Many people don’t realise that their car has a ‘hidden’ filter for the cabin air, only really noticing that something isn’t right when there’s a nasty smell in the cabin, or feeling that their a/c isn’t working that efficiently.
The cabin air filter (also called ‘pollen filter’) is usually located somewhere in the car (quite often behind the glovebox), and it’s a pretty simple affair, although some manufacturers are trying to turn it in to something more complex.
While many of these filters are near the same, there can be some subtle differences, especially between the cheaper end of the replacements and genuine OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturer). It usually shows up in the number of pleats within the filter – cheaper brands use less pleats, which means the surface area for catching contaminants isn’t as great. The flip side of that is that they’ll flow more air through them.
Table of Contents
- When & How to Replace a Cabin Air Filter?
- The Best Cabin Air Filter
- What Else?
When & How to Replace a Cabin Air Filter?
Most auto manufacturers recommend replacing the cabin air filter at least every twelve months or 12,000 miles. But in my experience, if you’re doing some serious mileage, or driving in extreme weather conditions, you’re better off reducing that to around 6 months. And to be honest, you’re paying around ten to fifteen bucks for a filter, it’s not going to break the bank.
There are other options – the K&N filter for example is reusable, so maybe that would work out better for you (more of that later).
As to how you replace them, many manufacturers change the location … it could be under the hood on one car, behind the glovebox in another. It’s worth looking in to though – an average price to replace the cabin air filter through a dealer is around $75, and it takes less than fifteen minutes.
You generally don’t need any specialist tools, just a little know-how, and that’s easily found online.
In a typical car, you need to just lower the glovebox – usually ‘popping’ the sides of the ‘box at its full travel, allowing it to drop right down, out of the way of the cabin filter housing. Open up the filter housing and remove the filter. Replacement is as simple, BUT you do need to know direction of air flow; the filter coming out (providing that it’s factory) will usually have an arrow on the body which points upwards, whereas the filter going back in may be marked for up or down – check before installation, because it does affect air flow.
Before you button everything back up, just run the car with the a/c system running to ensure that everything is working just fine, if it does, pop the glovebox back in to place and you’re done. It really is that simple.
The Best Cabin Air Filter
Now that you know how to replace it, it’s time to look at which are the best cabin filters available. I’ve chosen a random selection for different vehicles, but you’re almost guaranteed that you’ll find your vehicle under any of the manufacturers here.
EPAuto CP285 Premium Activated Carbon Cabin Filter
The CP285 filter from EPAuto contains baking soda and carbon which is said to enhance the HVAC system while giving you much cleaner air. It’s worth noting that some users have noticed that the number of pleats on the EPAuto filter differs from standard factory filters, although this does seem to be model specific – not all are different.
The baking soda is there to help absorb odors, not filter anything, and it’s a recognized way to do just that – baking soda is great for odor problems – the same as charcoal.
While this is the cheapest cabin filter here, don’t let the price fool you – it works well, and if you’re on a budget, will do just fine as a replacement cabin filter.
FRAM CF10134 Cabin Air Filter
This is actively branded with Arm & Hammer baking soda (not just any old baking soda), and as to whether that makes a difference or not … who knows! What is clear though is that the CF10134 filters out 98% of pollen, airborne contaminants and dust. The design allows for better air flow through the filter, giving an almost unrivalled performance.
Thanks to the baking soda and carbon, it helps to reduce musty odors, which can be a big problem for certain cars, especially in states that are damp. Full installation instructions are included, as are QR codes for links to install videos.
Mann-Filter CUK2939 Activated Charcoal Cabin Filter
Mann are an OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturer) for Volkswagen, so you’re not buying a cheap replacement part, you’re buying genuine equipment.
Thanks to the combination of mechanical, electrostatic and activated charcoal, this filter does nearly everything … pollen, dust, harmful gases, spores … definitely a high-performance cabin filter. Speaking of performance – the ‘low-flow’ resistance gives optimum ventilation, and life-long filtration performance throughout use.
It’s also an exact fit for the cabin filter housing – no bending or squishing, no air gaps, just solid engineering – one of the best charcoal cabin filters available.
K&N VF2000 Washable and Reusable Cabin Air Filter
K&N bring us something a little different – a washable and reusable cabin filter, K&N say it’s the first of its kind. Of course, K&N have made their name in air filtration, so it makes sense for them to extend their expertise in to cabin air filtration, but … and it’s a big … the prices are similar to their engine air filters.
Will the fact that you can reuse it offset that premium price tag? Maybe, but don’t forget that you’ll also need the ‘refresher kit’ to clean and treat the filter … you could be looking around at least six of the cheaper filters before you start getting benefit for the cost.
With that said, it helps to capture mildew, fungus, bacteria, spores, pollen, allergens and general odors … everything you don’t want to be breathing in, although some uses have made note of an acrid rubber smell when it gets hot.
ECOGARD XC36080 Premium Cabin Filter
The ECOGARD filter meets or exceeds the same standards as the original Honda cabin air filter, it’s not quite O/E.
ECOGARD say that it filters 99.5% of all airborne contaminants, which is higher than other filters listed here (usually around 98 – 99% effective). They also add that it helps to prevent premature wear on the HVAC system, thanks to improved air flow and efficiency; that’s sort of true, but the same could be said for the other filters listed here also.
Designed for everything from pet dander through to allergens and air pollutants.
ACDelco CF188 GM O/E Cabin Filter
Again, another O/E recommended filter, this time for GM vehicles – it’s manufactured to the same exacting standards as all the original equipment supplied by ACDelco.
The CF188 uses a long ‘media’ that’s attached to the non-woven material to help filter more particles without decreasing air flow, and it has a triple layer compound, which is designed to filter contaminants in differing sizes, obviously down to microscopic airborne pollutants.
All in, the ACDelco product is well manufactured and does a great job of cleaning the air that we breath, without adding strain in to the system.
It’s worth remembering that even putting aside any extra strains that a clogged cabin filter can put on the HVAC system, it’s literally cleaning the air that you breathe in the car, so you should definitely change the filter more often than ‘once in a while’.
It’s not worth getting a shop to change the filter … even if you’re the type of person that wouldn’t know one end of a wrench from another, you will know someone that could swap it out for you, it’s one of the easiest jobs when owning a car – it just sounds complicated because it’s hidden.