Auto Service World
Feature   October 1, 2007   by Nestor Gula

Unseen, unassuming air and oil filters continue to evolve

Oil filters get smaller, more efficient in cleaning out contamination

The most important safety devices in any car are the filters. They protect the engine from harmful and potentially destructive contaminants. The new in-cabin air filters protect passengers not just from noxious smells and odours, but their health from airborne allergenic substances and other passenger cabin health hazards.

Not so long ago, a basic service for a car was to change the oil and filter, inspect the air filter (replace it if necessary, according to the manufacturer’s change interval) and top up the fluids. This was a quick job that was simple to perform and produced a nice bit of extra revenue for a shop. Only as cars have gotten more complex and smaller, this simple service has become less and less simple.

Take the oil change. Perhaps this is the one place where the advance of time has not altered the procedure. The type of oil you put in and the filter you screw on is critical, says Corey Graham, the national sales and marketing manager for ACDelco in Oshawa, Ont.

“Everything has to be done to the manufacturer’s specification that is listed in the owner’s manual,” he adds.

Different filters now have advanced mediums and these should be matched to the specifications of the oil to be used. Some automobile manufactures have engines that have long interval oil change periods, some stretching up to 50,000 kilometers. With these kinds of engines, it is vital to do all service work within the guidelines that the manufacturer describes, according to Joe Chan, director of sales with Specialty Lubricants Inc. in Markham, Ont., and distributor of Motul Lubricants in Canada. Both the oil and the filters play critical roles in the health of the engine, going hand-in-hand, and Chan suggests that filters which match as closely as possible to OEM specifications should be used with long interval oil changes as they are critical to the tolerances demanded by the manufacturer.

A significant change in oil filters available now is the material used to filter the oil. Graham says because of the advances in technology and the materials of the filter medium, the filters in some cases will be smaller. These new filters are still fully compatible with the older filters, just the size of the filter case has shrunk.

“The next generation of filters is smaller than what they used to be,” said Graham. “The medium inside them is a lot more robust and they filter a lot more things, and are much better than the previous generations of filters. They meet the OEM spec of the different manufacturer, it is just that newer technologies enables that the filters be a bit smaller.”

And with the environment becoming more of an issue, filter manufacturers are designing and making filters that can be more easily disposed of when their useful life ends. For example, the Ford Mondeo uses an oil filter that can be incinerated.

Air filters get more compact, harder to find in new cars

The second most common filter to be changed is the engine air filter.

This writer’s earliest car was a big American beast and when one popped the hood one discovered a huge, round air filter mounted on top of the engine. Today, this writer drives a small Japanese family car which has a square air filter squeezed in between the engine and the quarter panel.

Graham fondly reminisces about the old-time circular air filter.

“We called it the A348C,” he says. “It was round and fit many different engines made by General Motors that were made for years and years. We sold millions of them. Now you are into a whole host of parts numbers. You would not stock most air filters because there are so many.”

There are many, many different sizes and shapes of air filters on the market today and the position of the air filter is also no longer in plain sight. “What used to take 30 second to replace can now take you up to half an hour depending where the air filter is located,” says Graham. “The air filter position makes it harder for them to be checked. Some have little gauges that indicate if they are dirty or not. This is done because of the work involved to access the filter for inspection and replacement.”

Some cars even have reusable, or permanent, air filters. There are specific instructions for the care and restoration of these filters. For example, they need to be cleaned regularly and carefully to avoid re-contaminating them or introducing dirt into the air box.

It is sometimes recommended that an air filter be changed every 3,000-4,000 miles or some 6,000 kilometers. But it is also recommended that a technician ask what kind of driving environments a person is taking the car through. If the car is being driven through places where there is a lot of dust, dirt and other debris kicked about into the air, then the filter may have to be changed more frequently in order for the car to operate at peak performance. Also, if a customer asks whether they should go for a cheaper kind of air filter, it is best to remind them that a quality aftermarket filter will better meet OEM specifications in terms of the micron count in the filter material. Quality aftermarket filters, like their OEM counterparts, will have smaller micron counts which means they can better keep dirt and other contaminates out of the engine, and thereby keep performance levels at optimum. A cheaper filter can’t do that. When a customer says they will save some bucks by going cheap, they should be reminded that they will pay later in poor engine performance and higher fuel costs.

Fuel, cabin filters are out of sight, but not out of mind

In a carbureted automobile the fuel filter was usually located in the carburetor and it was simple to find, remove and clean or replace. Now, the only carbureted cars are vintage machines or on a NASCAR raceway.

Many times, especially on older cars, the problem of fuel starvation to the engine was due to a clogged or faulty fuel filter. Finding the filter used to be easy.

“There are fuel filters in the tank, fuel filters in line, depending on the application and the car, they can be all over the place,” says Graham. “The inline ones tended to be towards the back of the car. There are fuel pumps which have filters built in and there’s a whole host of things going on out there that can be quite confusing for the technician if he is not properly trained or up-to-date on the proper procedures and technology.”

Even though gasoline these days is cleaner than it was say 20 years ago, “there still are contaminants coming from the tank. Dirt can get in there, rust corrosion and other stuff. The filters are basically used to get the contaminants out of the gasoline,” he adds.

The most overlooked filter in the car today is the air cabin filter. As they are becoming more prevalent they need periodic replacement and servicing.

According to Graham, the cabin air filter “is the most misunderstood and mis-replaced filter in the car. No one thinks about it. The owner of the car probably doesn’t know he has one.”

While the customer might not know about the cabin air filter in his car, a good technician that wants to go over-and-above should inform the client about its existence and outline the benefits of replacing the filter.

Unfortunately, they are not the cheapest filters to buy and replace. The filters themselves will cost more than a spin-on oil filter and in some of the cars, they are hard to get at.

“They are all over the place. Some will have a trap door under the dashboard while others will go through the firewall,” he notes. “You have to be a certain type of technician that will understand where they are and that you are doing good service to your customer. A lot of technicians don’t even think about changing it when they change the oil change. It is a customer satisfaction issue — it gets a lot of bad smells out of the car. It is a great opportunity for customer satisfaction because they can dramatically make the interior of the car smell better.”ssgm

Reference List


Specialty Lubricants Inc.

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