Simple Spring Car Maintenance – Change Your Cabin Air Filter Without Tools In 5 Minutes and Save Fifty Bucks

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Dealerships can charge up to $65 to change a cabin air filter. Here’s how you can do it at home for under $15 without using tools. 

Spring is here, and those of us who live in the snow belt count our blessings that the family car made it through another winter unscathed. Vehicles are getting easier to maintain in many ways, but most of the things we do to our cars are just simpler to let a local shop or dealer handle. Do you want to be schlepping used motor oil back to a store for recycling looking through one good eye as you wipe the oil you spilled out of the other? Is your lower back feeling up for rotating your own tires? If so, more power to you! Those are great ways to be involved with your own vehicle’s health and we salute you.

For the rest of us, there is one very simple maintenance item that can be performed at home and you won’t need any tools. In fact, you can do it sitting down. That is changing your cabin air filter, a.k.a. your AC filter element. In almost every modern car it is located just behind your glove box.

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Begin by sourcing your air filter cartridge. There is no need to head down to that auto parts store. You can get the part you need from Amazon or other online retailers. We like Amazon for this part because it offers a simple double-check system to verify you have the right item. You simply add your make, model and trim in its handy parts checker and the system tells you if the part you have selected by keyword search will fit.

We priced out two cabin air filters for a 2007 Toyota Highlander and a 2016 Subaru Forester. Both popular crossovers in the largest auto segment in the market today. The Toyota replacement part was priced at $13.22 before tax and the Forester’s part was $9.73 before tax. We’ve been quoted over $50 by a Subaru dealer to have this part changed out. You can see the Amazon checker in the top left of our image. To feel better about your purchase, read the comments at Amazon and see how the part worked out for other shoppers. Over 300 buyers have added comments on their experience with the filter we selected, and it earns 4.5 stars.

To change out your filter, see if you have an owner’s manual for your car that shows how to do the simple switch. If so, that is your primary guide. We would also suggest that you watch Youtube video showing the steps. We found one for our exact model. Next, empty out your glove box and set aside all that stuff for sorting. The box part of the glove box is usually connected by a lever that can release the box allowing it to drop down and reveal the filter element behind it. Remove the old filter. We suggest doing so slowly and keeping it in the same orientation it is in when installed. Set it down on the floor that way. Now, if your particular filter isn’t obvious as to which end is up, you can use it as a guide. Some filters will have a removable frame that you re-use with a disposable paper filter that goes inside.

Re-assemble your glove box and then put back in all the stuff you want to keep in there. Here’s a tip. Tear off a part of the box your cabin air filter element came in. Write the date you changed it, the miles at that point and the place you bought it and leave it in the glove box. Our part came with a sticker for that purpose. Fill that out and you will have an easy reference guide the next time you need to replace it. Throw your Amazon receipt in your folder with all your other service items and note your mileage. That will come in handy when you sell or trade the vehicle to a new owner who will be happy to see you keep good records of all your service items.

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John Goreham

John Goreham

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