Five Minute Finances #1: Clean Your Car’s Air Filter

Five Minute FinancesFive Minute Finances is a series of tips on how you can save significant money or reorganize your financial life in just five minutes. These tips appear Monday, Wednesday, and Friday on The Simple Dollar.

Tip #1: Clean your car’s air filter
In general, most cars should have their air filter replaced every 15,000 miles. What most people don’t realize, though, is that their car’s air filter begins to get clogged with dust after just a few thousand miles – and when it begins to get clogged with dust, the air flow under your hood slows down and your automobile quickly becomes less fuel efficient. How much less efficient? A dirty air filter, even after just 5,000 miles after a change, can cost you up to 7% of your gas mileage. If you are driving a car that normally gets 20 miles per gallon, your car is now getting 18.6 MPG. Over the next 10,000 miles, that’s an extra 37.6 gallons of gas, which with gas at $2.10 per gallon, costs you $79.03!

Cleaning off your air filter is easy (can you turn a wing nut with your hand? If you can, you can handle this) and it only takes about five minutes. All you need is your car, your owner’s manual, and a vacuum cleaner. I usually do it when vacuuming out my car normally, so I usually don’t even have to worry about pulling out my vacuum, making it a two minute task.

Here’s what you do:

1. Open your car’s hood.

2. Take a peek in your car’s owner’s manual to see exactly where the air filter is. It’s usually right on top under the hood and easy to reach. On my truck, it happens to be in a round metal container that’s right in front of my face; on other cars, it can be square or rectangular, but still right in front of you. Locate it under the hood.

3. Take off the top of the metal container that the filter is in. It’s either held in place by some clamps that you can flip up with your finger or a wing-nut that you can unscrew with your hand.

4. Pull out the filter. It’s just sitting in there, so you should be able to pick it right up.

5. Use a vacuum cleaner to clean off the filter. I usually tap it a few times on my car’s bumper, then vacuum it for a minute or so.

6. Vacuum out the inside of the chamber where the air filter sits. There’s usually a bit of dust in there. Vacuum it for fifteen seconds or so to get any dust you see.

7. Wipe off the inside of the chamber with a rag or a paper towel. You should be able to get a bit more grime with this. Don’t scrub it or anything, just get any grime that’s easily accessible.

8. Put the air filter back in place, put the cover back on the air filter chamber (don’t forget to put the clamp or screw back in place!), and close your hood. You’re done!

I recommend doing this every 5,000 miles or so. If you ordinarily have a mechanic do this, you can do it yourself 5,000 miles after an air filter change. Once you do it a couple of times, you’ll probably be fine with just changing your air filter yourself, which will save some additional money if you have your mechanic do it.

Time spent: Five minutes
Money saved: At least $79

Trent Hamm

Founder of The Simple Dollar

Trent Hamm founded The Simple Dollar in 2006 after developing innovative financial strategies to get out of debt. Since then, he’s written three books (published by Simon & Schuster and Financial Times Press), contributed to Business Insider, US News & World Report, Yahoo Finance, and Lifehacker, and been featured in The New York Times, TIME, Forbes, The Guardian, and elsewhere.