Cabin Air Filters
Fires Fan Filter Sales
by Kevin Loewen
While devastating in most ways, the fires that burned in California may present customer-service and sales opportunities for mechanical repair shops.
As the fires burned, many vehicles were been exposed to days and, in some cases, weeks of soot-filled air. The increased pollution promises to shorten the life expectancy of engine and cabin air filters. Everything that has a filter probably needs a new filter.
Chris Greeson, senior technical services manager for Wix Filtration Products and chairman of the Motor Equipment Manufacturers Association’s (MEMA) Filter Manufacturers Council, said that while the soot isn’t highly abrasive, it does have the ability to plug up engine and cabin air filters and restrict airflow.
“I honestly believe the cabin air filter is going to be the more critical,” Greeson said. “The modern engine air filter has a ton of capacity, so it won’t be as quickly affected.”
Greeson said many newer vehicles are equipped with cabin air filters, often without the owner realizing it, which means their replacement is often overlooked. “Vehicles with cabin air filters are generally designed to be replaced every 10,000 to 15,000, miles anyway,” he said. “This is obviously going to cut their life cycle, and many are going to need to be replaced.”
If cabin filters become restricted, the operation of the heating and air-conditioning systems and the quality of the air in vehicle can be affected, Greeson said. “You can actually end up with poorer air quality than if you had no filter at all,” he said, “which can have an effect on people with conditions such as asthma.”
Added contamination on engine air filters could have a noticeable effect on vehicles with filters that are already marginal, Greeson said, resulting in a rich mixture, high emissions readings, loss of power, poor fuel economy, and, possibly, the check-engine light coming on.
Greeson said more vehicles might be affected if the contamination is exposed to water, which helps plug the filter. He said that because many newer air intake systems are mounted low near the front of the vehicle, rainwater can get sucked into the intake.
Another concern is vehicles that are running aftermarket air-intake systems, Greeson said, which often achieve higher airflow by sacrificing filtration efficiency. “We recommend filters be a minimum of 98 percent efficient (by SAE J726 testing standards),” he said, “but some of these filters that we’ve tested are down in the 70s and low 80s. If you start out that way and then expose it to this level of contamination, it can really play havoc with the fuel injectors. They may want to go back to the original system during periods of high contamination.”