Driving without an air filter?


Question for the group. I lurk on here at times, but this is my first post.

I had the oil/filters changed on a 2003 Mazda Protege in May. 5,000 miles later, I was informed by my mechanic that the dealership I had the service done at prior forgot to put in the air filter. I live in downtown Philadelphia, which isn’t a particularly dusty environment, but I don’t believe it takes much dust to do a lot of damage.

I have a call in to the service manager at the dealership to lodge a complaint but am not sure what I should ask for. I understand that there may be permanent damage to the engine. Is there any type of cleaning / replacement I should ask for from the dealership? I haven’t ever heard of this happening to someone before and am seeking the expertise of the group to assist.

I know I should have gone back and double-checked their work and ensured the filter was in fact installed.

If it were your car, what would you do?

Thanks for any advice you can offer.



well, i would get an oil analysis done on the oil in there now as it was drivenb without the filter. This will give you an idea of the contamination (dirt and excess wear metals) that have occurred while it had no filter. The go to the dealer and see what they say!

Excessive wear metals will show up as will dirt/silicon . problem may be that the wear, though excessive, may not have done damage that can be seen now but could prematurely have worn parts that may not show up for years. starting point though

Never trust anyone to do the job correctly, always always check to see that parts have been installed like oil and air filters, belts etc. In todays world you can trust no one, its all about money and how fast can we get the job done


Anything small and combustable would be incinerated…what does that leave?..you have been breathing the same air that the car has been exposed to…any damage?..kidding aside I don’t think it is a big deal for where you live.


5000 mi breathing dirty air probably didn’t help. It would be hard to prove that the dealership forgot the filter since it could be removed easily.


I’d install a new air filter and continue driving the car. I’d also find somewhere else to have it serviced.


Certainly there has been some wear damage, but it would be very difficult to predict. There also may have been damage to a MAF sensor (Mass Air Flow) sensor and they are kind of sensitive. You might want to ask for a new one if your car has one or a like device.


It is possible there has been no damage at all. How can one even tell? Your car seems to be behaving normally. It isn’t as though you were driving through daily sandstorms. Philly air is harmless.

Just put on a new air filter and forget it. Have your car serviced elswhere.


Very good advice, without an oil analysis you are just guessing. The silicon content of your used oil will tell you something about how much dirt the engine ingested. If the silicon content is excessive you will have documentation when you talk to the dealership.


Great advice! I feel much better now. Thanks everybody!


Right, there prob. is no noticable damage. The only way to tell would be to tear down the engine and even then it couldn’t be certain if any damage was a direct result. There would have to be an experiment done with 2 new engines, 1 run with no filter. hmmm