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How Do I...Change my cabin filter?

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There are several regular maintenance items that tend not to receive the attention they should – tire pressures, oil level and wiper blades come to mind. But probably the single item that gets forgotten most often in the average vehicle is the cabin filter.

This one- or two-piece filter does the same job as the filter on your furnace, removing pollen, dust and other contaminants from the air that comes out of your ventilation system. In an automotive setting, it also keeps larger debris, like leaves and pine needles, from making their way into your climate control system, where they can cause everything from a noisy blower motor to musty smells.

Since the air coming out of your vehicle’s HVAC (heating, ventilating, and air conditioning) system passes through this filter, it tends to get dirty fairly rapidly; more so if you regularly travel on dirt roads or park where there’s a lot of tree debris. Most automakers recommend you replace it between 20,000 and 40,000 kilometres, with regular inspections between those intervals.

The difficulty involved in changing this filter can vary widely, but fortunately, while some do require the flexibility of a Cirque du Soleil performer to replace, in many vehicles it’s located behind the glovebox and straightforward. Your owner’s manual may describe the location and procedure, and at least one filter manufacturer, Fram, has a database of instructions for its products.

Generally, behind the glovebox-style filters will either have an access panel at the rear of the compartment or will require you to open the glovebox past its stops or remove it. Use caution in the latter scenarios so as not to damage the dampener (it normally must be disconnected to provide enough movement), the hinges (which may break if the door is allowed to drop past its normal open position), or the tabs that act as detents when open (which will have to be disengaged to open the glovebox sufficiently).

Behind the box is typically a cover or the filter itself, secured with tabs. As you pull the filter out, pay attention to its orientation so you know how to properly instal the new one. Also, watch for loose debris. The filter may clip into a frame or be freestanding, but the direction of airflow matters; as a rule of thumb, airflow goes from top to bottom or right to left.

A clean filter is not only healthier, but it can also improve the effectiveness of your climate control system. When was yours last checked?

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