What Happens When Your Car Air Filter is Clogged?

A clogged car air filter can have serious consequences for your engine's performance. Learn what happens when your car's air filter is clogged and how you can prevent it.

What Happens When Your Car Air Filter is Clogged?

A clogged car air filter can have serious consequences for your engine's performance. When the air filter is blocked, it restricts the amount of air supplied to the engine, leading to an increase in unburned fuel that turns into soot residue. This soot can build up on spark plug tips, making them unable to produce a proper spark. As a result, the car may move abruptly, idle, and in some cases, the engine may fail.

Engine misfires, rough idling, and hard starts are all signs of a clogged engine air filter. The dirty air filter restricts air supply to the engine, causing unburned fuel to form a soot residue that accumulates in the spark plug. This fouls the spark plug (s) and decreases its ability to produce the spark needed for the combustion process. Changing the affected air filter and spark plugs will restore your engine's performance.

Decreased fuel economy is another symptom of a faulty or dirty air filter. A bad or dirty air filter restricts airflow and reduces oxygen in the mixture. 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. With every revolution, the engine needs to breathe; a clogged air filter slows airflow.

As the air filter picks up more debris, the airflow slows down even more, making it difficult for the engine to breathe and generate power and torque. If you're an energetic driver, a filled air filter will drag you down. An internal combustion engine needs to mix approximately 10,000 liters of air with each liter of fuel to run. The location of an air cleaner can vary between several models, but it is usually easily accessible from near the front of the engine block, connected to the intake pipe, where you can simply remove it for inspection or replacement. If your car is not responding properly or if you notice sudden movements when you step on the accelerator, this could indicate that your engine is not getting all the air it needs to run.

But when the air filter doesn't allow enough or constant air to enter, it can cause the engine to have problems accelerating. Sometimes a dirty air filter can create problems when a larger piece of dirt causes a blockage in the air supply. For this reason, 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. Over time, the engine air filter can become dirty and lose its ability to filter air entering the engine. If you have a clogged air filter, one of the symptoms you would experience is reduced engine performance. If you neglect a dirty air filter, you may notice progressively poor fuel consumption as well, as the air used for each fuel unit is constantly reduced.

Since the engine is pouring gasoline incessantly, constrained to the same proportion without the car knowing, the volume of air in the mixture is actually turned off. Before reaching the engine, the filtered air passes through a mass flow meter which measures how clean the air is and determines the correct air-fuel ratio for the mixture to maximize fuel efficiency and performance. Contrary to intuition, dirty air filters do not affect fuel economy or emissions of computer-controlled gasoline and diesel engines as long as they were built after closed-loop oxygen sensor feedback systems were introduced. Engines need air to enter into an air-fuel mixture which erupts in combustion chambers to generate power. You can even help save on your car's vital maintenance needs including tire rotations, alignment checks, oil and filter changes and more by getting an Advantage car protection plan. But if your air filter is old and seems heavily clogged then you may want to consider replacing it as it could make driving much more difficult and cumbersome for modern vehicles. Without proper intake of air, fuel mixture will be too rich in fuel so it won't burn properly and your engine will be deprived of oxygen it needs.

Leah Christenson
Leah Christenson

Evil coffee scholar. Lifelong coffee advocate. Wannabe beer guru. Professional web scholar. Hardcore gamer. Extreme travel junkie.

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