AKRON (March 3, 2003)—Replacing cabin air filters is a much-needed but often poorly understood maintenance opportunity, a service writer told Tire Business.
Fortunately, the service is easy to sell and usually easy to do. Here's the scoop.
During the 1990s, foreign and domestic vehicle manufacturers began installing air filters that purified the fresh air entering the passenger compartment. In other words, when the driver selects “vent” or fresh air on the heating/cooling controls, a serviceable filter under the dashboard literally filters all the outside air flowing into the vehicle's interior.
Besides filtering out airborne pollen and dust, many of these cabin filters also remove a variety of foul odors. To say the least, the technique has been a major value-added feature for motorists—especially allergy sufferers. In the early 1990s, I remember several of the auto makers touting these filters. But like many people, for me the filters were out of sight, out of mind.
Fortunately, fellows such as Jamie Dantro, a service writer at Tiger Tire and Auto in Auburn, Ala., have not forgotten the filters. Prior to manning the service counter, Mr. Dantro had been an outside sales person for Carquest Auto Parts.
He emphasized that almost none of the service facilities he called on were aware of this easy sales opportunity.
In one particularly memorable sales call, Mr. Dantro actually had to explain this maintenance opportunity to service personnel at a new car dealership! Apparently they weren't aware of their own vehicles' features and/or weren't reading the owner's manuals for them.
Typically, an owner's manual does cite service intervals for cabin air filters. Those intervals vary from 12,000 miles or 12 months up to 30,000 miles. However, Mr. Dantro emphasized that visually inspecting the filter is an excellent show-and-sell gambit for service personnel.
Whether it was on his old sales route or in his present job, every filter he has inspected looks filthy. In many instances, the filters have been clogged with layers of leaves, pine straw and other debris, he noted.
Inspect just one filter and you'll probably understand why cabin filters get dirty quickly and why they warrant regular inspections, Mr. Dantro argued. “People don't realize how close and fine these cabin filter elements really are. Even if the cabin filter doesn't look really dirty, rub your finger across it and you'll be amazed at the dirt that comes out of it,” he explained.
Vehicle owners readily agree to replace the filter once they see the debris the filter has trapped, he said. What's more, a filthy filter can be a source of foul odors if it isn't changed in time. There have been cases where a dirty cabin filter has caused a complaint of inadequate air flow from the dashboard air ducts. Although he couldn't personally verify the condition, he said he heard of a situation where a neglected filter allowed clouds of dust to blow into the passenger compartment.
Note that in some cases, these filters clean both incoming air as well as recirculated cabin air.
Many popular cabin air filters are readily accessible via access panels or openings in or near the glove box. Others are accessible from under the hood. The vast majority of cabin filters Tiger Tire and Auto replaces are on domestic vehicles and typical labor time is 10-15 minutes. A common price for a cabin filter job is around $34.95 installed, Mr. Dantro said.
Since gathering this information from Mr. Dantro late last year, I've seen a notice from the Motor & Equipment Manufacturers Association (MEMA). According to MEMA research, more than 50 percent of new cars sold in America are fitted with cabin air filters. Within two years, that number could reach 80 percent.
The case is clear for checking cabin air filters. Make it a work routine to check every owner manual or the appropriate maintenance source material for the presence of a cabin air filter. Then everyone will breathe a little easier.