Blog Car Care Advice 6 Common Clogged Air Filter Symptoms (How to Fix It)
Car Care Advice

6 Common Clogged Air Filter Symptoms (How to Fix It)

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Does your car sometimes smell like a gas station or splutter and cough?
Well, your car might be struggling to breathe — all thanks to a clogged air filter. 

A clogged air filter can affect your engine performance, bring down your fuel economy, and damage other important car parts.

To save you all the headaches, explore a few clogged air filter symptoms, how you can replace it, and the ideal time for replacement.

This Article Contains:

Let’s go!

6 Common Symptoms of a Clogged Air Filter

Here are a few clogged air filter symptoms to help you figure out the problem:

1. Strong Fuel Smell

When your air filter is blocked, your engine may not get enough clean air to power your car. In such cases, your car engine may burn more fuel to compensate for the lack of air. 

But here’s the catch.
Your engine can’t burn the extra fuel and some of the unburnt fuel escapes out of the exhaust pipe as black smoke. This makes your car smell like gas and results in poor fuel mileage. 

Note: Fuel smell can also result from other problems like fuel system leaks or fuel pump issues.

2. Engine Misfire

A dirty air filter can mess with the air-fuel mixture, potentially resulting in an engine misfire.

For instance, if the air-fuel mix isn’t right, it creates a sooty mess due to incomplete combustion. The soot then piles up on the spark plug and doesn’t allow it to deliver the perfect spark needed to kickstart your engine. And that’s when your engine idles, jerks, or causes a misfire. 

3. Decreasing Acceleration

When your engine doesn’t get enough air due to a bad air filter, it leads to reduced horsepower — the engine struggles to produce the power necessary for quick acceleration. It also leads to a decrease in fuel efficiency and affects the overall engine performance.

4. Strange Noise from the Engine

Hearing strange noises like sputtering, coughing, or popping sounds is a dirty air filter symptom. It means the engine isn’t getting enough clean air to help burn the fuel. Sometimes, a dirty filter may also make your car vibrate when you accelerate. That’s because your engine can’t keep the combustion process up due to the lack of air supply. 

5. Illuminated Check Engine Light

An air filter has no sensor to trigger the check engine light

However, the engine control module (ECM) uses other sensors to check if your engine air filter is working properly. For example, if your airflow levels are low, the mass airflow sensor can trigger the check engine light to indicate potential air filter issues. 

6. Dirty Air Filter

If you’ve spotted a few symptoms and suspect a bad air filter, the best way to check is to pop the hood. You can examine the air filter under proper light (coming up next). If the air filter is clogged with dirt, dust particles, and debris, it’ll appear black or brown.  

So how can you fix these issues?
Let’s find out.

How to Check and Replace a Clogged Air Filter

Mechanics, with their extensive knowledge of different vehicle types, can promptly identify air filter concerns. If you’re uncertain, it’s wise to consult a mechanic

Here’s the typical diagnostic process they follow:

A. Checking a Clogged Air Filter

  1. Locate the air filter housing. It’s usually found in the front corner of the engine bay.
  1. Open the air filter housing, undo the wing nuts (depending on the air filter type), and remove the air filter. Your mechanic may remove the covers or heat shields first.
  1. Examine whether the engine air filter is filled with dirt or its seals are cracked.   

Pro Tip: You can also check your manufacturer’s manual for the recommended air filter change interval.

B. Replacing a Clogged Air Filter: 

  1. After taking the dirty filter out, the mechanic will clean the car air filter housing. They’ll blow out the dust by connecting the air hose to the compressor or simply using a vacuum cleaner. 
  1. Once done, the mechanic will insert the new clean air filter into the housing with its rim facing outwards and ensure the rim seals all edges. 
  1. Then, they will gently put the cover back into the air conduit and push it down onto the lower part of the car air filter unit. When done, they will fasten the screws and close the bonnet. 
  1. Finally, the mechanic will start your car and check if it’s running smoothly without any clogged air filter symptoms.

Next, let’s explore how much you’ll have to pay for an air filter replacement.

How Much Does Clogged Air Filter Replacement Cost?

Depending on your vehicle’s year, make, and model, air filter replacement can cost anywhere between $40-$100. A standard clean air filter may cost about $20-$25, while labor charges may be around $20-$40. 

Still have some questions about air filters?
Let’s address them next!

3 FAQs about Air Filters

Here are the answers to some frequently asked air filter-related questions:

1. Is It Safe to Drive with a Clogged Air Filter?  

No, driving with a dirty engine air filter isn’t safe, as it can damage other vital car parts, like the engine, catalytic converter, oxygen sensors, and more, leading to expensive fixes. The imbalanced air-fuel mixture can also generate harmful emissions and pollutants that the catalytic converter or diesel particulate filter (DPF filter) can’t filter out effectively.  

2. How Often Should You Change Your Air Filters?

Most car filter manufacturers recommend replacing the air filter every 30,000-40,000 kilometers or once a year. But, if you drive on dusty roads, especially in dry or tough conditions like off-roading, you should change the air filter more often — around every 20,000-25,000 kilometers.

3. How to Extend the Life of Your Air Filters

To keep your car’s air filters happy for a long time, try dodging dusty roads and using high-quality filters. You can also give the air filter a good cleaning every now and then.

Here’s how you can clean your air filter:

Note: Ensure the filter is completely dry before you put it back. That’s because even a tiny bit of dampness may make it a magnet for dirt and dust particles, clogging up the airflow.

Wrapping Up

Something as simple as a clogged air filter can cause everything from decreased acceleration and harmful emissions to reduced fuel economy. But since some of its symptoms, like fuel smell, can also be caused by other issues, you might need an expert’s help to diagnose a clogged air filter issue correctly. 

That’s where AutoNation Mobile Service comes in!
We are a mobile auto repair service available seven days a week. We offer upfront pricing, convenient online booking, and a 12-month, 12,000-mile warranty on all your repairs.

So why wait?
Get in touch with us and get your clogged air filter fixed in no time.