The internal combustion engine in your vehicle is really just a big, complex air pump. Air gets sucked in, mixed with fuel, burned and sent back out in the form of exhaust. But since air around motorways tends to be dusty, dirty, debris-laden, there needs to be a filtration device to stop all that engine killing crud before it makes its way to your engine’s internals. Enter, the car air filter.
How Performance Air Filters Work
Whether it’s a Dodge Ram air filter, a Toyota Tacoma air filter or a Ford Pinto air filter, if it’s the OEM filter, it’s made of paper. The paper forms a tight weave that lets the air pass but catches the crud. The problem is that they eventually get clogged with the crud and need replacing. Not really a big deal, but it will cost you 20 bucks every time, and you’re forced to toss something else in the local landfill.
Then there are reusable performance filters from brands like K&N air filters and Green air filters. These are made from a cotton-gauze weave that’s saturated with special oil. The cotton lets way more air through, thus adding performance, and the oil catches all the crud. And, when they get clogged, you simply wash, re-oil and reinstall. No trash and your filter lasts for life.
Replacing Your Air Filter
Now the OEM supporters say that there is no way these things can deliver the protection of a factory filter and that the performance gain is negligible. But experience shows that if you get a high-performance filter and wrap it with a hydroshield or pre-filter, you get the same or better protection.
There’s also a new breed of dry filters, like the AEM DryFlow. These offer the same performance, yet use no oil. So come cleaning time, you just tap out the crud and reinstall—easy peasy. Or, if you're looking for an oiled air filter, take a look at Spectre air filters.
Choosing the Best Air Filter for Your Vehicle
So whether you find yourself on the OEM side or the performance side of the debate, we can all agree on one thing, your engine needs an air filter. And now that you know what an air filter does, go out and start dropping your new-found knowledge!