Guide to the Automotive Cabin Filter

Discover the definitive way to find out if your vehicle is equipped with a replaceable cabin filter. Learn about how they work and where they’re located. Review guidelines on when to replace the filter element, how to check it and average costs. Although facts about the automotive cabin filter can be vehicle specific this article will discuss important information applying to all years, makes and models that utilize this fresh air filter.

What is a Cabin Filter

The automotive cabin filter is often referred to as a pollen filter, because its original design was intended to remove air pollutants and irritating pollen from the fresh air pulled into the vehicle. These can come in a wide variety of styles including a cartridge type where pleated paper is suspended in a plastic frame. Some automotive manufacturers build the plastic supporting frame into the air intake housing and the replacement element is simply a pleated paper filter that allows air to pass through while filtering out particles similar to a house HVAC system.

There is another benefit to having one of these installed in an automobiles AC system. On cars and trucks without this option debris, dust, dirt and pollen tend to collect on the fins of the air-conditioning evaporator. This buildup can reduce the efficiency of the air-conditioning system. After ten years it might be necessary to gain access to the component and physically clean this material from the delicate aluminum fins that allow the component to transfer heat.

How to Tell if Your Car Has One

They started installing cabin filters in the early to mid-90s but the deployment was limited to only a few models. Since then the popularity of a pollen filter has increased exponentially.

The easiest way to find out if the option is installed on your year, make and model is to call the dealerships parts Department and ask for the specific part number of the cabin filter. The manufacturer’s part system will not only supply a catalog number if it’s equipped, but also supplies footnotes to explain if every car of this type has the filter or maybe it’s just installed as an optional accessory on special edition vehicles.

Signs the Filter Needs to be Replaced

Since a lot of motorists don’t even know the part exists it’s common for pollen filters to be overlooked for many years. In this scenario the driver usually starts to experience some telltale symptoms that something is wrong. One of the leading complaints in this situation is that the airflow is restricted.

As a further explanation when the driver selects the blower high position a noticeable change in the amount of air discharged or lack thereof is detected. Drivers that are less aware of how much air they should feel coming from the vents will often complain that the air conditioner is under performing or not cooling the cabin properly.

Where is the Cabin Filter Located

This automotive filter is always located between the fresh air inlet and the blower motor. The problem is that the location can vary greatly between vehicle manufacturers and even models. As an example on many Japanese cars and even some General Motors products the cabin filter is located behind the glove box. On other automobiles it is common to find the filter on the engine compartment side of the firewall often near the base of the windshield in close proximity to the passenger side windshield wiper transmission.

The element itself is usually covered by a door that is released by a pressure clip or in some cases is held on with a single 7 mm threaded screw. One of the best resources for finding out exactly where your cabin filter is located is to consult the vehicle specific owner’s manual. In situations where this is not available questioning a dealership service adviser or mechanic will often reveal the answer to its location.

Final Thoughts about Cabin Filters

For people with allergies this device is a welcomed addition to their automotive maintenance routine. For others who don’t suffer with pollen issues it’s simply another cost they could do without. For drivers in the second group they might be tempted to throw out the filter element to restore maximum interior airflow. This is not recommended, because not only does the filter add comfort for all passengers, but it also protects the AC evaporator.

Original equipment parts average around fifty dollars and aftermarket at around twenty. Learning how to do this yourself is recommended. When I called the dealer to get a quote on parts and labor for my own car, a 2009 SRX, they said it would be around $155.00 plus tax. I installed a Wix brand cabin filter in about 5 minutes for $18.

In regards to the frequency of maintenance, mechanics often find when the engine air filter is in need of replacement the cabin will also need to be serviced. The frequency of such occasions depends on environmental conditions the automobile operates in. Motorists that live on an oak tree lined dirt road will find parts need to be replaced more often than drivers living in city environments with less tree pollen and dust. When in doubt hold the element up the light for inspection.