I recently took my Mazda 3 to the dealer for a routine oil change (more on this later), and the service attendant reminded me that my cabin air filter was due for replacement. The typical fee is $80+tax, but they have a 10% service discount for the month. I politely declined.
Most people aren’t even aware that their car has a cabin air filter (CAF). The CAF is different from the standard air filter (AF) under the hood. The CAF cycles air entering the passenger cabin. This includes the heat, air conditioning, or fan air that enters the through the car’s vents. The maintenance schedule for the CAF ranges anywhere from 12,000 miles up to 30,000 miles. A dirty CAF can mean more exposure to dust, pollen, and outside particulates every time you turn on your car’s fan.
What most people don’t know about the CAF is that replacing it is a 5-10 minute job, even faster if you are a car mechanic working at the dealership. It took me less than 5 minutes to replace mine. You can order the filter for the Mazda 3 (2010 – 2013 models) on Amazon.com for less than $15. If it takes 10 minutes to replace the filter at a rate of $65 ($80 dealer charge – $15 retail cost of filter = $65), the labor cost of replacing the CAF is $390/hr! If you are a high income earner taxed at a federal marginal rate of 39.6%, you just saved $609/hr or $101.50 for a 10 minute job!!! I ordered a generic CAF on eBay for $9 and saved even more.
Here’s how to do it:
The CAF in the Mazda 3 (2010-2013 models) can be accessed from the front passenger’s side under the glove compartment. The only tool that you need is a Phillips screwdriver. The first step is to remove the plastic side panel of the center console. There is a gap where you can reach in and pull:
There is also a plastic cover that can be removed by pinching through the plastic pins:
There is a sensor cable connected to the air filter cover. It is held in place with a plastic snap. Depress the snap, and disconnect the cable first:
The cover can be removed by unscrewing TWO of the screws on the panel. You can remove the lower left two screws:
A Phillips head screwdriver is all that you will need. After the cover is removed, you now have access to the CAF . There are actually two filters that are stacked on top of one another. Reach in the pull out the bottom filter. Be sure to note the orientation of the filter as you are sliding the old one out. The longer plastic fin should be pointing to the left (toward the passenger).
The top filter can then be pulled down and taken out the same way. Note that the side with the foam edge should be on top. If you have a shop vacuum, you can remove any of the leaves and debris that have accumulated in the system. Place in a new filter, and reverse the steps! Voila!
Overall, it does not take long to do this replacement. The stakes are relatively low, and you can learn more about your car in the process!