Editor’s Note: In this limited series of Under the Hood, we’ll share DIY tips for drivers who want to fix their cars themselves, regardless of their skill level.
What do you and your car have in common? You both need to breathe. Although engines do not have lungs, they require a constant supply of air to provide the combustion that powers them. Modern cars “breathe” through an intake system that has an air filter that traps dirt and dust before it gets into the engine where it can cause damage. As you can imagine, the filter gets dirty over time. Changing the filter will improve airflow to your engine and keep it clean, and it’s one of the easiest car maintenance jobs you can do. When you change yours, this is a great opportunity to check your vehicle’s hoses and belts for wear.
Locate the air filter and remove the cover
First, take your car’s owner’s manual and open the car’s hood. Refer to the manual to locate the air filter assembly in the engine compartment. The location will vary by car, but it’s likely a large plastic box with a large diameter hose running from it and into the engine. Unclip the plastic clips or loosen the screws securing the cover. You may also need to unlock the hose or disconnect some of the wiring to remove the cover and access the filter. (Pro tip: Before removing any components or hardware, take a picture of the air filter area so you can put it back together to match the picture.)
Assess its condition and replace it
(Purchase the following materials at eBay Motors or a vendor of your choice.)
Once you’ve removed the cover, you should be able to see the air filter itself. Remove it and hold it up to a bright light to assess its condition. If it is covered with a thick layer of dirt and light does not pass through it well, it is time to replace it with a new one.
You can choose a paper filter (a cheaper option) or a reusable one that you clean at set intervals (more expensive but creates less waste). Whichever you choose, make sure you get the right one for your specific auto parts, and most online marketplaces will have the exact part you need. Insert the new filter into the air filter housing, making sure you put the correct side down. Then replace the cover, use screws or clips to secure it, and connect any hoses or wires you disconnected. Your new air filter is installed and your engine will breathe easier.
Check hoses and belts
Don’t close the hood yet — you should also check the main hoses and belts. In addition to connecting the air filter to the engine, hoses also run to and from your car’s radiator and heater. Visually inspect these hoses for cracks, bulges or fraying and crimp them. They should be firm with some give; if they are brittle, spongy or mushy to the touch, this is a sign of wear. Mark damaged hoses with a marker or colored tape.
Also, with the engine off, check any belts that are usually located on the front or side of your engine and connect a series of pulleys. Look for cracks, open threads or separations between the belt layers. Another sign of a bad belt is a squealing or chirping sound when the engine is running. (Also, see if these belts have noticeable slack; if so, they may just need to be tightened. This is also a relatively simple job, but will require other tools and features noted in the repair or mechanic’s manual.)
Notice anything that looks wrong with your belts –no need put tape on them to mark the wear. When you take your car in for service, you can show the mechanic any worn hoses or belts to see if they need to be replaced.