every 12 months, whichever comes first. However, if you live in an agricultural area or any area with a lot of dust or impurities in the air, you should consider replacing your air filter more often.

An inadequate air supply can cause carbon deposits to build up in the engine, which will eventually activate the engine control light. If this light comes on, check the air filter to see if it needs to be replaced before performing other diagnostics. One of the easiest symptoms to recognize is the appearance of the filter itself. A new air filter looks white or off-white in color, while a dirty one will be darker with dirt and debris visible.

Over time, air contaminants will soil the filter and turn it brown or black. Always inspect the air filter under a light source. If it is covered with dust, dirt and debris, you must replace it as soon as possible. Running your car without an air filter allows dirt, leaves, debris, insects and a multitude of air pollutants to enter. If it seems that your car is running slower than usual, the first step should be to check the condition of the air filter.

Contaminated filters don't provide enough air, so the engine ends up consuming more fuel to overcompensate. If you notice unusual noises when coughing, bursting or spitting, this indicates that the engine is not getting enough airflow and that the air filter needs to be replaced. For optimal and safe performance of your engine, be sure to treat dirty air filter symptoms right away and always have a clean air filter in place. One of the best and easiest improvements you can make to your vehicle is to buy a reusable air filter such as a K&N filter. If you live in a particularly dusty area, consider using a washable foam pre-filter if applicable to capture most of the dust and you won't have to replace your air filter as often. As a car owner, you should watch for symptoms of a dirty air filter to ensure that your engine is kept free of debris. Once an air filter is too clogged and stops working, it can decrease car performance and even damage the engine.

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