The Tool to Test Cabin Air Filters

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Did you know that more than 85 percent of vehicles model year 2006 and newer have a cabin air filter? This is by far the fastest growing filter segment. There are about 30 million vehicles in North America that currently have cabin air filters. However, most people have never heard of a cabin air filter or know if their vehicle is equipped with one.

Contaminants, such as pollen, dust, mold spores and smog, can easily enter a vehicle’s passenger compartment through the air conditioning, heating and ventilation (HVAC) systems, making the air in the vehicle dirtier than the air outside.

A cabin air filter is very similar to the household furnace filter we change once a year. It filters outside air before entering the cabin of the car. When this filter becomes plugged or restricted, the performance of the HVAC system in the car will diminish. 

When the heater or AC controls are set in the fresh air mode, air entering the vehicle interior is filtered before entering the interior of the car. A new cabin air filter removes allergens and pollutants before they get into the vehicle and are inhaled by the driver and passengers. Activated carbon cabin air filters remove particulates and odors.

In this industry, we have always sold air filters during an oil change by removing them while under the hood and showing the dirty air filter to the customer. That process is easy; you’re already under the hood and it is usually easy to remove the filter. This sales method really doesn’t work as well with cabin filters. Yes, if you did remove the filter, you would likely find it terribly dirty, filled with dirt, dust, bird feathers and other nasty stuff. But removing the filter is not that easy because it is usually located behind the glove box inside the car. Removing it would involve invading the customer’s personal space by having to enter the passenger side of the vehicle, removing the glove box contents and then removing the filter. There is an easier way to find out in just a few seconds if the filter may be clogged and needing inspection or replacement. 

Using a tool that is very common in the household heating and cooling industry, called an anemometer, can help you find out if the cabin air filter needs replacing. This simple handheld tool measures the speed of the air coming from the heater ducts. They can be purchased from industrial supply companies for around $50. To use this to measure air speed and sell the cabin air filter inspection or replacement, the technician would do the following:

Place the heater control so it is blowing out the vents on the dashboard. Use the anemometer to measure the air speed with the blower control set on high speed. It should measure 9-12 mph (17-20 kph) depending on the scale of your tool. If it measures below 9 mph (17 kph), an inspection should be performed. Remove the filter and show it to the customer.

Shops that have adopted this method of selling cabin filter service have seen increases in sales. There is no risk of wasting time removing the filter to find it clean when testing with an anemometer.

Cabin air filters are still a largely undersold category of service in this business. The degradation of air speed coming from the ducts because of a plugged filter happens slowly over a period of time so the vehicle owner just becomes accustomed to it.

Many of our customers are picky about their cars, and the fact they bring them to you regularly for service is proof of that. Customers rely on your expertise to let them know how to properly care for their vehicles, and keeping the interior of their cars clean and free of pollutants should be part of that care. 

JAY BUCKLEY is Technical Training director for FRAM.

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