Best Engine Air Filters for Cars: Keep Your Engine Performing at its Best
Keep your engine clean and running smoothly with a new air filter
The Drive and its partners may earn a commission if you purchase a product through one of our links.Read more.
PUBLISHED ON June 19, 2019
Air filters are your car’s first line of defense to keep dirt, dust, and other debris from entering the engine. Once inside, these particles can wreak havoc with vital components and cost you thousands of dollars in repairs. Check out our picks for the best performance air filters for cars to help keep your engine clean and running smooth.
- Best OverallK&N 33-2031-2 High-Performance Air FilterSummarySummaryA high-performance air filter designed to increase horsepower, leading to more acceleration and top end. They are reusable and come with a limited warranty.ProsProsThe washable filter is made from tightly woven cotton that is both durable and collects microscopic particles. The design pushes more air into the engine giving you horsepower.ConsConsIn some cars, no appreciable increase in performance takes place. In a few cases, gas mileage suffers. Also, these filters are not available for every vehicle on the road.
- Best ValueFRAM CA4309 Extra Guard Air FilterSummarySummaryAn inexpensive filter that boasts twice the protection as similar products from other manufacturers. These are a good upgrade from OEM filters.ProsProsThe paper media is layered and enclosed in steel mesh, which is great at trapping particles. The low price makes these filters an excellent choice for those who don’t want a reusable filter.ConsConsThese filters can be difficult to fit into certain model cars, depending on the design of the filter cabin. There are occasional factory defects that can occur. Also, there are no instructions for installation.
- Honorable MentionAEM 28-20304 DryFlow Air FilterSummarySummaryA filter specifically designed for high performance, the DryFlow filter offers increased engine power and speed. These filters are reusable.ProsProsThese filters are designed using an intricate web of synthetic carbon fiber that can boost engine efficiency by one to four horsepower. The filter media is washable and will last through hundreds of cleanings.ConsConsThe rubber edging can cause the filter to not fit properly into vehicles it’s designed for. Occasional factory defects such as cracks and tears in the filter media can occur.
Why Trust Us
All of our reviews are based on market research, expert input, and practical experience with each product we include. This way, we offer genuine, accurate guides to help you find the best picks.
Benefits of Air Filters for Cars
- Better fuel efficiency. Replacing the old air filter in your car will increase the amount of air that is flowing into the engine. More airflow into the engine means the fuel will combust more efficiently saving you money at the pump.
- Engine longevity. Having a properly working filter is essential for keeping the engine air cleaner. Filters increase engine life by protecting them from particles that can damage the pistons, fuel system, and other key components.
- Low cost. Unlike many of the other parts that your engine needs to run properly, air filters are inexpensive to buy and simple to install. For a relatively small amount of money, you can purchase one of the best air filter replacements on the market.
- Reduced emissions. Keeping the air flowing into the engine clean means that dirt, dust, and debris are not getting caught up in the combustion process. This means the engine will burn cleaner, which in turn means cleaner exhaust.
Types of Air Filters for Cars
These are the most common type of car air filters that is available. They are made from a paper-like material that is fibrous and accordion-shaped to provide as much surface area as possible. Replaceable air filters collect a large amount of micro- and macro-sized particles and should be changed regularly.
The other main type of air filter features a cloth-like material that can be cleaned and reused throughout the life of a car. These washable car air filters are not only great in terms of their ability to collect micro- and macro-sized particles, but they are also great for the environment. The upfront cost is higher, but it pays off in the long run.
Since 2001, an increasing number of car manufacturers have included cabin air filters to keep the air you’re breathing fresh and clean. They are designed and work in the same way as the replaceable air filters described above.
Operating out of Lake Forest, Ill., Fram air filters have guided the way as one of the industry's leaders since its formation in 1932. Much of the company's success came after receiving the Army-Navy “E” Award in 1945 for patriotic service during WWII, which also gave it exclusive rights to produce filters for the military. Among its popular products available is the CF10134 Cabin Air Filter.
Originally started as a motorcycle parts store in Riverside, Calif. back in 1969, the company quickly focused on producing air filters and other filtration-based products. Today, K&N is one of the best car air filter brands in the world with factories in the United States, England, the Netherlands, and China. K&N is known for some of the best high flow air filters, like the RG-1001RD Universal Clamp-On Air Filter.
AEM Induction Systems
In 1987, John Concialdi and Bob Sullivan started AEM as a high-performance automotive tuning shop in Compton, Calif. Since then, AEM has worked vigorously to create and innovate some of the best-performing air filters that are used both privately and on the racetrack. AEM is known for products such as the 28-20286 Dryflow Air Filter.
Air Filters for Cars Pricing
- $7-$20: At this price range, you can expect to find some of the best cheap air filters for cars on the market. There are no reusable air filters at this price point, but the replaceable filters that are available are made from high-quality filter media that offers excellent protection.
- $20-$60: The middle-of-the-road price range has filters that boast multiple layers of protection as well as more expensive synthetic filter media. You can also find many of the best reusable air filters for cars at this price point.
- $60 and up: These high-end filters are the choice for luxury car owners as well as professional drivers. In addition to carbon fiber filter media and multiple layers of protection, this price range also has specialty cabin filters as well as package deal replaceable filters.
The biggest distinguishing feature amongst all the various air filters that are available is the media used to collect dirt and debris. Most commonly used are paper filters due to being inexpensive to produce. Other media types include foam, cotton, steel mesh, and carbon fiber.
High-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters are used exclusively to clean the air in the cabin. They use microscopic mesh to trap pollen and other tiny particles that can cause allergies, asthma, and other breathing-related health conditions.
Air filters come in many different shapes and sizes to accommodate all the different car manufacturers out there. There are also high-performance filters that use a cyclonic shape to force air through at a quicker pace, which will increase horsepower. Make sure you know the dimensions you need prior to clicking on the purchase button.
Many filters come with multiple layers of media that give your engine extra protection. These air filters can be found throughout all of the price ranges, so don’t think that you have to spend top-dollar on a quality air filter.
- Reusable vs. Replaceable: At the end of the day, there are very good filters of both types that will keep your engine clean. The choice between them boils down to which kind of new filter is more convenient for you.
Best Air Filter for Cars Reviews & Recommendations 2019
Best Overall: K&N 33-2031-2 High-Performance Air Filter
Our pick for the top overall air filter comes from K&N. This high-performance air filter is one of the best engine air filters on the market and is specifically designed to boost horsepower and acceleration. The 33-2031-2 air filter is also reusable and comes with the K&N 10-year or 1 million-mile limited warranty.
Part of what makes K&N’s design so unique comes from developing filters for use in desert motocross racing. The high flow, cotton filter media is six layers deep, tightly packed, and held in place between two layers of epoxy-coated wire mesh. The cotton is washable and, in tests, still worked perfectly after over 100 washings. You can expect to get extra horsepower out of your engine using these air filters.
While K&N filters are designed for high performance, there are some instances where certain cars show no signs of improvement with this filter. In rare cases, fuel economy actually decreased. Also, make sure the air filter will fit your car before purchasing, as there are a few different models that are incompatible.
Best Value: FRAM CA4309 Extra Guard Air Filter
The Extra Guard Air Filter from FRAM is a great combination of protection and price that makes it not only a very popular product but also our pick for the best value. This replaceable filter is engineered with an advanced filter media that boasts twice the protection of other, similar air filters. Regularly changing this filter will ensure you get the most out of your engine while not putting a significant drain on your bank account.
The level of protection that the CA4309 offers comes from a paper-mesh grille that is interwoven with wire meshing. The media is capable of filtering out microscopic particles as well as visible debris from your engine. The grille design maximizes surface area to collect the most engine-harming particles. FRAM suggests changing out this filter every 12,000 miles to ensure peak performance.
There are issues with this air filter fitting properly into certain vehicles. Specifically, the rubber molding surrounding the filter doesn’t let the filter sit in the filter cabin properly. There is also the occasional factory defect that can be annoying. You can return a defective part for a new one, but this involves extra time spent. No instructions come with this filter, so if you are unsure of how to change it, then you should let a professional handle the work.
Honorable Mention: AEM 28-20304 DryFlow Air Filter
In the honorable mention spot is AEM’s DryFlow Air Filter. These American-made filters are designed to increase engine performance and are made from durable material that can be reused over and over. In fact, AEM is so confident that this will be the last air filter that you have to buy, they back each one with a limited warranty.
This air filter uses a washable, synthetic media that is designed for high performance and promises to add both acceleration and top end to your car. It does this by using an intricate web of carbon fibers that excel at catching particles of all shapes and sizes while still having excellent airflow.
There have been issues with these filters properly fitting into vehicles that they are designed for. This mostly comes as a result of the rubber edging being too snug in the filter cabin. Also, factory defects occasionally occur involving the media being cracked or torn.
- It can be easy to forget exactly when you’re supposed to change out a dirty air filter. To help yourself to remember, jot down the mileage due date and keep it handy with your car’s paperwork.
- If you’re thinking about using a high-performance air filter, do some research first to see what the benefits for your car would be. In some cases, it really won’t make much of a difference.
- To get the most out of replacement air filters, make sure to use a higher-octane fuel as well. This will help ensure your engine’s combustion is clean and powerful.
Q: How many miles can I go between air filter changes?
A: As a general rule, you don’t want to drive more than 12,000 to 15,000 miles without changing or cleaning your air filter. For the best results, consult your owner’s manual for manufacturer specifications.
Q: If I cut an air filter to fit into my car’s filter cabin, will it still work?
A: Air filters are designed to consistently handle a lot of air running through them. If you breach the design, it will weaken the structural integrity, which will reduce the life of the product.
Q: How do I wash reusable air filters?
A: You can use soap and water to clean a dirty air filter. If your filter is especially dirty, try using a degreaser. Once you have cleaned your filter, give it a few good shakes and then let it air dry.
The K&N 33-2031-2 High-Performance Air Filter will deliver clean air and get a few extra horses from the car engine.
If you are looking for an engine air filter that is easy on the pocketbook, check out the FRAM CA4309 Extra Guard Air Filter.