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The Best Air Filters For Cars 2021

best air filter car

The lack of air flowing through to the engine can cause poor performance and simply replacing your car air filter can restore any lost power. Your car requires clean air in order to complete the combustion process of the engine.

The best car air filter is the K&N High Performance Replacement Air Filter, which is designed to boost power and the rate of acceleration.

When you replace your air filter, you will notice a wide variety of debris from dust, bugs, pollen and more. As the filter ages and collects more debris, the air flow to the engine reduces and causes the engine to run poorly.

Table of Contents

Best Air Filter For Cars

Car Air FilterMaterialReplacement
K&N High PerformanceCotton50,000 Miles
FRAM Extra GuardPaper12,000 Miles
FRAM Tough GuardOil12,000 Miles
Mann Filter CPaper15,000 Miles
EPAuto GP997Paper12,000 Miles

Considering how cheap and easy to install most air filters are, its crazy that many car owners do not regularly change them. The amount of benefits that come from a simple air filter change makes it worth replacing all day long.

When replacing your car air filter, it is also important that you replace the cabin air filter that filters the air coming from the vents. This filter is sometimes sometimes never replaced but after switching, you can feel the difference almost instantly.

Not all the air filters will fit your specific vehicle, so its important that you search by your vehicle with the recommendation. Below is a list of the best car air filters that boost performance and allow adequate air flow to the engine.

K&N High Performance Replacement Air Filter

K&N are one of the biggest brands in this industry with a range available from OEM replacements to performance based filters. For those that are wondering how you get better performance compared with a standard filter, it is down to the materials.

This K&N air filter uses high flow cotton that will allow up to 50% more air flow than the traditional, which is great for performance. Another benefit of the cotton construction is that it can be cleaned and used again fairly easily.

K&N claim that this high flow air filter will last approximately 50,000 miles and comes with a 10 year/million mile limited warranty. Therefore, although its more expensive, it does pay for itself in the long term with the durability and warranty.

If you are planning on tuning your vehicle, many companies and flash programmers for tuning recommend that you install a K&N air filter in order to factor in the extra air flow when tuning your vehicle.

Overall, the K&N Performance Air Filter is the best car air filter you can buy and there are a range available to suit all vehicles. They are designed to be a straight swap with OEM parts to make the replacement easier.

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FRAM Extra Guard Rigid Panel Air Filter

Fram is another reputable air filter brand but rather than focus on performance, they provide the ultimate engine protection. Fram claim that this filter will provide twice the engine protection over the standard air filter installed in your car.

Compared with the K&N air filter, it is much cheaper but it does require changes every 12,000 miles to achieve the best results.

Fram produce a wide variety of filter to fit the majority of vehicles but be sure to search for your specific vehicle. Overall, it is the best car air filter for the money and is a straight swap with your current OEM filter.

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FRAM Tough Guard Air Filter

For those that drive in dusty areas or do a lot of off road driving, its important that you choose the correct air filter. Choosing a pre-oiled air filter such as the Fram Tough Guard will trap all the smaller dirty and dust particles that a normal cotton or paper alternative will not be able to capture.

As with the Extra Guard alternative by Fram, this filter also requires changing every 12,000 miles to maintain maximum performance.

Overall, it is the best oil air filter for those that travel in dusty areas and require additional engine protection from the air intake. Even with the extra engine protection, it is still fairly cheap but it is a high quality filter.

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Mann Filter C Air Filter

Mann Filter is a brand you will find in many German vehicles (BMW, Volkswagen, Audi and Mercedes) and is a reasonably priced replacement. The dealerships will use this air filter but charge you much more compared to if you were to buy and replace it.

It is constructed of a premium embossed paper for excellent pleat stability and reduces the intake noise, which would be more common with a K&N air filter setup. Although, many car enthusiast find such intake noise desirable.

It is recommended that you replace the Mann filter every 15,000 miles, which is about the average. As with the Fram alternative, Mann provide an air filter for almost any car therefore be sure to search for your car to get the correct filter.

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EPAuto GP997 Engine Air Filter

For those that are looking for a cheap air filter for their car, there are plenty of affordable option to choose from. Such option is the EPAuto that helps extend engine performance, improve fuel economy, protect against dirt and is a simple swap.

EPAuto state that you should change this filter every 12,000 miles, which for such a cheap engine air filter is fairly good.

Overall, it is a cheap car air filter that is a straight replacement swap with your current OEM filter. It is not going to win any awards but as for bang for your buck goes, it is certainly offers excellent value for money.

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Car Air Filter Buying Guide

The combustion process is a mixture of air, fuel and a spark produced by the spark plug. However, the air reaching the engine for the efficient functioning of the engine must be clean, and this is where the air filter comes to be of importance.

Air needs to be clean free of pollen, dust particles, salt and bird feathers to avoid damage to engine components such as the cylinder walls, piston rings, valves and valves seats which are expensive to replace. In addition to that, air filter ensures that optimal engine performance is achieved by guaranteeing enough air flow to the engine thereby increasing performance, fuel economy and increased vehicle power.

Most modern-day air filters are rectangular-shaped manufactured from paper-like material folded into an accordion shape and made from porous material. However, older car models that used carburetors have air filters that donut-shaped. Upgrading your current air filter in your car can see the following benefits:

Improved Performance and Fuel Efficiency

Air filters get dirty after continued use of the vehicle to a point it becomes clogged and dirty. When this happens, the engine doesn’t get quality air and in large quantity to ensure the smooth running of the engine, causing the engine to require more fuel to produce the same power.

Thereby to prevent this from happening, use of a clean air filter is advisable improving engine performance, and some studies showing fuel efficiency improves by fourteen percent.

Extended Engine Life

Often changing the air filters, dust particles, pollen, and other contaminants don’t get access to the internal parts of the engine, which over time can result in severe damage. Therefore, the use of air filters is an inexpensive alternative to prolonging the engine’s life than spending more money on acquiring a new engine.

Reduced Car Emissions

Reduction in airflow also affects the emissions a car releases into the atmosphere, causing the release of harmful substance into our environment. Hence, by using a clean air filter, one is playing a part in environmental conservation.

replace your air filter

Indications the Engine Air Filter Needs Replacement

Engine air filters should be changed for every 12,000 miles covered, or after 12 months, whichever of the two comes first. It is particularly crucial for those living in dusty places. As you can see from the image above, they do become full of debris over time. Some of the warning signs showing air filter need changing include:

Air Filter Appearance

Knowing if the air filter works, it must be filled with dirt. However, the vital issue is knowing whether or not the dust is too much or at allowable levels not necessitating to be changed. To understand this, one of the best strategies is holding the air filter to the light, and if light manages to pass, then air too can go through it.

Reduced Fuel Economy

The lack of clean air in large quantities results to the engine struggling to deliver since the air to fuel ratio is not at levels the engine requires. Consequently, to get more power, it necessitates the driver pushing the engine harder to produce more energy. It results in increased fuel consumption by the vehicle resulting in reduced fuel economy.

Exhaust Producing Black Smoke

An air filter being dirty leads to reduce the amount of air involved in the process of combustion in the engine. Consequently, more fuel is needed leading expelling of soot-like deposits from the vehicle through the exhaust system.

Rough Noise by the Engine

Accumulation of soot around the spark plug leads to malfunctioning of the engine. It’s characterized by the engine producing grinding sounds while running, seeming as if it is misfiring.

replacing your car air filter

Steps of Changing the Air Filter

When it comes down to actually changing the air filter of your car, it is a relatively straight forward job. Below is a guide on how to replace a car air filter but of course, every car is different and it will not be the same for all cars.

Buying the Correct Air Filter

Most air filter price range between ten dollars to thirteen dollars depending on the car’s model. Knowing the air filter needed for the car is an easy process, either by checking the owner’s manual or filtering the online search to your vehicle.

Open Hood and Find the Filter Box

The filter box is easily opened and is by no means a complicated process. It involves unfastening the metal clips holding the box in position, and after successfully doing that taking out the dirty filter and inspecting it. It is done by looking inside the folds, and if the presence of a lot of dust particles is a lot, a new air filter is needed.

Install New Air Filter

Place the new air filter into the filter box and ensure it perfectly fits in the box. Subsequently, close the box cover and tighten the clips tightly. This change of air filter will take approximately one minute.

Maintenance of Cabin Air Filters

Although most people change the air filters, few ever consider changing the cabin air filters. This is ironical considering one is taking steps to ensure the engine has clean air and not doing the same about the air they inhale, with the dust particles and pollen entering through the HVAC system.

The frequency of changing the cabin air filter varies depending on the one’s driving environment, with dusty places needing them changed more often. Generally, though, the filters should be replaced after every 15,000 to 25,000 miles covered. Moreover, the existence of respiratory infections should be a reason too for changing the cabin air filters and improving the air quality inside the car.

Indicators Cabin Filters Need Replacement

Clear indication filter needs changing is reduced air flow when the A/C is being used. Furthermore, disgusting smells coming through the system when using the A/C is another sign the cabin filters need changing. Finally, just looking through the cabin filters through light and not being able to see through due to the accumulation of bugs, leaves, dust, and dirt is an indication the filter is no good.

Location of the Cabin Air Filter

The position of the cabin air filter varies from one car model to another. Most vehicles have its location behind the glove box which is easily accessible whereas others replacement can be more tricky. Changing the cabin air filters and engine air filter at the same time would be ideal when the vehicle is taken for a maintenance service.


Replacing your cars air filter is a relatively straight forward job and you do not even need to get your hands dirty in most cases. The majority of air filters will require changing between 10,000 to 15,000 miles but there are premium alternatives that can run perfectly for much longer.

Premium examples will often use a high air flow cotton whereas cheaper alternatives will use an embossed paper to capture debris. For dusty areas, an oil media material is highly recommended as it will capture all the smaller particles present in the air.

All the recommendations above cover each material type and all budgets. Avoid paying the extra at a dealership and replace your filter yourself because its much simpler than you think.

procarreviews author

Written By Dan

About the Author

Dan is an automotive journalist and owner of over 10 cars ranging from supercars, tuned cars, classics and your good old beater cars. He always likes to get his hands dirty with nut and bolt restorations or detailing sessions using the best products on the market.

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