Fix It Friday: Replace Your Car’s Air Filter

Fix-It Friday is an occasional series that details the projects I’ve done around the house. Check out some past posts here and here.

I’ve been working on a number of freelance writing gigs lately, which makes me happy — especially when the checks start rolling into my mailbox (and into our savings account). But that doesn’t mean I want to spend my hard-earned money on paying a mechanic to replace my car’s air filter.

I’d like to think I know my way around a car pretty well, as least for the basics. My brother and I changed the oil on my first car years ago, and although I’ve never replicated that chore, I’ve always been able to replace the air filters in my cars.

Now imagine this sexy beast with a navy blue ragtop!

My first car was a 1989 Pontiac 6000 LE , which my friends and I called the Bingomobile because it looked like a car Grandma would drive to her bingo game. It was a nondescript four-door white car with a navy blue ragtop that was ripped over the driver’s side, causing my seat to take on water every time there was more than a passing shower. In that car, it was easy to change the filter — the housing, located in plain view, was a circular metal bin with a top, held together by a wing nut. Not rocket science.

(I’d like to mention that the Bingomobile met an early death, probably in a chop shop, after being stolen from the street outside my apartment. And that the town’s police department continued to send me questionnaires for years, asking me if I’d “recovered my vehicle.” Uh, no. But I digress).

Today, I have a 2003 Pontiac Grand Am GT (yes, again, I own a four-door, white Pontiac) that has been serving me well since I bought it as a model-year leftover in early 2004. The odometer just turned 75,000, and I’ve only had to do the usual maintenance — tires and brakes — and only had to replace a knob on the heat control that snapped off.

My dad inadvertently reminded me that I had to replace my car’s air filter when he mentioned that he was still waiting for my brother to put a new one in his car for him. I would have done it, but my brother had bought the filter and had been driving it around New Jersey for the past two months. It’s something that should be replaced every 25,000 miles, and I don’t think I’d done mine in a long time.

Clogged air filters can cause your engine to run like crap and, in worst cases, can cause it to seize up if any debris gets into the engine.

How to Install a New Air Filter

It’s really easy, at least on my car. First, I took a short ride to our local Autozone and had one of the service guys look up the part number for me. I grabbed the corresponding air filter and paid for it: $11.33, with tax.

When I got home, I popped the hood on my Pontiac, set up the prop rod and got to work. All that I needed was a Phillips-head screwdriver. Yep, that’s it! The air filter box is in two pieces, a top and bottom, and is held together on one side with two screws. The other side is attached to a hose for the air to flow through.

I unscrewed the bolts and put them somewhere safe — this is important, as I’ve accidentally dropped them into the engine compartment before. And fishing them out is NOT FUN.

Then I pried up that end of the air filter box until I had enough room to take out the old air filter. Boy, was that filthy. Threw that out, then put in the new filter, which is shaped like a rectangle and only about 1.5 inches thick. I laid it on top of the bottom piece of the compartment and carefully put the top piece back on, ensuring it was sealed all the way around. I put the two screws back in, and I was in business!

I could immediately notice a difference in the way the car ran with the new filter. So for $11.33, I not only got a new air filter and saved myself the trouble of paying a mechanic, but also improved my engine performance.

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