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Best Car Air Filters Compared – Keep Your Engine Breathing Free With These Picks
Let’s discuss air filters today. Sure, you know that your car needs an air filter, but the question becomes why? And is this an area that you can save some money or should you be getting one labeled the best car air filter.
Fortunately, Garage Chief is here to help you with choosing the right one. We’ve gone through the options that are out on the market and have highlighted some of the best options out on the market today. We’ll help you find the best auto air filter for your particular needs.
And we won’t stop at just giving you car air filter reviews for our picks for the best choices out there. We also have a buyer’s guide where we will look at some of the top issues in the area.
We’ll go over what you need to consider when you are looking at purchasing your next air filter. Not only that we will look into if there is a reason to get one of the best performance air filters or are the more inexpensive options just as good at the end of the day.
Since we have a lot of information to get to, let’s dive right in.
Best Car Air Filter – Our Top Picks Compared
|editors-choice||Best Product||Best Value|
|item-title||K&N High Performance Replacement Air Filters||FRAM Extra Guard Air Filter||Mann-Filter Air Filter line||AEM DryFlow Air Filter||Purolator PurolatorONE Air Filter line||Wix Air Filter|
|Best K&N Air Filter||Best Air Filter for the Money||Best Mann Air Filter||Best Synthetic Air Filter||Best Paper Air Filter||Best Engine Air Filter|
|item-review||read review||read review||read review||read review||read review||read review|
washable and reusable
washable and reusable
|Lasts up to||Lasts up to|
|Lasts up to|
follow the car owner’s manual
|Lasts up to|
follow the car owner’s manual
|Lasts up to|
|Lasts up to|
|Lasts up to
|editors-choice||Best Product||Best Value|
Car Air Filter Reviews – Which One is The Best?
Now that you have an idea where each of our choices stand, let’s look closer at each of our picks.
Now it is important to remember that for each of these options in our car air filter reviews are a bit more of a review of that line of filters. There are numerous different sizes of filters as required by the wide selection of makes and models that are available today.
As a result, each brand tends to make many different varieties of air filter depending on the type of vehicle. Therefore, you should really evaluate your personal needs and the type of filter you need given your vehicle, and then you can choose a brand from our buyer’s guide depending on which one appeals to you the most.
When you make your decision as to which style filter to purchase, you’ll want to double check that you have the right size for your particular vehicle.
K&N High Performance Replacement Air Filter
- Type: cotton media air filter
- Reusable: washable and reusable air filters
- Lasts up to: 50,000 miles
We’ll start off with the best product line in our eyes and the hands down winner here is the K&N High Performance Replacement Air Filters. These filters are about as close as you can get to a set it and forget it option when it comes to your car’s air filter.
One thing that you are sure to find in any K&N air filter review is that these filters are designed to go for 50,000 miles before they need to be serviced. In the case of that servicing, you’ll have to pull the filter out and clean it off. It would be best to apply some of their service spray before placing it back into your car. But think of how many miles you drive in a year, do you hit 50,000 miles? If not, you would need to service this less than yearly.
This filter is also easy to install and has impressive filtration. It has great efficiency which is proven by the fact that it lasts so long. Perhaps the best air filter on the market.
Additionally, the company stands behind their filters with a million mile warranty. This isn’t just for the next few months or a year or so, at a million miles K&N is making air filters that should outlast the life of the car that they are put in.
These filters tend to run around the $50 to $60 price point, but seeing as how it may very well be the last filter that you end up purchasing for your car, that isn’t overly expensive. The company also claims that the filter will boost your horsepower.
Therefore, although it may be slightly on the pricier side, it might actually save you money in the long run by not having to constantly change your air filter.
K&N Reusable Air Filter Construction
- Durable Urethane Panel Construction
- Pleated High Flow Filter Media
- Epoxy Coated Aluminum Mesh
- Pre-Oiled Cotton Gauze
- Designed for Optimal Seal
This is an impressive design. And even if you can’t fully understand the ins and outs of how this air filter functions, just know that it results in a long lasting filter that you won’t have to worry about constantly replacing.
FRAM Extra Guard Air Filter – Best Paper Air Filter
- Type: paper engine filter
- Reusable: no
- Lasts up to: follow the car owner’s manual
If you are looking for a filter that is a little easier on the wallet while still offering big value, take a look at our pick for the best value product, the FRAM Extra Guard Air Filter.
The Extra Guard line from FRAM settles in between $10 and $20 so there really is no need to look at saving up to make this purchase. And the company claims that with their design of filter your engine will perform twice as well.
This is a disposable filter and should last you about 12,000 miles of use. Once it is done you’ll need to toss it out and put in a new filter, but it means that you won’t have to worry if you’ve cleaned the filter well enough or applied the right amount of spray to it.
FRAM also offers a line of oiled air filters, the FRAM Tough Guard Air Filters. These options still run in the $10 to $20 dollar range (last time we checked), but if you compare exact sizes to each other you’ll find that the Tough Guard runs a couple dollars more than the Extra Guard.
The main difference is the oiled media in the Tough Guard line. This is supposed to do a better job removing small particles like dust from getting through the air filter.
It may slightly restrict airflow more than a none oiled filter, but should still let plenty of air through. If you drive a lot of dirt or gravel roads or go off-roading a lot, you might want to consider spending the extra couple dollars to go with the Tough Guard.
These are a solid choice of air filter. While it doesn’t last as long as the K & N, it is a bit cheaper as well. Therefore, if you don’t mind replacing it more often, and don’t want to make the investment all up front, this might be the choice for you. Also, outright replacing your air filter might be easier to you than cleaning and reinserting.
Mann-Filter Engine Air Filter
- Type: paper air filter
- Reusable: no
- Lasts up to: follow the car owner’s manual
Mann Filters are obsessed with making sure that only clean air makes it into your engine. With that in mind, they have brought out the Mann-Filter Air Filter line.
This is a line of paper filters, so they will need to be replaced with a new filter at each change interval. The line of filters runs in the $15 to $25 price range, so while they may not be the cheapest option on the market they are still not one that is going to break the bank.
Mann Filters has worked hard to put out the best filter they can. They offer filters that not only lessen intake noise but can also filter out droplets of air in addition to any dirt, contaminants, or debris that is in the air. This means that only the cleanest air makes it into your engine. And that clean air can help boost your engine’s performance by making sure it is running at peak efficiency.
Mann Filters are made in Germany and are mostly aimed for higher end cars like Mercedes, Audi or BMW. This is a great filter that serves its purpose and does it well.
It is engineered specifically to do the best possible job. And while you do need to replace it occasionally, they are easy to install.
AEM DryFlow Car Air Filter – Best Performance Air Filter
- Type: synthetic air filters
- Reusable: cleanable and reusable engine filters
- Lasts up to: around 30,000 miles
Another outstanding choice for the best performance air filter is the AEM DryFlow Air Filter. These models run between the $30 and $45 price point.
The company claims that they will capture up to 99% of harmful containment and that they will even offer you outstanding performance in poor conditions, such as those that might be found on a dusty dirt race track. This line of filters is cleanable and reusable so that even while the price might be higher than a paper filter, you’ll not have to buy a new one every 12,000 miles or so.
The company is willing to stand behind their product as they state that each of their filters comes with a guarantee for as long as you own the vehicle for street vehicles, but with all other vehicle types the warranty is for one year.
These filters are proudly made in the United States of America. AEM states that this style of filter will need to be cleaned about every 30,000 miles, but that will depend on where you drive and how you drive.
Purolator PurolatorONE Automotive Air Filter
- Type: paper air filters
- Reusable: no
- Lasts up to: 12,000 miles
Purolator has also entered the somewhat crowded paper air filter market with the Purolator PurolatorONE Air Filter line. This line ranges from about $10 to around $20, based on the specific filter size that your given car requires.
They use a multi-fiber high-density media in their filter and they claim that this set up will end up filtering out about 99% of the harmful particles in the air before they can make their way into your engine. Added to that the gasket on the edge of the filter is designed to form a tight seal around the outside of the filter to ensure that there is no way for air to bypass the filter.
When Purolator makes an air filter, they have two requirements in mind. First, is to ensure that a high volume of air reaches the engine so that combustion can happen under optimum conditions.
Secondly, to ensure that the air quality that makes it to the engine is clean, so that you don’t get dirt clogging up the system. Those are the things that you can count on from every filter in this line.
Wix Auto Air Filter
- Type: paper air filters
- Reusable: no
- Lasts up to: 20,000 miles
The final line of filters to make our list is the Wix Air Filter. These are another option in the disposable paper filter line. They run from about $10 all the way to around $30, with the ones on the higher end of the price spectrum the ones that they consider “heavy duty”.
This is another brand that is proudly made in the USA, this time in North Carolina. Wix strives to make sure that all of their filters fit perfectly into your car’s housing for them, this ensures that there is no leakage or pathway for the dirt and debris that might be in the air to bypass the filter.
The heavy-duty filters are meant more for pick up trucks and these models will last you for about 20,000 miles prior to needing to be replaced, though again this will depend on the driving conditions that you are taking your vehicle through.
This is another high quality, long lasting air filter. If you don’t want to change your filter all that often, this could be the option for you.
Air Filters for Cars – Complete Buyer’s Guide
To start off any buyer’s guide on finding the best air filter for a car, we need to cover some basics. First off we’ll begin with a what a car air filter is. In this case we are talking about the engine air filter, but most cars have at least one for the cabin as well.
These air filters are not to be confused with an air purifier or an air freshener. When most people hear car air filter they might assume they are talking about car air purifiers that freshen air inside a car. However, the air filters covered in this article are for cleaning the air that goes into the engine.
At a basic level, the filter is some type of media that is designed to remove impurities from the air down to a given size.
The first thing that you might come across in that line is that it is a type of media. These filters can be made from a number of materials, such as paper or plastic or various blends of material.
We will discuss this more below. Additionally, the filter is blocking material down to a certain size. These aren’t as much concerned with getting out all the dust particle, but you don’t want leaves and such going through your engine.
Now, one thing that needs to be considered is that the air filter will end up blocking some of the flow of air to the engine. As the filter gets more and dirtier that blockage gets more and more restrictive of air flow.
The amount that a clean and well-maintained filter blocks the air flowing into the engine is a much better option than letting dirt and debris get into the system and clog up your engine. Depending on how your system is arranged you might find leaves or you might just find that after some time your car’s filter is loaded with dirt.
This is why it is a good idea to constantly monitor, clean, or repair your air filter. Restricting the air that goes to your engine is not a good idea, so you want to ensure that a dirty air filter isn’t doing exactly that.
Types of Engine Air Filter
Overall when you are looking at air filters for your car’s engine you’ll no doubt come up with about three different types.
Paper Car Air Filter
The first among these is the standard paper filter. Most cars being driven have this style of a filter in it. They tend to have a cardboard housing and a system of paper (often with a thin metal frame) to collect the dirt.
The upside of these filters is that they tend to be cheap and easily available at a wide range of locations. The downside is that these filters need to be thrown out when they are dirty and if they get wet they can start to come apart.
Definitely the most economical option, but it might not be the option you are looking for if you want your air filter to last a while. It might be a good idea to invest in a higher quality filter, as you will save time and money over time by not having to constantly replace it.
Reusable Engine Air Filter
The next style is the reusable filter. This style of filter is crafted out of some type of plastic. It will be more money to purchase at first, however, this filter can be cleaned off and placed back into your car and used again.
A quality model, like those from K&N Filters, will be able to last the life of your car. You will most likely find that over the long run this style of filter will end up saving you money, but you’ll need to take the time to clean it out as needed.
This is a great investment if you don’t want to go through the constant headache of buying new filters. Simply clean it and place it back in.
Oil Bath Auto Air Filter
Lastly, on some older cars you might find an oil bath filter. This uses a series of tubes containing oil. The air would be forced through the tube and through the oil, the oil would capture the dirt and debris. However, these filters fell out of favor around the 1960s.
Design and Fitting
One of the most important things to consider when purchasing an air filter is to find one that is made for your make and model of vehicle. For many people this is going to be ensuring that you have the stock size filter that should go in your engine compartment. These size charts can be found online or via books, or Amazon’s Your Garage tool.
Now, if you have made some changes to your car’s engine you might need to swap out for a different air filter. One of the main things that drives this change is the adding in a turbo or supercharger. These style of setups may require more air into the engine than a stock filter would allow.
Luckily a number of companies make purpose-built, high-performance air filters (also called cold air intakes or induction kits). Many times, these are cone-shaped to allow to pull air from all around them. If you install one of these you will most likely need to run some tubing, so be sure that you put some thought into their placement.
Do the Reusable K&N Air Filters Work?
If you start looking into the best car air filters, you’ll no doubt find someone mention K&N filters. With a little bit of research, you’ll come across some amazing numbers.
The company claims that these filters can go for as many as 50,000 miles before they need to be cleaned. And these filters can simply be dropped in place of that old paper filter that you were looking to change. To top it off they even claim that their filters can increase horsepower.
The first clue that these filters might be worth the cost is that the company is willing to stand behind them for a million miles. Take a minute and think of your last car, did you even have it for a million miles? That is one heck of a warranty.
And the thing is that this isn’t just a company saying that we make the best thing on the planet like Amway. Here K&N has done independent testing done to confirm the claims that they make, going so far as to post the testing results on their site.
Now, one thing to remember to keep this filter working as hard as it can is that when it comes time to service it you’ll need to keep it clean. The first step is going to be to clear off the dirt that has built up, but the next step is to prep it for another 50,000 miles.
With that in mind you might want to look at the K&N 99-5000 Aerosol Recharger Filter Care Service Kit.
Clearly, the K&N reusable filter is a great choice, and requires less regular maintenance than most of the other filters out there. So if you are willing to make a slightly larger investment, you will be rewarded by saving yourself a hassle in the long run.
How do You Know When Your Car’s Air Filter Needs to be Changed?
The question becomes why do you need to change out your air filter? A clean air filter will allow more air to flow into your engine and you’ll end up having a better running engine that will do better as far as mileage per gallon of gas is concerned.
And the main thing that you’ll notice with a dirty air filter is that your mileage will drop with each tank. With a really dirty filter you can find your numbers start to drop like a rock.
Given enough time and dirt collected you might also find that you start having trouble starting your engine. If you let this go to the extreme the dirt and debris will completely clog your air filter and your car’s engine will choke itself out and refuse to start.
While the extreme case is something that we all want to avoid, as well as any drop in mileage. So, how often should you look at changing out your car’s air filter? The answer is that it really depends. There are two main schools of thought as far as how often a filter should be changed.
- The first group will base their filter changes on the miles that they have driven. This group will note down the last time that they changed their filter and 12,000 to 15,000 miles later they will swap them out. The exact distance can vary based on the filter you use, your model of car, as well as your driving conditions. This is quite an easy strategy as you simply need to set a number of miles and replace it when the time comes.
- The second group will change out their filter based more on inspecting it. This take on changing filters will take a little bit more time on your part but means a much more flexible answer that can at times get more life out of a filter. Here, you will need to inspect your filter on a recurring basis (this could be monthly if you wanted) with every oil change, or another milestone that you will remember.
You’ll need to pop out your filter and take a good look at it. Doing this you can shake out any loose dirt and then determine if it is dirty enough to swap out or not. This means you’ll change when the filter needs a change, not necessarily when the odometer says.
Even if you like the sound of the second method, you might want to note down those mileages for the first several changes to get a feel of about how dirty is dirty enough. Then you will probably find that you’ll zero in on the right solution for you and your ride.
How To Change / Replace The Air Filter?
Now, if you go into a service station for an oil change they will no doubt ask if you want them to change out your air filter. You need to beware of this though and how much they will charge you for it, sometimes changing an air filter may cost as much as the oil change did. This can often make people think that this is a complicated procedure that requires special tools, but that is not the case at all.
For most vehicles, the process is stunningly easy. You’ll want to make sure you have your new filter ready then pop the hood of your car. The most difficult part may be finding the filter compartment.Normally, it is near the front of the engine compartment, but if you have trouble, your car’s manual should be able to point you in the right direction.
Next, you’ll need to open the compartment up to remove the old filter. This is often accomplished by a couple of clips on the housing. Before you remove the old filter, take a moment to note the orientation of the filter, generally if you get the new filter in and the compartment closed you’ll be ok, but it is good to know that you have it positioned correctly.
With the new filter in place you’ll want to close up the compartment and then replace anything else that was moved to gain access.
Step by step instructions for changing car engine air filter.
Top Brands – Who Makes the Best Engine Air Filters?
Fram Air Filters
If you walk into most any auto parts store in the US you are likely to find some sort of Fram filter. They make a huge range of air and oil filters and most likely you have purchased or used one at some point. They have a large enough selection that they probably even cover some oddities in the automotive world.
K&N Air Filters
As you’ve seen in our K&N air filter review, these guys make a high-quality product. They craft filters that are meant to last longer than the car that you put them in. The company has been around since the 1960s and is now making products for over 30 countries, so you have a good chance of finding them around the world.
We highly recommend their reusable filters, as we think they are a great option based on how long and effectively they last.
Mann-Filter Air Filters
Mann filters come under the Mann Hummel company. While it may not be as well-known as some of the other companies that we have highlighted here they still are putting out top notch filters. They are more of a European based company than one based or selling to the States.
Purolator Air Filters
Purolator is a company with a proud American history. They started all the way back in 1923. The company claims to be the one that invented the oil filter for the automobile. And from there they went on to work with other filters through the years.
AEM Air Filters
Starting back in 1987 AEM has made it their mission to innovate. They keep pushing to make everything that they offer better and better and in the long run the customer wins for it. They offer a good deal of filters, but seem to focus more on foreign and more exotic cars, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t give them a look for domestic setups.
WIX Air Filters
WIX has been around since the 1930s and have pushed to be a leader in innovation as far as filters is concerned. In fact if your car or off road vehicle has a filter for anything from fuel to air to oil, WIX probably makes a filter to keep it clean.
FAQ – Questions and Answers about Engine Air Filters
How Many Air Filters are There in a Car?
Throughout the course of this article, we have been discussing air filters for cars, but to be more specific we have been going over a car’s engine air filter. This one, as we have mentioned, is the one that keeps dirt and debris from making its way into your car’s engine.
But most cars have at least one more air filter. Normally, vehicles will have a cabin air filter as well. This filter has the job of keeping dirt and debris from outside your car from finding its way into your cabin via the heating and cooling system. This filter gets changed much less frequently if at all over the lifespan of a vehicle.
Can a Bad Air Filter Affect Gas Mileage?
In a word, yes. As we mentioned above all of the air, and therefore the oxygen, making its way into your car’s cylinders comes through this filter. A bad, or dirty filter will end up blocking more and more of the air making its way into the engine.
When this happens, you can end up getting a poor mix of fuel and air in the cylinders. If your mix isn’t quite right, in this case not enough air, not all of the fuel will combust. Not only will you end up getting less power from each cylinder, but you can end up with that unused gasoline being dumped into the exhaust system.
Is it Bad to Drive a Car Without an Air Filter?
First, you should know that it is possible to drive your car without a filter. However, this will end up causing you issues in the long run. If you have ever changed an air filter, you’ll no doubt have found all that dirt in it. Just think of what would happen without the filter in place. Instead of collecting in the filter that dirt would have found its way deeper into the engine.
This could end up in any number of places along the process, but they all have a similar thing to them. All of them are much harder to clean off than an air filter change. So, the choice is up to you, quickly swap out a dirty air filter when needed or completely disassemble an engine to clean it in order to save a few bucks on an air filter. Seems like a pretty obvious choice to us.
- There are more filters in a car, including oil filters. It is worth to check which ones we recommended.
- Another component that requires regular inspection and replacement is a coolant/antifreeze fluid – here are the best ones.
Best Place to Buy Car Air Filters
By now you probably know which filter you’d like to go with but remember that each make and model will need a particular sized air filter to work with them. This is something that needs to factor into your choice of where to make your purchase.
You can no doubt go to an automotive store and find there aisle of filters and search through the book to find your car and hope you didn’t mix up the line you are looking at.
Today there is another option. If you are looking for an air filter at Amazon you’ll be able to use their built-in system to ensure that you order the right sized filter for the vehicle that you are looking for. Additionally, they tend to have the most impressive selection, so you know you’ll be able to get just the one that you want. You don’t have to settle for just what is available.
Also, they have low cost quick shipping on nearly every item available on the site. With all of these features added to the fact that they have very competitive prices, when it comes time to place your next purchase, you may want to seriously consider at least looking at Amazon.
Overall, even quality air filters aren’t that expensive. Without them you can end up with a clogged up, poorly working engine. It is worth the time to select a quality option that will properly fit your car. And make sure that you change it out at the proper intervals to keep your car breathing freely.
Car Engine Air Filter – The Conclusion
And with that, you should have everything that you need to pick the best air filter for a car. We started out by going over the top six lines of car air filter.
You’ll need to remember that we highlighted the product lines, but when it comes time to order the one for your car you’ll need to be sure to choose the correct size. Generally, this can be found in your car’s owner’s manual, but Amazon also has a helpful tool to ensure that you get one that fits just right.
We felt that the K&N Filters are really the best choice out there, but if you don’t want to take that big of a hit on your wallet, look at the FRAM Extra Guard Air Filter, our pick for the best value product.
It really comes down to whether you prioritize saving money or saving time, as the K&N Filters require less regular maintenance but will cost more up-front.
After our car air filter reviews we launched into our buyer’s guide to make sure that you know everything necessary to pick the best auto air filter for your ride. We discussed not only what to look for but what your air filter does and how often you’ll need to change it out.
Lastly, we’d love to hear from you. Which filter did you go with and why? Let us know in the comments section below.
Last update on 2023-03-24 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API
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