I have done various maintenance and repairs on my cars over the decades. Usually, they turn out to be harder and more time-consuming than I thought. Changing the engine oil and oil filter has become genuinely harder since the oil filters have migrated deep up under the engine, where it is hard to access them without putting the car on a lift, and disposing of a milk jug of used oil has gotten more difficult. I used to be able to easily change out a light bulb in the headlight, but the last car where that needed doing required you to take apart much of the front end of the car to get at the headlight. However, I recently found that changing the cabin air filters in my two vehicles (van and sedan) is so easy, I wish I had started doing it years ago.
Why Change the Cabin Air Filter?
The cabin air filter filters the air coming into the passenger section of the car. It knocks out road dust and pollen, and other bits of whatever that might get sucked into your air system as you are going down the road. So, it protects your and your family’s lungs as well as the components of the air handling system. Typical recommendations are to change out the filter about once a year or every 15,000-20,000 miles.
The photo below shows the cabin air filter I just pulled out of my van after maybe 2 years and 25,000 miles, next to a relatively clean filter. Obviously, I let this one go a bit too long: it is grey with dust/dirt, and partly blocked with plant debris.
I have not been quick to change out these filters because garages or dealers often charge something like $80-$100 for this. And until recently, I never considered doing it myself, because for some reason I thought it was a hard job. I had read of people having to contort in unnatural positions with heads inserted under dashboards as they disassemble layers of car to get at the filter.
It Is (Often) Super Easy to Change a Cabin Air Filter
It all depends on where the filter is located. For most models of cars, you can find guidelines on line, including YouTube videos. There are some models where you indeed may have to unscrew a cover plate somewhere below the dashboard to expose the filter. But in most cars, you remove the glove box to expose the filter. That may involve undoing come screws or a snap or strut, and squeezing the edge of the glove box inward. For my Hondas, all I had to do was empty the glovebox, (authoritatively) squeeze in the edges, and the glove box pivoted down, and behold, there was the filter in its little holder. Then slide out the holder, pull out the old filter and put in the new filter (purchased at AutoZone for $20 each), slide the holder back in place, and finally tilt the glovebox back up until it snapped in place.
Ten minutes max, easy-peasy. Obviously, this saved money, but it also felt empowering. I highly recommend trying it.