One Big Mistake to Avoid When Changing a Cabin Air Filter

Cleaner, fresher air is important to everyone these days and here in 2022 just about every new vehicle is rolling off the assembly line with a cabin air filter. They’re everywhere– with a variety of unique options to choose from in the aftermarket. Since their inception in the European market 30 or so years ago, cabin air filter systems have suffered from a design and engineering perspective. Some were hard to reach, remove, require tools, or force the installer to work with awkward angles and lack of clearance. Sadly, mass adoption of cabin air filter technology hasn’t led to much improvement in this area. Sure, cabin air filter locations have become a little more practical and accessible, but there are still design flaws that could be addressed.

Timely Cabin Air Filter Maintenance is Key

Let’s take the 2014-2019 Chevrolet Silverado for example. This popular truck has a cabin air filter that is accessible by removing the glove compartment door. It’s a simple job that only involves removing 4 screws with a T15 bit and yanking the entire compartment out. Once the glove compartment is out the cabin air filter housing cover is exposed and can be removed by unlatching the two clips on top. Pretty simple, right? This is the type of cabin air filter system everyone wants in a vehicle because it’s an easy installation experience­– if the cabin air filter wasn’t neglected for too long, that is.

photo depicts dirty cabin air filter vs clean

Don’t Get Debris in the Blower Motor

To be effective, cabin air filters must fit snuggly into their housings. If there was much space left around the filter when inserted, air would simply blow around it and defeat the purpose of the filter. This lack of space can be a big problem if a filter has been neglected long enough to clog up with pine needles, leaves and other large debris. In the case of the Silverado mentioned above, large debris can easily fall into the blower motor when the filter scrapes the housing on removal. Every vehicle is a little bit different, but the design of this system has the filter laying horizontally and positions the blower motor just below the filter.

facebook posts show experience with cabin air filter change

The best-case scenario here is that something small falls into the blower, unbeknownst to the installer, and makes a little noise when started up. In this case the motor can be removed, cleaned out and re-installed. It’ll take a little more time and require removing a few more screws but is a basic job overall. The worst-case scenario is where something larger or messy, like a dead mouse or twigs, falls into the blower motor and causes damage. Thankfully the blower motor for the Silverado is a relatively inexpensive and easy part to replace, but drivers of other makes and models may not be so fortunate. Some might have blowers that are difficult to replace and labor costs can get into the hundreds of dollars so it’s always a good idea to be careful– especially with systems where the cabin air filter is positioned in the housing horizontally.

How Often Should the Cabin Filter Be Replaced?

Replacement frequency should be approached on a case-by-case basis. How dirty a filter can become largely depends on the environment where the vehicle is parked and how or where it is driven. Many cabin air filter suppliers recommend a yearly change interval of 12,000-15,000 miles. We recommend adjusting this schedule depending on the region in question and how the vehicle is used. Most often, seasonal changes in the Spring and Fall are appropriate for the cabin air filter. The logic is that changing the filter in the Fall ensures optimal glass defrosting ability when the frigid winter weather hits. And on the flipside, a fresh cabin air filter in the Spring ensures optimal air conditioning and glass defogging function when the temperatures rise for the summer.