Does a Dirty Car Air Filter Affect Performance?

Learn how a dirty car air filter can affect performance and what you can do about it.

Does a Dirty Car Air Filter Affect Performance?

It's no secret that a dirty engine air filter can cause engine performance problems. After all, your car needs more than 10,000 gallons of oxygen for every gallon of fuel burned. But what about a dirty cabin air filter? Can it also affect your car's performance?The answer is yes. While a dirty cabin air filter won't cause engine problems, it will make your car's HVAC system work harder than it needs to.

This can lead to the engine overheating or even burning out, as clogged or dirty filters reduce the amount of air flowing through the vents. Lack of adequate airflow affects cabin air temperature, which depends on whether air can pass through the heater core, evaporator, or both. A debris-filled cabin filter will cause the air blower motor to malfunction, resulting in reduced airflow in the dashboard grilles. This will have a major impact on your car's climate control system. A cabin air filter with blocked pores can also put a strain on the air conditioning system. In addition to increasing energy consumption, voltage overloads can damage the motor - especially when you have to increase the fan speed of the air conditioning system to increase airflow.

Not all vehicles are equipped with cabin air filters, but those that do need a clean, unobstructed surface to allow air to move freely. Cabin air filters can capture dust, insects, leaves and other types of debris. A dirty filter will certainly hinder the cooling capacity of your AC and, after a while, could cause unnecessary strain on the entire system. It won't filter out contaminants that cause problems for people with allergies or other respiratory conditions either. For newer models, some “performance” air filters may make a negligible difference (depending on the car model and type of filter). But the difference between a dirty engine filter and a dirty cabin air filter is clear: The former affects vehicle performance while the latter affects the quality of air inside the passenger compartment. A clogged cabin filter will produce moldy or dusty air that smells similar to the air inside a home with a dirty air filter.

It can also mean inadequate cabin air, affect air quality and cause the AC system to consume more energy.