In many ways, internal combustion engines are nothing more than fancy air pumps. The engine's intake stroke draws air through the intake manifold to support the combustion process. Without an adequate amount of air, your car can't efficiently burn its fuel, and you'll experience reduced gas mileage and many other issues.
Air filters rarely become so clogged that they impact vehicle performance significantly, but leaving one for too long can certainly create problems. Your owner's manual should tell you when you need to change your air filter, but which one should you choose? This guide will help you make sense of the many options available for this essential auto part.
Genuine or OEM
If you take a trip to your local car dealership, you should be able to purchase a genuine air filter replacement for your vehicle. These filters are guaranteed to fit and work, but they typically come with a hefty price tag. Although your air filter plays a vital role in your car's performance, efficiency, and reliability, it's not a complex part, and this high price may be difficult to swallow.
Alternatively, you can purchase an OEM filter from a local auto parts store. OEM filters meet the same specifications and typically come from the same factories as genuine filters but do not have the added manufacturer mark-up. These filters will last just as long and provide the same performance as your factory filter.
Going With an Aftermarket Alternative
You can also choose to use an aftermarket filter for your vehicle. These filters aren't necessarily identical to the genuine or OEM options, so you'll need to do a little more search. If you're choosing a drop-in replacement, make sure that it's an exact fit for your model. Any air leakage around the sides can cause potential problems if dust or debris can sneak by.
Some aftermarket filters also have unique filters that you won't commonly find on OEM parts. For example, you can elect to install an oiled filter. Oiled filters use a special oil to trap dirt, allowing the filter material to be less restrictive and pass more air through. You can also purchase reusable filters so that you can clean them instead of replacing them.
While replacing your existing filter with a genuine or OEM part is the best way to maintain your factory performance, you shouldn't be afraid to experiment. Many users claim that aftermarket filters improve performance or engine longevity, so they're worth a try if you're looking for a quick, easy, and affordable way to upgrade your vehicle.