I decided to post this little DIY after I went to get the oil changed out of my cage (motorcyclist speak for "car") last week. I only wanted an oil change, and after getting the "You need to replace/change this because it'll cost you an assload down the road" speech for about 5 or 6 things, I smiled and nodded and told the guy to just change the durn oil. I was somewhat insulted that he thought I was fool enough to need someone else to change out my air filter. I realize not everybody has access to a Busted Knuckle Garage (read: Daddy's house and his Shop Class Jeenus brain), but you ladies and less-than-mechanically inclined gentlemen (I've known a couple) should be able to at least change out your own air filter without any tools and save enough scoots from a lube-n-wash for an overpriced double-tall mocha latte, mit foam.
I give you, Kuj's DIY air filter change:
The air filter does just what it says. Your car's engine draws in air in order to create combustion. Air mixes with fuel in the cylinders, the pistons compress the mixture, the spark plug creates the explosion, the explosion pushes the piston back down and the process is repeated in a not very difficult to understand cycle. Check this out if you want to know how an engine works.
Since the engine needs relatively clean air to function properly, the air filter prevents sand, dust, dirt, leaves, etc. from entering the cylinders. As a result, the air filter can get pretty skanky...it'll get skankier faster if you live in a dusty or sandy environment or drive off road a lot.
The air filter typically sits in an easy-to-find spot to one side or the other of your engine. The filter is located inside a largish, plastic box with a big hose attached to it. Here's the air filter box in my Saturn ION (standing in front of the car, on the left side of the engine compartment).
Here's the air filter box in Anya's LHS-mobuick (left side of the engine compartment).
And here is the air filter box in Brother's Nissan pick-em-up truck (right side of the engine).
The air filter box is kept closed by two or three clips you can pop off with your fingers. The opposite side of the box is almost always comprised of a few tabs you'll need to hook together before you clip the box closed again.
Once you've unhooked the clips, you can lift the top of the air filter box and you'll see the air filter. You can pull the filter right out. It just sits on top of the bottom half of the air filter box.
Once you've removed the filter, look at the underside (the fins sticking out, not the flat side). This is where all the trapped dirt and gunk is. If it looks totally filthy or is greasy, it's time for a new one. Put it back in and head over to your local auto parts dealer and ask them for an air filter for your year/make/model car (ex., mine's a 2003 Saturn ION3). They typically will just give you a standard air filter unless you specify you want a certain name brand or high-performance air filter (which you likely don't need).
In my case, here's what my air filter looks like.
When I turn it on its side and bend it back slightly you can see there's just a little surface dirt on the very edges of the fins, and it's dry, so I'll shake it out to get the bigger stuff out if there is any, and if you have an air hose you can blow some of the dirt off.
Then drop the air filter on top of the bottom half of the air filter box, fins down, flat side up, hook the tabs on the one side of the air filter box, and push the clips back on. All set!
There's no reason why everyone on the planet shouldn't be able to do this. It leaves out all that intimidating nut-and-bolt-reefing I'm so good at....breaking off. And buy me a beer next time you see me with that labor money you saved.