Although this article concentrates on GM cabin filter maintenance most of the content will appeal to anybody who owns a car with a pollen filter option. The helpful educational pictures were taken of a General Motors filter and housing, but even those with different model cars will still get the idea of what needs to be done and when to do it. Covered in the short and to the point post is the service procedure, symptoms of the filter being clogged, general maintenance guidelines and tips to prevent damage when installing a new element.
When Should you Replace the Cabin Filter
A lot of people want to know how often they should replace a cabin filter. There are a lot of factors involved on how often this procedure will need to be done. The picture on the right is of the original pollen filter from my 2009 Cadillac SRX. The vehicle has about 36,000 miles on it and is five years old. I was expecting after a heavy pollen season this year that this filter would look terrible. It didn’t look great but it certainly wasn’t as bad as I was expecting.
To prevent unnecessary replacement you can take the pollen filter out of the housing and hold it up to the sunlight to get a good idea of just how dirty it is. Giving it a light smacking around can knock off some of the heavier particles collected on the surface. If it’s not too dirty you can reinstall it and make a mental note of how much longer you think it can go before another inspection is performed.
Some of the factors involved on when you should inspect a cabin air filter have to do with the design from the factory. Some car makers provide a large element with a lot of surface area where as some have tiny little filters that can clog much quicker. Another major factor about how long these things will last is the driving conditions the automobile sees most of the time.
Those who live down a dirt road lined with beautiful mature oak trees will probably have to replace the pollen filter twice as much as those that live in a concrete jungle. Another variable is some manufacturers only run air past the pollen filter when it is pulling air from the outside. Meaning when the air-conditioning system is in recirculation mode or max output the filter is not being used at all. For those that run their air-conditioning in maximum mode most of the time filter change is not as important.
Symptoms when the Filter is Clogged
As a professional auto mechanic I can tell you that when a driver comes in complaining of low air volume from the air-conditioning ducts even when high blower is selected the first thing I check is the cabin filter. Another common complaint is that the driver will say the air conditioner is not cold enough or that it used to do a better job. Since the clogging of the pollen filter happens slowly over a long period of time the driver may not actually notice the volume has greatly reduced from the dash vents.
Cabin Filter Service Procedure
When it comes to the General Motors cabin filter many models are serviced by removing the plastic cowling panel between the base of the windshield and the firewall of the engine compartment. Most commonly this is the area where the windshield wipers attached to the wiper transmission. On some models 7 mm screws will have to be removed, but on my Cadillac SRX there is an access panel with pressure clips.
Most of the covers and the pollen filter housings are poorly designed on GM vehicles. They don’t seal that well and in the case of the Cadillac cabin filter there are some awkward plastic tabs that makes sliding in the new filter difficult.
Maintaining the squared or rectangular shape and integrity of the flimsy paper filter is important when installing the new part. My advice is to take your time and figure out what is stopping the filter from sliding in when it resists installation.
A General Motors cabin filter can cost anywhere from $12-$50 depending on the year make and model. Learning where your filter is and becoming a pro at inspecting it will assure that replacement is only performed when needed. This can help you save a few bucks on car maintenance over the years. When you do feel that it’s necessary to replace it, make sure you take your time and get the part in without it suffering too much damage or its filtration capabilities will be compromised.