A Dirty Air Filter Can Trigger Your Check Engine Light

Who thinks about changing their air filters? Let’s admit it. No one does. You head to your local auto parts store for a new windshield wiper, and they always ask. Would you like to purchase a new air filter today? You inevitably decline. But, if you stop to think about it—when was the last time you changed your air filter? Probably never! It seems like such an inconsequential part—like something that they just try to get you to bundle with your much-needed purchase to get more money out of you. Switching out your filter regularly can’t really do that much for your vehicle’s performance… can it?

The truth is, your air filter is vital to your vehicle’s performance. You car or truck needs an exact mixture of air and fuel to run efficiently. This is how your vehicle maintains the combustion process, which powers your engine. Your air filter acts as a barrier that protects your engine from dirt and other particles. If you’re skeptical, check your grill and your front license plate after driving a long distance in warm weather. It’ll inevitably be covered in leaves, sap, bugs and other grime. All of these things can make its way into your engine bay—even water. If these bug guts, water and other grime can make it passed your air intake, it can cause corrosion or abrasion in your engine. Two things that you definitely don’t want to happen! Your air filter catches all of these contaminants before they can reach your engine. However, when your filter gets clogged, these particles can pass right through and cause your engine to work harder. A clogged air filter will actually starve your engine of air, which it needs to execute the combustion process. In theory, a totally clogged air filter can cause your engine to stop running.

More than likely, a dirty filter will just reduce your engine’s performance. It can lead to decreased MPG, reduction in power and even permanent damage to your engine. You may think that permanent damage is a pretty severe side effect for such an inconsequential part. However, it is a realistic outcome. These contaminants can wear on your engine’s metal and produce even more debris. If the debris accumulates enough, it can get sucked into the combustion chamber and cause your engine to completely shut down.

Even if it hasn’t gotten that far, a dirty filter can seriously affect the performance of your vehicle. When your air filter is blocked, the oxygen in your fuel mixture decreases and clean air can’t mix with the fuel. The mixture will become too fuel-rich and lower your gas mileage. This can put unnecessary stress on your engine. You may even notice that your vehicle is running a little rough. Your check engine light may even turn on. Don’t ignore these warning signs. Some parts on your vehicle, you can procrastinate on replacing. For instance, certain worn out floor mats or that cheesy piña colada air freshener. However, your air filter is not one of them. It’s a simple, but vital part and they’re cheap and easy to replace. Check your vehicle’s owner’s manual to see how often you should replace it. Or, have your favorite auto technician check the state of your air filter at your next tune up.