Auto Service World
Feature   March 1, 2014   by Andrew Brooks

Filters on the firing line

Air and oil filters adapt to tougher, more complicated conditions

More advanced oils and high-tech fuels, new synthetic media, higher operating temperatures, more complex engine layouts, longer service intervals; the world of the filter – oil and air – is changing as rapidly and confusingly as any part of the automotive industry, and the continuing changes are posing new challenges for service operations.

“Over the past decade, improvements in engine design, oil technology and increasing crankcase capacities are driving extensions in the factory recommended oil change intervals,” says Marianne Guldberg, marketing manager for Mann+Hummel Purolator Filters. “As more and more of these new vehicles enter the serviceable market, the oil change drain interval has moved from the standard 3,000 mile mark to some estimates of over 7,500 miles between oil changes.”

The increasing average age of, and overall owner investment in, vehicles means that owners are paying more attention to the care of their vehicle. As a result, more drivers are seeking premium and high premium oil filters and oils, Guldberg says. “The challenge is informing consumers about the importance of choosing the right filter for their vehicle and driving needs.”

The Mann-Filter and Purolator brands offer filter products for the full range of driving and vehicle needs, Guldberg says. “Each product is designed to meet or exceed recommended service interval as published in the vehicle service manual. As well, Purolator offers a premium product that features a synthetic media component which improves filtration function. Synthetic filters are well matched for modern, fully synthetic oils, but will also optimize the performance of synthetic blended oils or organic oils.” Guldberg lists some of the benefits of synthetic filters:

•  optimum engine lubrication and reduced fuel consumption

•  improved protection against premature clogging of the filter

•  improved engine lubrication

Car manufacturers are extending oil change intervals and oil companies are continuing to promote synthetic oils for longer life, says John King, director, product management for filtration, batteries and lighting, Automotive Aftermarket Division, Robert Bosch. “As a result, consumers are trading up to synthetic motor oil. With this growing trend, it’s important to offer a filter that is not only designed to utilize synthetic and semi-synthetic oils, but one that provides engine protection for the life of the oil.”

King cites the Bosch Long Life Filter, which offers up to 10,000 miles of engine protection. “Bosch recommends that vehicle owners refer to their owner’s manual with regard to oil change intervals. Longer change intervals mean that a filter has to have greater capacity with high efficiency.” The Long Life filter is designed with a dirt capacity of 22 grams and is 99.5 per cent efficient in removing dirt from the oil.

“You have to look at oil and oil filters together,” says Edward Covington, vice-president of quality assurance for Wix Filters. “As one changes so does the other. And trends at the OE level may take five to ten years to become trends in the aftermarket.”

Covington notes that the move to cartridge-format oil filters means service operations now have to handle two basic different filter change servicing protocols. “On the cartridge side most have a hex nut on the top, and they’re calling for a torque specification on the cap to make sure the cap is fully seated but someone doesn’t overinstall,” Covington says. “Some have serviceable O rings and some don’t. When the car comes in the person doing the change has to know the difference. Some cartridge filters have as many as four O rings, and the installer needs to get these in the proper groove, properly lubricated. We’re now seeing sealing issues crop up due to servicing habits.”

“Extended drain intervals are challenging filter makers in two ways,” says Jay Buckley, UCI-Fram technical training director. “Capacity must be increased so that dirt can be trapped and held for the duration of the filter change. It is also requiring filter makers to improve all rubber (O rings and antidrainback valves) by impregnating silicone or complete silicone construction for durability in an extended drain vehicle.” Plain rubber valves will harden after 10,000 kilometres, Buckley says, and accordingly makers are turning to other materials. For example, Fram’s Extra Guard and High Mileage filters have nitrile valves, while Fram Tough Guard and Ultra Synthetic filters have silicone valves.

The second major change Buckley cites is the move to cartridge-format filters, motivated by engine design constraints and European waste disposal requirements. Fram has made a major investment to bring cartridge manufacturing in house, Buckley says.

Longer life

The newer synthetic oils, while they’re much more expensive, do protect the engines for a lot longer, and of course the service interval has been extended too, says Rick Greer, business development manager, Filters for Mahle Aftermarket Inc. “But when you do change the oil, you’ll lose the value of that extra protection if you use a cheap filter, so it’s effectively driven up the cost of the filter too.”

“The oils are lasting longer, but the filters don’t necessarily do the same,” says Sam Fritsche, product manager, filtration with Beck-Arnley. “You’ll see people going 12,000 miles without even looking at the filter, and when they come in, if it’s a cartridge filter sometimes when you open it up it’s in pieces. It’s a case of the extended oil life actually being detrimental to the vehicle at that point.”

Major filter makers are responding with longer-life synthetic products, Sam Fritsche says. “People will spend more on the synthetic oil which may have a label saying [the oil] will last 15,000 miles – and then without thinking they’ll use the same kind of filter they did before, that’s built to last 3,000 to 5,000 miles.” The challenge is to educate the customer about the benefit of using the higher-end synthetic media filter to go with the premium oil.

Jay Buckley points out that Fram uses synthetic and cellulose blended media in its Extra Guard, Tough Guard and High Mileage filter lines. “We use two layers of full synthetic media in the Fram Ultra filter designed for synthetic oil changes. Synthetic media provides great efficiency and greater dirt holding capacity than plain cellulose media.”

“There’s a big issue with patents in the aftermarket,” says Sam Fritsche. “The manufacturers are putting a strain on what our suppliers can actually make for us.” The issue is that when aftermarket suppliers follow the normal “form – fit – function” criteria in producing products just as good as the OEM provides, the OEM will respond with legal action if the aftermarket product is virtually identical to its own products.

“An example is Toyota’s PET air filter,” says Tom Fritsche, director of product management at Beck-Arnley. “You can get something in the aftermarket that is similar, but whereas the OE product has no plastic at all, the aftermarket part will have plastic in it to hold the frame. The unit works, but it’s not exactly the same as the Toyota product, and as soon as you don’t look the same the installer is going to have questions.”

The response is to educate the installer base, but Tom Fritsche admits it’s a challenge. “We’re providing documentation that tells the installers why the product doesn’t look the same and reassures them that it will still perform the same. Of course they won’t always read the documentation, but at least it’s something we can do.”

Cabin air filters first emerged in the mid-1980s; and yet today most folks are unaware of their existence, don’t understand their importance and certainly don’t understand how and when to replace them. Also, many vehicle service professionals are not trained to make this part of routine vehicle service. Moreover, many CAFs are very complex to access or service, discouraging some technicians to altogether avoid this service item.

“More than 100 million vehicles on the road in the U.S. today are equipped with cabin air filters,” Mann+Hummel’s Marianne Guldberg says. “Normally, while driving – especially if one happens to suffer from asthma or allergies – the tendency is to roll up the windows to prevent breathing in dirty outside air. However, if the car’s cabin air filter is clogged, the occupants inside could be breathing in six times the contaminants than they would had the windows been down.”

Mann+Hummel developed a three-layer cabin air filter that helps eliminate dust, allergens, and other contaminants. The first layer has an anti-allergen function using polyphenol, a natural plant extract, to lock allergens and prevent them from entering the vehicle. A charcoal layer has activated carbon that blocks odor and toxic exhaust gas. The third layer is a dust layer with an anti-microbial function to eliminate bad smells and prevent mold.

“We expect cabin air filter sales to rise in the next five years for a number of reasons,” says Bosch’s John King. “First, more and more motorists are realizing the value of breathing clean air in their vehicles. Second, as vehicle manufacturers see consumers’ growing interest in clean air, they are expanding the use of cabin air filters in their new models. Finally, since many consumers don‘t know that their car even comes equipped with a cabin air filter, change service has become an important upsell opportunity for repair shops.”

King says that Bosch’s line of Workshop filters feature specially engineered media designed to capture and hold fine particulate pollutants such as dust, soot, pollen, fungus and bacteria. He says the filters can capture 80 per cent of environmental contaminants that are three microns or larger (one micron is a millionth of a meter.)

The presence of this relatively new component needs to be part of the discussion when a new car is being sold, but not all new car dealers are doing that yet. The picture is becoming more complex as makers of larger and more upscale models are adding extra cabin air filters for the rear of the car and units that deal only with recirculated air. Again, service operations should educate the customer about the filters and about the possible health consequences in exceeding recommended replacement intervals.

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