Auto Service World
Feature   April 2, 2004   by Auto Service World

Clearing the Air on Cabin Air Filters

Last June, a Nebraska woman found an unexpected addition to her car’s ventilation system: a bomb. Stuffed into the cabin air filter vent, the six inch-long bomb fell out during air conditioning service. Luckily for all concerned the device, which authorities say had been in the former rental car for a while, proved not to be a threat.

Yet, given the way that consumers and much of the industry treat cabin air filter maintenance, you’d think that they believe there’s a bomb stashed in every one.

To some degree, this was understandable when cabin air filters first took to the roads. Penetration has gone from only a couple of popular vehicles to virtually every vehicle sold in the last five years.

According to research firm Frost & Sullivan, just more than 11% of all vehicles on the road had a cabin air filter in 2002. As a result most people including vehicle repair technicians, have been largely unaware of their existence. Further, vehicle owners are unaware that the product is disposable and requires regular maintenance. Since consumers do not buy and replace items they do not know about, elevating awareness and replacement to the level of an oil change is the long-term goal of the CAF industry. However, the first step remains building recognition and including CAFs in regular maintenance repair schedules.

The fact remains that the single group of service outlets with the greatest success in cabin air filter sales and service has been the quick lube. These outlets have focused on the simple-to-replace units, located in easy to reach compartments under the hood, but even at a fairly high degree of success, it can still be considered a neglected service that shops performing air conditioning service are perfectly positioned to take advantage of.

According to research presented at the Mobile Air Conditioning Society’s January conference, a recent survey revealed that only 28% of respondents were aware that their vehicle had one, but some 91% would like to see cabin air filters as a standard system.

Furthermore, greater than half the respondents believed that it should be required by automakers.

This is not surprising when presented with the facts regarding airborne contaminants and the quality of air inside the vehicle.

It has become commonplace for cabin air filter suppliers to state that the quality of the air inside a vehicle can be six or more times as bad as that outside the vehicle. It is less common for the source of this claim to be included.

It is, in fact, the finding of a California Air Resources Board study published in December of 1998. That study, which was really intended to be the precursor to a more comprehensive study, nonetheless showed some compelling facts about the relative concentrations of pollutants inside and outside of vehicles.

It is notable from the study’s findings that all but particulate contaminants (PM) were higher inside the vehicle than outside. It is also notable that the vehicles used in the study did not have cabin air filters. And, despite what the researchers say was a less than comprehensive set of data, even they had to admit that the consistency of the data reveals an undeniable pattern.

As much as this information helps provide support for having automakers include cabin air filters as part of a vehicle’s ventilation system, it also provides sound reasoning why those in the service sector should ensure that their customers gain full benefit from the cabin air filter by replacing it when required.

It is a simple addition to air conditioning service that not only adds a small benefit to the bottom line, it can also ensure a more successful repair and a happier customer.

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