Cabin air filter- hoax or not?

My dealer charges $89.95 to replace the cabin air filter. On my car that task involves removing a single screw, which holds the plastic cover in, once the plastic cover is off, you pull out the old filter and put in the new filter, replace the plastic cover and single screw. It literally takes 2 or 3 minutes. I was offered this service before, even though I had already replaced the filter myself a few days before. I declined their offer stating that I felt their price was comical given what the job entails. I was told that you needed “specialty” equipment to get to the filter, I asked if that “specialty” equipment was a Torx bit. The service advisor stated that it was a special tool that the techs have. I then told her that it was definitely a Torx bit because I had just replaced the cabin filter myself. She quickly changed the subject.

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That’s the annoying part on my car. You have to remove the glove box entirely, then remove the glove box frame, then remove something like 6 screws in order to remove the plastic panel that blocks access to the filter. It’s a very un-Honda design that’s clearly only done to make it too much of a pain to DIY.

So I removed the glove box, removed the glove box frame, removed the 6 screws, and removed the plastic panel and cut a hole in it so I could get to the filter easily from then on. Now all I have to do is open the glove box all the way and yank the filter out. You can’t tell visually unless you empty out the glove box. Went from a half hour job to a 2 minute one.


The design on my Outback is simpler–at least in theory.
All one has to do is to squeeze the sides of the drop-down glovebox, lower the glovebox, and then remove the little plastic panel that is held in place with clips.
I say “in theory” because when the weather is cold, it is almost impossible to squeeze the sides of the glovebox sufficiently to clear its attachments and lower it.
I have found that heating the plastic with a hairdryer is a solution to the problem, but instead I am just waiting for slightly warmer weather in order to do the job w/o the hairdryer trick.

 Thanks for your contributions, everybody! Call me Quasimodo, but this all pretty much confirmed my hunches. I didn't convey this as clearly as I meant to in the OP, but it was suggested to me once at a Jiffy Lube and once elsewhere that it would be downright *dangerous* to do anything with a cabin air filter other than change it, and I see now we've pretty much ruled that out. My mechanic also said it had more to do with boat payments than safety.
  It also just occurred to me: Wouldn't a dirty cabin air filter work BETTER than a clean one? More junk to hold the bad stuff back!

Much like your furnace filter, while a dirty filter does have more stuff blocking the air stream and therefore will catch more stuff out of the airstream, it also has more stuff blocking the air stream and therefore makes the system work harder to push the air through. If it gets too extreme, you can end up freezing your AC coils.

Before that happens, though, that filter can weaken and get a hole in it, which will free up the air stream and also let dirt through.

Personally, I like cabin filters. The old pre-filter days sucked if you liked to drive your cars for 10+ years, because that HVAC system got dirty.

You can generally get one for less than 15 bucks and replace it yourself. It doesn’t really make much sense to screw around with trying to clean them.


And even if the filter has no holes and filters ‘better’ when clogged, it’s filtering much less air. In a car that means the air gets filtered much less frequently, so every time you open the door or window the unfiltered air stick around much longer.

Same thing with my dealer. I had 2 free oil changes for my 14 Highlander. My second free oil change they offered me a great deal on new Air Filter and cabin Air Filter for $150. I declined. The air filter is $30 and the cabin air filter is less then $20. The engine air filter takes me less then a minute to change…the cabin filter less then 4. So they were basically charging about $20/min. That’s 5 times more then what my lawyer charges.

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You don’t have a NYC lawyer…

Even NYC lawyers only bill, on average, around 13 bucks a minute. :wink:


Are you trying to make a joke by saying a dirty air filter might work better ? And what is with the annoying scrolling text ?

I don’t know how you do that with no carriage returns but very hard to read. If you don’t want to change the filter, just take it out and breath plain ole unfiltered air. If you want a blocked filter, just take a towel and stuff it in there. Same thing with your furnace but don’t stuff a towel in there or you’ll burn your blower out.

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Didn’t we do fine for nearly a century driving vehicles without cabin air filters?

I do see how dirty they can get, but I wonder what prompted manufacturers to begin adding them.
What problem were they trying to solve?
And why didn’t all manufacturers decide the problem was important enough for everyone to begin using cabin air filters?

My '98 Civic doesn’t use a cabin air filter, and the first time I replaced a malfunctioning compressor, my evaporator coil was extremely dirty, and needed to be cleaned. I’ve since given up on my car’s air conditioner, but if I had continued to replace the compressor every two years, right after the warranty expired and it broke again, I’d have to have the evaporator and ducts cleaned semi-routinely.

If you don’t think you need a filter, try not using one in the air handler in your home unit. The evaporator coil and ducts will get nasty. The same happens in your car.

They likely responded by email, and have no idea it looks like that.

We also “did fine” with outhouses instead of indoor flush toilets, but I don’t know anyone who wants to return to “the good old days” of outhouses…


I almost went that route with my argument, but I couldn’t think of a good analogy, and maybe we didn’t do fine with outhouses. It’s difficut to say how many diseases were spread inside them, and that only strengthens the analogy.

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Personally, I assume the design engineers include air filters in vehicles for good reason.

Changing the air cabin filter in my 2014 Camry is easy, even for my arthritic hands. Took me all of a few minutes last weekend to empty the glove compartment, open the access panel by squeezing clip locks, pull out old dirty filter, insert new clean filter, snap access panel back in place, put stuff back in the glove compartment.
Also put new wiper blades on.

And I’m one of those people whose DIY abilities comes up in negative numbers such I am “talented” at fixing things beyond repair. :roll_eyes::grin:

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I agree. And I agree with the other comments to my question.
It’s just that before car manufacturers added them, I don’t remember it being a big issue with the daily driving population.

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If you think back to your childhood, you will likely recall that not many people seemed to be suffering from seasonal allergies. Now, thanks to Climate Change, there has been a literal explosion in pollen levels in many areas, and this is happening earlier and earlier each year. As a result, there is now a substantial portion of the population that suffers from seasonal allergies, and who can benefit from cabin air filters.

Years ago, my seasonal allergies didn’t start until May, but “sneezin’ season” began in my neck of the woods a couple of weeks ago.

Plus, even without the increased pollen counts… If you’ve ever driven a 20+ year old car that has no cabin filter, you know how dirty the vents get. And you know that even if you detail them with a q-tip and make them nice and clean, about 10 minutes with the fan on high is all it takes to get dirt on them again.

That’s because the air passages are full of gunk, and it all gets blown onto the vents. I don’t subscribe to the “oh my god I’m gonna die if things aren’t totally sterile” theory of health maladies, but I also don’t like a dirty interior for cosmetic reasons.

When I first bought my MR2, the blower fan rattled any time it was used. I didn’t realize it at the time, but this was because the car had been parked for a long time before it was sold (owner died), and while it was sitting outside, a rodent decided the un-screened HVAC intake was his food cache. Shoved probably half a cup worth of dog food down there.

It ended up in the blower chamber, where it was shredded by the fan and blown into the evap chamber. Then I got the air conditioner fixed, and the evap chamber got wet, and the smell was unreal.

I had to disassemble the whole works, clean the rotting dank dog food and insect larvae out, and reassemble it. That remains to this day one of my least favorite car memories, and even after bleaching all the chambers, the smell didn’t get completely out of the vents for a few years thereafter.

All this would have been avoided with a cabin filter, because the dog food would have sat on top of it until I changed it, and then i’d have known it was in there and could have just dropped the blower fan and cleaned the dog food out.