Changing your cabin air filter

Updated: September 26, 2015
Dirty cabin air filter

A cabin filter in your car is similar to a furnace filter in your house. It filters the air for the vehicle heating and air conditioning system. As any other filter, a cabin filter clogs up over time, as you can see in this photo.
Signs of a dirty cabin air filter include reduced air flow and unpleasant odor from the air vents. Dust, pollen and other contaminants trapped in the cabin filter can also cause problems if you or your passengers have allergies.
If your car is parked under trees or if you often drive on unpaved roads, your vehicle's cabin filter clogs up much faster.

Where is the cabin filter located and how difficult is it to replace?

It depends on the vehicle. For example, in older Mazda 3, Volvo S40, Nissan Altima and Rogue, the cabin filter is installed behind the dash, so the access is quite difficult. You may want to visit your dealer to have a filter replaced. In some GM, Ford, BMW, Audi and VW cars, the cabin filter is located under the cowl panel below the windshield, with the access from under the hood. In many newer cars, however, a cabin filter is installed behind the glove box and can be replaced easily. Let's see how to do it in this Toyota Corolla:

Replacing the cabin filter in the 2009-2013 Toyota Corolla

Changing cabin air filter step one

For this car, Toyota provided the instructions in the owner's manual.

Changing cabin air filter step two

The first step as per the owner's manual is to turn the engine OFF; of course, we don't need it running. The next step, open the glove box, locate the damper and slide it off.

Changing cabin air filter step three

Now, the manual says push in each side of the glove box to disconnect the claws. What it means is there are two claws sticking out on each side (see the next photo). To pass these claws over the edges, you need to squeeze the glove box gently from each side.

Changing cabin air filter step four

Here you can see the claws we are talking about.

Changing cabin air filter step five

Here is what we got behind the glove box. Click on the photo to see the larger image.

Changing cabin air filter step six

This is easy: remove the filter cover.

Changing cabin air filter step seven

Pull the old filter out carefully, as it might be filled with leaves and other debris. This one looks dirty.

Changing cabin air filter step eight

Here is the new cabin air filter we bought from a Toyota dealer.

Changing cabin air filter step nine

All we need now, is to install everything back in the reverse order. Make sure install the filter the right way. This manual says The "↑UP" marks shown on the filter should be pointing up. Slide the filter back carefully; check if the cover closes properly.

Changing cabin air filter step ten

Again, push in each side to make the claws go back in.

Changing cabin air filter step eleven

Lastly, push the damper back into its place. Done. At a dealer, this job typically costs from $30 to $70 for labor plus about $20 for a part.

If you want to better filter out odors, you can buy an activated charcoal cabin air filter that better absorbs various smells. We have tried it, it does work better.

Depending on a car, a cabin air filter is recommended to be replaced every 12-24 months or 15,000-25,000 miles. For details, check your vehicle's maintenance schedule.

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