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Is it Better to Clean or Replace Your Diesel Engine Air Filter?

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The air filter in your car controls the quality of the air that flows into the combustion chamber. If dirty air is constantly flowing through, you can end up with severe engine damage. And we all know engine damage is almost always expensive to fix.

The question of whether you should clean or replace your diesel engine air filter has been under debate for a long time. While many mechanics and car lovers are on opposing sides, we've figured out a clear answer once and for all.

Continue reading and we'll help you make the best decision for you and your car.

Is Your Diesel Engine Air Filter in Need of Maintenance?

We know why it's important to keep your diesel engine air filter clean, but do you know how to tell if there's a problem? Here are some of the main signs you will come across if your air filter needs a little TLC:

  • Reduced fuel economy
  • Excessive soot residue
  • Problems starting the engine
  • Odd engine sounds like coughing or popping
  • Vibrating
  • The check engine light comes on
  • Less horsepower
  • Smelling gasoline when starting the car
  • Black smoke or flames coming from the exhaust

If your filter is displaying any of these traits, it might be failing. You shouldn't wait to have it checked out because it could mean even more damage to other parts of your car.

Types of Engine Air Filters

Although the purpose of air filters hasn't changed, the way they're made has gone through many changes. Here are some of the filter types you might find in your car.

Paper Filters

These filters aren't made of flimsy paper like something you'd rip out of a notebook. This is an industrial quality of paper that is built to survive through some wear.

Paper filters are pleated in a way that's similar to the look of an accordion. This style increases the size of the surface area.

More importantly, it decreases the amount of space available for dirt to become trapped. These filters are generally inexpensive.

Foam Filters

Foam filters are very popular among drivers who live in dusty areas. People who perform motorsports like off-roading and rally racing also prefer these.

The foam is made from polyurethane that's soaked in oil. This combination gives foam filters a much higher capacity for dirt and dust than its counterparts.

High-Performance Filters

High-performance filters are commonly found in sports cars and competition trucks. It helps to increase the power of the engine primarily from the increase of air intake.

Often times, high-performance filters are also purchased with a cold air intake system. These products are widely available at specialty dealers.

Replacing Your Air Filter

How often your air filter needs to be changed varies. It depends on the type of vehicle you have, but also how often you drive it in what conditions you drive it in.

When you drive in heavy traffic, hot weather, or on unpaved, dusty road you will need to change the air filter more often. In most normal driving cases, the air filter can be changed every three years or 30,000 miles.

When you look at the user manual that came with your car, you will have a clearer idea of what schedule works best for your make and model.

If you suspect that it's time for a filter change, take a look at it for yourself prior to taking your car to a mechanic. In most situations, a car owner can visibly see if the filter needs changing.

Suggesting that your air filter is replaced prematurely is a common scam. And while this won't harm your vehicle, it will make you responsible for a bill that wasn't even necessary.

Cleaning Your Air Filter

Cleaning your diesel engine air filter can help add to the lifespan of this car part. When it is cleaned, it will need to be changed less often. So, it's possible that you can go beyond 30,000 miles or whichever amount your manufacturer suggests.

In general, it's a good idea to check the filter out whenever you get an oil change. Most car owners keep up with their oil change schedules but often forget about the air filter. Bundling the two just makes things easier.

Cleaning the filter is a fairly easy process. You can clean it yourself or find a professional service if you don't trust your own judgment.

First, you'll need to make sure your car is turned off. Diesel engines are powerful and can easily suck something up like nuts, bolts, or an jewelry you might be wearing which is a set up for even more car trouble.

While vacuuming the filter has its advantages, it can leave some contaminants behind that you don't want anywhere near your engine. Instead, opt for cleaning it with a cleaning solution.

From there, all you'll need to do is swish the filter around in a bucket of soapy water for a few minutes. You'll see it begin to lighten in color as it gets cleaner.

Once you're finished, you can set it on a towel or dry. Make sure you don't have any place to go, as it can take several hours to finish drying.

Don't try to speed up the drying process by using a towel to wipe the filter. This can cause additional build up from lint or dust and even cause it to tear.

When the filter is 100% dry, you can put it back into its place.

Bottom Line

Always opt for cleaning your diesel engine air filter prior to replacing it. And if a mechanic tells you it's time for a new one, find a second opinion before you decide on the service.

Air filters are made to handle multiple cleanings. When the cleaning is done properly, the filter will perform better than it had previously.

If you need more advice about filter maintenance, don't hesitate to contact us. We're here to help car owners get the most bang for their buck by practicing smart maintenance techniques.

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