Best Engine Air Filters: Keep Your Engine Free Of Contaminants
These top air filters will keep dirt and debris away from your car’s life source
The Drive and its partners may earn a commission if you purchase a product through one of our links.Read more.
PUBLISHED ON September 12, 2019
Engine maintenance is vital if you want your vehicle to perform at its best. One way to ensure it's operating efficiently is by making sure you clean and/or replace all the necessary components. This includes the engine's air filter. The best engine air filters will protect your vehicle from dirt and debris. Check our car air filter reviews to find the best products on the market for your Toyota, Honda, VW, and other types of vehicles.
- Best OverallFRAM Extra Guard Flexible Rectangular Panel Air FilterSummarySummaryThe FRAM filter improves airflow and prevents dirt and dust from entering the engine. The product comes with directions and illustrations that provide clear installation instructions.ProsProsThis filter is excellent quality, easy to install, and it doesn't require any special tools or mechanical skills. It works great, is reliable, and fits perfectly in compatible vehicles.ConsConsIt may be a tighter fit on certain makes and models, so it may be harder to insert. You may need to push down on the cover to attach the clips.
- Best ValueMann-Filter C 43 102 Air FilterSummarySummaryThe MANN-Filter features specially embossed paper for good pleat stability and reduce intake noise. It filters harmful particles such as dust, pollen, sand, soot and even drops of water.ProsProsThis OEM-grade filter has a nice quality feel, takes very little time to install, and is a great value. It's the exact filter that Volkswagen puts in at the dealership.ConsConsInstallation may be tricky. It may fit tightly in the plastic filter housing, and the product is made in Mexico, not Germany.
- Honorable MentionK&N Engine Air FilterSummarySummaryThis washable and reusable oil filter is designed to boost horsepower and rate of acceleration. It can be used throughout your vehicle’s lifespan and has high airflow with exceptional filtration.ProsProsYour car seems to breathe a bit better, and your vehicle doesn't feel restricted or choked up like it can with a stock filter. It makes shifting noticeably smoother and can increase horsepower.ConsConsYou may not experience a noticeable increase in MPG or other performance gains with this filter despite its reputation. Also, it may emit a high-pitched sound.
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 Engine Air Filters
- Boost performance. Top car air filters support airflow and prevent contaminants from entering the valve train and intake manifold. Your car’s engine requires proper airflow in order to burn gas and perform efficiently. If you want more horsepower, purchase one of the best engine air filter brands.
- Prolong engine life. If you do not have an air filter, dirt, debris, and other particles can enter the throttle body and combustion chambers. This can damage the engine's internal components, such as the cylinder walls, piston rings, and valve seats. The best engine air filters will provide engine protection.
- Save money. It's hard for air to get through a clogged engine filter. As a result, the engine must work harder. Eventually, this will affect the gas mileage, which will cost you more money.
- Protect the environment. Clean or remove your dirty air filter to reduce pollution. When airflow is constricted, it can affect the emissions control in your vehicle, which will emit pollutants into the earth's atmosphere. This is one of the causes of climate change and global warming.
Types of Engine Air Filters
There's a good chance your vehicle came with this type of filter, which is the most common on the market. The best paper air filter is not very expensive, and it does an adequate job of filtering your engine. Paper filters typically need to be replaced every 15,000 to 30,000 miles, depending on where you drive. For example, if you frequently traverse dirt roads or live in a polluted area, you will have to replace it more often.
Performance filters are usually custom-fit based on your vehicle's model and make. The best high-performance air filters are reusable as long as they are properly cleaned. These replacement air filters are designed to open up your engine to its fullest potential by increasing horsepower and fuel economy. While they are superior to paper filters, they are also more expensive.
This type of air filter is coated in oil. It traps dirt and debris and prevents it from passing through the oiled layer. An oiled filter provides more clean engine performance than other types of filters, and it is also reusable. These replacement filters require occasional cleaning and re-oiling but should last the lifespan of your vehicle.
Fram made its first easily replaceable oil filtering element over 85 years ago in Providence, R.I. The chemists, Frederick Franklin and T. Edward Aldham, combined their last names to form the company name. The company, now headquartered in Lake Forest, Ill., is a leading producer of oil filters in the United States. One top product is the FRAM Extra Guard Flexible Rectangular Panel Air Filter.
K&N has been a leader in automotive filtration and technology for over 50 years. Two motorcycle racers, Ken Johnson and Norm McDonald (K&N), from Riverside, Calif. created an oiled cotton filter in the early '60s that was washable and reusable. The company continues to produce excellent products for everything from top-fuel dragsters to commuter vehicles. We recommend its washable and reusable K&N Engine Air Filter.
Application Associates is a factory-authorized dealer and distributor of MANN-Filters as well as low-pressure air vacuum and filtration equipment and has been serving the public for nearly 40 years. The company is located in Middlesex, N.J. One of its popular products is the Mann-Filter C 43 102 Air Filter.
Ernest Sweetland and George H. Greenhalgh patented the first automotive oil filtration system in 1923. They called it “Purolator”, short for “pure oil later." In 1946, Purolator introduced a pleated paper oil filter—a technology still in use today. The company is headquartered in Mississauga, Canada. One top product is the Purolator Single Air Filter.
Wix Filters, based in Gastonia, N.C., has been an innovator in filtration products since 1939. WIX designs manufactures and distributes products for automotive, diesel, agricultural, industrial, and specialty filter markets. One of its top filters is the WIX Filters Air Filter Panel.
Engine Air Filters Pricing
- $10-15: Most disposable engine air filters fall within this price range. You can find a good-quality product online or at an auto parts store without spending a lot of money, but you need to replace these filters frequently.
- $50-$60: Reusable air filters cost a little bit of money, but they last as long as the lifespan of your vehicle.
It's essential that you make an automotive air filter comparison to ensure that the product you select is designed for your vehicle's make and model. You may simply use the stock size filter that comes with your car or truck. If you modify your engine, i.e., add a turbo or supercharger, you will need a performance filter. These are often cone-shaped and are referred to as cold air intakes or induction kits.
Pay attention to the overall construction of the air filter. This includes the material used in the construction of the product. Look at the filter and see if it will hold up under general wear and tear. Good air filter brands will be made of high-quality materials and be longer-lasting.
The best engine air filters have more grooves in their designs. This allows them to trap more contaminants. Air filters with flatter surface areas are less effective in filtering out dirt and debris. If you want the best air filter replacement, find one with multiple pleats or folds.
- Temperature Resistance: The best OEM air filters and top aftermarket brands vary when it comes to temperature resistance. This is particularly important if you live in a very warm climate. It's a good idea to use an air filter with a higher temperature resistance if you are constantly exposing your vehicle to the heat.
- Warranty: When you're trying to determine who makes the best auto air filter, you also want to consider whether the manufacturer provides a warranty. Most companies have one-year warranties. During this time, they may repair or replace the filter for free if it is defected or exhibits any issues.
- Easy Installation: Fortunately, it is fairly easy to install most engine air filters. You don't usually need a mechanic to get the job done. However, you need to make sure that the air filter manufacturer provides clear and easy-to-follow directions to ensure that you install it correctly.
Best Engine Air Filters Reviews & Recommendations 2019
Best Overall: FRAM Extra Guard Flexible Rectangular Panel Air Filter
The FRAM filter provides two-times normal protection by improving airflow and preventing dirt and dust from entering the engine. The product comes with directions and illustrations that provide clear installation instructions. To prevent decreased acceleration and horsepower and improve overall performance, the company recommends changing the filter every 12,000 miles.
This filter is excellent quality, easy to install (it takes less than five minutes), and it doesn't require any special tools or mechanical skills. It works great, is reliable, and fits perfectly in compatible vehicles. It is significantly cheaper to install yourself versus taking your vehicle to a dealership for service. Also, the orange border allows you to write the install date and mileage on it for future reference.
There have been some comments that this is a tighter fit than your OEM filter, so it may be harder to insert. It seems a bit thicker than the original filter, so you may need to push down a bit on the cover to attach the clips or use pliers to pull the locking tab into place on the cover.
Best Value: Mann-Filter C 43 102 Air Filter
The MANN-Filter provides optimum dirt separation. It features specially embossed paper for good pleat stability and reduces intake noise. It filters harmful particles such as dust, pollen, sand, soot, or even drops of water. It also balances the air flowing towards the air flow meter and seals off adjacent components.
This OEM-grade filter has a nice quality feel to it because the edges are firm and tough. It takes very little time to install it, and it is a great value. This is the exact same filter that automakers such as Volkswagen put in at the dealership (at a fraction of the cost). After installation, your engine will idle quieter and run much more smoothly, and fuel efficiency will increase.
One downside is the installation process may be a little tricky. Also, some people have complained that it's a really tight fit in the plastic filter housing. In addition, the product is made in Mexico, not Germany, despite being VW OEM.
Honorable Mention: K&N Engine Air Filter
This washable and reusable oil filter is designed to boost horsepower and rate of acceleration. It can be used again and again and has high airflow with exceptional filtration. It lasts up to 50,000 miles before cleaning is required, depending on driving conditions. The filter works with original equipment manufacturer vehicle electronics.
After installing this high-quality filter in your vehicle, it seems to breathe a bit better, and your vehicle doesn't feel restricted or choked up like it can with a stock filter. Plus, you may experience a slight bump in acceleration and MPG. It makes shifting noticeably smoother and increases horsepower. It's a one-time purchase because it lasts the lifespan of your car, and it improves the health and performance of your engine.
Some owners have not seen a noticeable increase in MPG or other performance gains with this filter. In addition, you may hear a high-pitched sound or whistle when the engine is about to shift gears, but if you are talking or listening to music, you may not notice it.
- It's essential that you regularly replace or clean your automotive air filter. If you don't, you can harm your Emissions Control System and cause problems with horsepower and fuel efficiency.
- To make sure that you are using the right air filter for your vehicle's make and model, consult your owner's manual or look for a size chart online.
- Check out filters that protect your engine from water as well as airborne particles. If there's heavy rainfall, you want to make sure your filter can prevent water from entering the engine.
- If you use an oil-based filter, make sure the oil is dense. You don't want the oil to flow into the engine alongside the particles that it is supposed to keep from getting inside of it.
Q: How often do I need to change my engine’s air filter?
A: If you have a paper filter, experts recommend changing it every 15,000 to 30,000 miles or every three years. Over time they will start to degrade. If you have a performance filter, you may be able to go as long as 50,000 or even more before you have to clean it.
Q: What are the signs that I need to change my air filter?
A: You may need to replace your engine’s air filter if you notice weaker acceleration, decreased throttle control, and ignition problems. You may also notice reduced gas mileage or horsepower. If the service light kicks on or black smoke comes out of the exhaust, you may need a new air filter.
Q: How do I change an engine air filter?
A: First, open your hood and find the air filter housing, which is next to the engine. Remove the old filter, and throw it away if it's paper. If it's a performance filter, clean it off and re-oil it, if required. Then insert the new or cleaned filter. If you want to replace a paper filter with a performance filter, make sure it’s compatible with your vehicle.
Our pick for the top engine air filter is the FRAM Extra Guard Flexible Rectangular Panel Air Filter. It's quick and easy to install, is reliable, and it fits really well in compatible vehicles.
For a more budget-friendly product, consider the Mann-Filter C 43 102 Air Filter.