Instant Expert: How To Change Your Air Filter

Mental Flosschanging dirty air filterThere are certain things in life that are best left to the professionals (dyeing your hair blonde, performing open heart surgery—you get the idea.) But basic car maintenance isn’t one of them. Each month, mental_floss and GEICO will team up to walk you through an essential auto-related task, helping you become that much more accomplished (and not to mention, more financially responsible) in the process. September’s lesson? Changing your car’s air filter. 

The Task: Replacing a grimy, clogged air filter.
How Much a Pro Would Charge: $40-$100 (includes the cost of the filter; service fees vary depending on make, model, and mechanic’s pricing)

You’ll Need:

  • A new air filter
  • Rag
  • Screwdriver (optional)
  • Butter knife (optional)


Changing your air filter every year (or every 12,000 miles, depending on what comes first) is one of the easiest things you can do to improve your car’s gas mileage (sometimes by as much as 10 percent). But before you do anything maintenance-related—even before you hit your local auto parts retailer—consult your car’s manual to be sure the make and model you drive doesn’t require a special kind of filter or installation. All good? Keeping the filter type you need in mind, pick up a new one (and don’t be afraid to ask an employee for guidance if you still aren’t sure what kind to buy). A new air filter will generally run you between $10 and $15 (if your car requires a specific kind of filter, you may end up shelling out more—especially if said filter is only available through your car dealership).


Park your car (on a flat surface) with the emergency brake on and the engine turned off.


Once you’ve done that, consult your owner’s manual for the specific location of your filter. To remove this cover, you may need to break out your butter knife (if the top is held in place by clips) or your screwdriver (if it’s instead held in place by screws).


After the cover is removed, remove the old filter (it should pop out easily). Use a rag to wipe up any lingering debris from the cover, as well as the empty space adjacent to where the filter sits, then slip the new filter into place (be sure it faces the same direction as the old filter). Replace the cover and secure using the metal clips or screws.


Take your refreshed ride for a spin around the block. Mmm—smells like savings, doesn’t it?

Was this helpful? Get more helpful car care tips here.

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  1. Debra Glenn says

    Thank you, this information has helped me a lot. I’m 59 a woman divorced and I have to work on my own car,so I’m glad you have site’s for people to get information on how to fix there car’s.