Is My Car Making Me Sneeze?

Your Cabin Air Filter Might be to Blame

Just like in spring, big allergies can appear in the summer—and with high temps comes a higher pollen count. Trees finish pollinating by late spring, but there are still grasses and weeds to trigger summer allergies.

Your car is made of steel and sealed from the elements (for the most part) but some allergens can still enter your vehicle and even get logged into air filters. Ironically, part of the air filter’s design is meant to protect you against having allergic reactions, but when pollens build up inside your car, those vents can become your nose’s worst enemy.

How Allergens Travel

During the summer, one of the most common types of allergens is ragweed pollen. And because of its ability to travel hundreds of miles in the wind, you don’t have to live in an area with large quantities of it to feel its affects. If you drive through a dense ragweed area, you still suffer from symptoms because it floats far and wide through the air.

When to Change Your Air Filter

Your car’s engine air filter is extremely important, as it is the first line of defense against outside pollutants like dirt and other engine contaminants. A newer design in modern vehicles is the cabin air filter—designed to filter air going through the HVAC system into your car’s interior. In addition to this vital function, the cabin air filter also helps stop pollen from clogging the valves and entering the area where you sit.

Engine and cabin filters are usually paper filters with pleated screens; they look thin but are actually made of a porous, felt-like material with tiny holes big enough to let air through but small enough to catch other particles. With time and use, these pores can get dirty or clogged and cause contaminants to be swept into the cabin of your vehicle. If you have a restricted interior (windows kept rolled up, vents closed), these contaminants can cause an odor and impair the airflow. These are two warning signs telling you that you should change your air filter.

Both engine and cabin air filters should not be cleaned and reinstalled, they should be replaced every 12,000 to 15,000 miles.

How to Change Your Air Filter

Most engine filters are accessible through an access panel, which may be under the hood or in the interior of the car. An automotive service technician can help locate the engine filter and replace it according to the vehicle’s owner manual. Many cabin filters are located near or around the glove box and can be accessed and changed easily. Some filters require basic hand tools to remove and install the replacement. While changing your air filters might seem like a simple task, it’s best left to the professionals. Schedule an appointment to get your air filters replaced and stop stubborn allergens from getting inside your vehicle.