Can a Dirty Air Filter Damage Your Car's Engine?

Learn why it is important to have all necessary filters in your car at all times and to ensure that they are replaced at regular intervals.

Can a Dirty Air Filter Damage Your Car's Engine?

Without an air filter in place, the engine can also vacuum dirt and debris at the same time. This can damage internal engine parts, such as valves, pistons, and cylinder walls. The result is excessive oil consumption, poor engine performance, and ultimately engine failure. In short, you should never drive without a car air filter.

When the air filter becomes too dirty, it will clog and the engine will not be able to draw enough air into the combustion chamber. This can cause a variety of problems, such as lower fuel economy, strange noises coming from your engine, failing cylinders, or the engine check light coming on. When the engine can't receive the air it needs, it won't work as expected. Dust, dirt, insects and other impurities from the air will enter the car's engine and cause problems: internal scratches at best and engine failures at worst.

A dirty engine air filter can cause more serious issues. Outdoor debris can build up over time and wreak havoc on the combustion chamber. Checking the filters as part of regular vehicle maintenance will ensure that they are doing their job to keep the air you and your engine breathe clean. If you're driving in dusty areas, and especially if you're off-road, the filters will get dirty faster and you'll need to change them more often than recommended.

Insufficient air supply means the engine will run on a fuel-rich mixture, which will not burn completely before entering the exhaust and leaving the car as black soot-like residue. Most car manufacturers recommend changing the air filter every 12,000 miles (approximately 19,000 km) or every 12 months, whichever comes first, regardless of how dirty the air filter appears to be. But while most people know at least the basics of oil changes or tire rotation, the air filter is one of those parts that can often be overlooked. Dirt, insects, dust, leaves and anything else that can be absorbed by your car's systems are kept at bay thanks to the filters.

The engine needs a functional air filter to prevent these particles from entering the cylinders. Your engine compensates for this by consuming more fuel to produce enough power to move the same distance or speed as it could with a clean filter. This is because modifying the air filter alone won't have a big enough impact on your car's airflow and exhaust to increase performance. And when it comes to a dirty or clogged air filter, the engine doesn't get enough air; you may be left with a variety of problems, such as hearing strange engine noises or noticing a decrease in fuel consumption.

Protecting the engine against dust, dirt and other contaminants is undoubtedly the crucial function of the air filter. And while driving with a dirty air filter doesn't seem like much, doing so can have a negative impact on your health and that of your vehicle.