The often ignored air filters

Thursday June 03 2021
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A mechanic shows off an airfilter. Replacing a clogged air filter can increase fuel efficiency and improve acceleration. PHOTO /ISAAC SSEJOMBWE

By Mustafa Ziraba

Because a car’s primary purpose is to move you from point A to B in all sorts of conditions, it is bound to take in all kinds of dirt and grime. This is why you shall always hear car phrases with ‘filter’ in them for instance ‘oil filter,’  ‘fuel filter, and ‘air filter.’

All filters incorporate a filtering element constructed from various materials.

These materials can vary from cloth fibre, paper fibre, wire mesh screens or any combination of the three.

Most fuel and oil filters are housed within a metal container connected to the engine or fuel system and are fairly complex to replace so you definitely need a mechanic.

A properly maintained filter system will enhance the performance and extend the life of car.

Of all the filters, one that has least the difficulty in checking and replacing or fixing is the air filter.

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You may not have put much thought into your car’s air filter just because it seems like such a simple aspect of the car’s maintenance.

The big difference

Actually, air filters can make a tremendous difference in the life and general performance of any engine.

Peter Kabenge, a mechanic in Nakawa says that increased fuel efficiency or simply back to factory setting is one of the benefits of replacing the air filter in a timely fashion.

In addition, changing a clogged air filter can potentially increase acceleration on modern fuel-injected cars.

It is obvious that a clean air filter improves air flow to the engine and increases engine performance and fuel mileage.

With a properly functioning air filter, there is a reduction of emissions. Clogged air filters can reduce air flow to the engine, literally choking it, and as a result affect the emission control systems of the car causing an incorrect air-fuel mixture and spark plug ignition problems which can lead to serious driveability issues.

But how do you know when to check or change your air filter?

The recommended interval for change is every 12,000 – 20,000 kilometres, but that can be affected by the particular road and air conditions in which you drive.

If you do a lot of driving on dirt or gravel roads, then your air filter is going to clog up much faster than an air filter in a vehicle that is used strictly for city driving. The only real way to know if you need to replace your air filter is take it out and give it a quick inspection.

The best way to remember to check your air filter is to check it every other time you change the oil or take the car in for service. Simply ask any mechanic at a station for assistance.

With today’s sophisticated computer-controlled fuel-injection systems, a clean air filter is absolutely necessary to maintain the delicate balance of the air-to-fuel ratio in a fuel injection system.

A dirty air filter causes this system to go haywire trying to maintain that balance.

Fortunately, it is usually quite straightforward to service the filter element.

A simple pressurised air blow at a service station can restore the filter to its glory days. Just remember that you cannot keep doing that and after a while you shall actually need to replace it with a new one eventually.

Standard air filters will cost between Shs10,000 and as much as Shs200,000  depending on the make and model of the car and the quality of the air filter and come in all kinds of shapes depending on the engine design  

Interestingly, a slightly dirty air filter works better than a totally clean one. This is because the debris in the filter becomes part of the filtering process, trapping smaller particles that might have otherwise slipped past.

There is no real science to knowing when it is time to replace the filter. If it is really filthy, then it obviously needs to be changed. Otherwise, go with your gut feeling. Plan on performing or insisting on this check every few services, and you shall be well

Get to know the filters in your car

Every car has four main filters: the cabin filter, oil filter, fuel filter and air filter. The function of all these filters is to enable flows and catch impurities, the dust and contaminants in the air, the impurities in the fuel or the dirt in the motor oil.

A new air filter allows your vehicle’s engine to get clean air, a key component in the combustion process. The air filter prevents airborne contaminants such as dirt, dust and leaves from getting pulled into your car’s engine and potentially damaging it.

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