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Friday, October 29, 2010

Making the Most of Your Air Filter

When it comes to powering vehicles—whether your average minivan or a heavy-duty construction truck—most people think the energy comes from petroleum fuels and petroleum fuels alone. However, the internal combustion engine is a complex piece of equipment that relies on many parts acting in concert with each other in order to provide optimum engine operation.

So while petroleum products may in the end be the thing that makes a vehicle “go,” don’t discount the role that the air filter plays in an engine’s operation. In fact, according to information provided by the Filter Manufacturers Council, the average internal combustion engine uses around 12,000 gallons of air in order to burn one gallon of gasoline. That’s a lot of potentially harmful airborne contaminants that are assaulting the engine, and they can only be stopped by an air filter that has been designed to trap and hold the contaminants in the most efficient manner. In addition, according to the U.S. Department of Energy, air filters that are replaced every 12,000 miles can improve a vehicle’s fuel economy by up to 10 percent.

However, air filter life is not necessarily dependent on miles, per se, but on the environment  the vehicle is used in. For example, an air filter used on an automobile that is used to transport someone back and forth to work everyday will undoubtedly last longer than an air filter on a cement truck that drives in and out of a dusty construction site on a daily basis. With that in mind, air filters have evolved to the point where they are able to isolate and neutralize 98.5 percent, and higher, of the airborne contaminants before they reach the engine.

One area that has helped in not only air-filter performance, but knowing when an air filter needs to be changed is the introduction of the air-filter restriction gauge into the engine setup. With engines now able to adjust fuel delivery and use to air-flow rates, it is a lot harder to determine when an air filter needs to be replaced because there is no more of the engine sputtering to indicate a plugged filter. It is also unreliable to use visual inspection to determine if a filter needs to be changed out because even a filter that looks plugged can still have a lot of life left in it.

Enter the air-filter restriction gauge. These gauges have the capability to measure the air-flow resistance in a vehicle’s air-intake system. This is done by measuring the amount of vacuum that is created when the air travels through the filter. When the filter has reached the end of its useful life, the air-restriction gauge alerts the driver that the filter needs to be replaced. Knowing exactly when the air filter needs to be replaced not only protects the engine, but also saves time and money in reduced filter changes, maintenance and vehicle downtime.

The most recent advancements in air-filter design come in the area of size. New designs feature filter media that is fluted or corrugated, meaning that a lot more filter media can be contained in a much smaller space. With this new filter design, it’s all about maximizing filtration properties given “X” amount of space available.

Looking to the future, the main challenges in filter design, construction and operation will continue to focus on size issues, i.e. attempting to make the filter as efficient as possible while taking up as little space as possible in the engine compartment. Another area to consider is the new hybrid-vehicle technology that is entering the motor pool. The engines on these vehicles may have some unique operational characteristics that will impact the type of air filters needed to ensure efficient operation.

Based in Albion, IL, Champion Laboratories is a quality and technology leader and one of the world's largest manufacturers of filters and filtration products and related services. The company manufactures the Luber-finer® brand of filtration products. Luber-finer® filters are made alongside the world’s leading private label and original equipment manufacturer’s filters, ensuring the most stringent filter construction requirements are met for maximum protection on today’s demanding engines. Champion Laboratories, Inc., has been a trusted name in filters since 1955, providing high-efficiency performance in the most demanding work environments. For more information, visit www.champlabs.com or call our Tech Hotline at (800) 882-0890.