Dirty Cabin Air Filter Symptoms and How to Replace a Bad One

Here are a few symptoms that tell you whether your cabin air filter is in a good or bad condition

Poor Air Flow

The first symptom one can look out for is the air flow from the vehicle’s interior vents. In most of the cases, the cabin air filter gets clogged due to an overload of dust and dirt particles. Which makes it difficult for proper airflow inside the car. Check your air filter for excessive contamination. It is a clear indication one needs to change the air filter. Since it is over clogged, the filter will not be able to perform well. This also affects the cooling capacity of the AC system, which further puts a strain on the AC blower motor.

The unusual odor from the vents

The second most important way to check if your cabin air filter is failing is to check for the unusual odor. Often in the car, while traveling, you may have noticed why there is a foul smell even though you leave the car clean. There are times when the air filter is clogged with excessive dust or dirt, it produces a musty smell. This smell gets spread out, even more, when the AC is turned. Which is why the passengers in the car feel uncomfortable and complain of feeling sick.

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Importance Of The Cabin Air Filter

It’s critical to pay close attention to what’s happening within your cabin. Is your heater operating properly? How about the air conditioning? Is the driving sensation pleasant or a bit uncomfortable and stenchy?

If you’re experiencing odors and congestion, it’s time to inspect your car’s cabin air filter. In the automotive industry, cabin air filters are something of unsung heroes. It handles several obligations, including the following:

  • Assisting in eliminating germs, dust, and various airborne contaminants from the cabin’s air.
  • Contributes to the elimination of smells inside the vehicle’s HVAC system.
  • Assisting in ensuring sufficient airflow during defogging and defrosting – since limited visibility from your vehicle’s windshield might cause major driving problems.

If you haven’t replaced your car’s cabin air filter, you might experience one or more of the following indicators. Consult your owner’s manual to determine the location of your car’s cabin air filter and determine when it should be replaced.

Symptoms of a bad cabin air filter: what happens when the cabin filter is clogged?

Since the air filter collects all debris and contaminants, it’s expected to get clogged over time. Therefore, whenever you know that the air filter is clogged, you’ll have to replace it to enjoy the clean and fresh air. However, failing to replace the air filter impacts the quality of air and impacts certain systems in your vehicle that rely on the air filter.

Let’s take a closer look at some of the common symptoms of a bad cabin air filter that you will notice once it’s clogged. Of course, whenever you notice any of these symptoms, you must replace the filter right away:

1.    Reduction in the airflow

1.    Reduction in the airflow

The first and most common symptom indicates that your air filter might be clogged when you notice less flow getting inside the vehicle. For example, have you tried turning on the AC system or probably the heating system and realized that there is very limited flow coming in? That could be a problem related to a clogged air filter.

If that’s the case, you’ll need to inspect the air filter and other components because the problem may also be related to another culprit. Once you confirm it’s the air filter, you should either clean it up if possible or replace it if needed.

2.    Strong bad smells

The cabin air filter is expected to clean out any air coming from the outside. So, for example, if you’re driving around some factories or other areas that have smoke due to fires or others, you shouldn’t smell these strong smells inside your car. The air filter should take care of all these depending on the air filter’s quality.

However, if you realize that you are starting to smell all the bad smells from the outside, getting your air filter replaced might be a point. The dirtier the air filter, the less efficient it is in preventing bad smells from getting inside the car. Furthermore, even if there is no smell coming from the outside, you might start smelling the dirt or pollution sitting on top of the air filter itself.

3.    Troubles with the window fog

While most of the cabin air filters issues have to do with the quality of air getting inside your car, this air filter plays a very important function, which is functioning the anti-fog system.

If you’ve ever tried defogging the windows and realized that this system is not working, it could be a simple problem with a bad or clogged air filter. Therefore, we highly encourage you to check it out and replace it if needed.

4.    Issues with the heating and cooling system

Unsurprisingly, a clogged air filter also impacts the functionality of the heating and AC system. Since all the air should flow through the air filter first before it gets to the heating system and therefore into your vehicle, it’s not surprising to know that when the air filter is clogged, you’ll deal with AC system problems.

When the air filter is clogged, very little air can get inside the system. Therefore, your AC system or probably the heating system will not be able to adjust the temperature of your vehicle’s interior properly.

Of course, the issues with the AC and heating systems are very broad and can be related to a long list of potential culprits. Therefore, your mechanic needs to perform a thorough inspection before confirming whether it’s a bad air filter or not.

Symptoms of a bad cabin air filter: Final thoughts

Although the cabin air filter might not necessarily impact the driveability of your car, it is essential to have a clean air filter to enjoy the fresh air and prevent respiratory and health problems.

Since the air filter is expected to get clogged over time, you’ll need to learn about some of the common symptoms of a bad cabin air filter. This way, you can replace it immediately whenever needed. But, of course, if there are several other major problems in your car, it might make the most sense for you to check out these problems and fix them before focusing on the cabin air filter.

Sometimes these problems might be beyond repairs or require extensive labor and maintenance costs. That’s when automotive experts typically suggest replacing the vehicle itself and purchasing a better one that doesn’t have any problem.

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What happens if I do not replace the cabin air filter?

If you do not replace the cabin filter, you will n

If you do not replace the cabin filter, you will notice symptoms like a bad smell, low airflow through the vents, foggy or icy windows on the inside, allergies, or whistling noises from the air vents.

Bad smell in your car can easily get stuck in the interior and the value of your car may decrease and it may even damage parts inside the air conditioner. Therefore it is always recommended to keep your cabin air filter up to date.

Symptoms of a Dirty Cabin Air Filter

Removing a dirty cabin air filter
Removing a dirty cabin air filter

Decreased Heating or Air Conditioning Performance

You may notice the air doesn’t blow as hard, hot, or cold when you turn on the heat or AC. This could be a sign of a dirty cabin air filter. If the cabin air filter goes unreplaced for too long, the blower motor can also strain and fail early, leading to worse heating or AC performance.

Bad Odor from the Air Vents

One sign of a bad cabin air filter is a musty or bad odor emitting from your car’s vents whenever you turn the HVAC controls on. If it hasn’t been changed, it an accumulate moisture. If it has a lot of dirt and debris, that can mix with moisture and create an odor from the vents.

Rattling Noise from the Air Vents

If the filter hasn’t been changed in a long time, debris can clog and collect in the filter. It’s possible to hear a rattling sound from leaves or debris collecting in the blower motor. This can happen if the cabin air filter was removed and not replaced.

More on a rattling noise from the vents

Debris in the Filter and Dirty Fins

The cabin air filter is usually located on the passenger side. You’ll typically find it behind the glove box or underneath the dash. It could also be in the engine compartment or underneath the cowl panel, which is the plastic panel you’ll find at the bottom of the windshield.

A brand new cabin air filter will be clean and white. If you find your cabin air filter has a lot of debris and dirty fins, replace it with a new one.

Cabin Air Filter Replacement Cost

The average cabin air filter replacement cost is between $40 and $100, depending on the car model and labor costs. A cabin air filter costs $20 to $50 depending on if you choose to buy a charcoal filter or a standard one.

The labor cost of replacing the cabin air filter is often quite low; in most cases, the replacement is done in a maximum of 30 minutes.

The cabin air filter price can differ a bit depending on if you choose to buy a charcoal cabin filter or a standard one. Charcoal filters are filtering the air better and are better suited for people with allergies.


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