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Friday, October 29, 2010

The Importance of Being Filtered

Proper maintenance of a vehicle’s oil, air and fuel filters can enhance overall performance.

It’s not much of a stretch to think of your car, SUV or light truck as a rolling version of the human body. None can run without the correct type of fuel, which flows through an engine that converts that fuel into the energy necessary for it to operate properly. Both also contain filtering components designed to remove impurities from the fueling system, helping prolong its life and make it run at its efficient best. And if any of those parts malfunction, a breakdown is sure to occur.

But while problems with the human liver, heart or kidney can require major maintenance and months of time spent “in the shop,” many times a vehicle can be put back into tip-top condition after just a minor check up of its primary parts, which brings us to the importance of filter changes.

Vehicles cannot survive on gasoline alone. During the course of driving, there are many outside elements that can affect a vehicle’s performance, among them road conditions, traffic patterns, driving style, air temperature, and air and fuel quality. To help ensure that these demanding elements do not have a chance to adversely affect the performance of the vehicle, a series of job-specific filters are on board. And when these filters reach the end of their useful life, they must be replaced, which can take as little as 15 minutes, or about half the time of your average sitcom.

Oil’s well that ends well

By now everybody should know that a vehicle’s oil and oil filter needs to be changed based on the manufacturer’s recommendation, or every 3 months or 3,000 miles. If the oil, which provides lubrication for the engine’s moving parts, isn’t maintained on a regular schedule, it will lose good chemical properties and pick up impurities, which can adversely affect the engine’s performance. Hand in hand with that, old, dirty oil contains contaminants that bombard the oil filter. As the filter itself gets older and dirtier, more and more of these contaminants—most commonly soot, acids, moisture and wear particles—escape the filter media and enter the oil stream, putting the engine in danger.

To combat this assault on the engine’s moving parts, a high-quality oil filter must be incorporated into the maintenance plan and changed according to the appropriate maintenance schedule. The best oil filters offer high filtering efficiency for maximum performance and either meet or exceed the requirements specified by OEMs.

A key word when selecting an oil filter is “micron.” By definition, a micron is another word for a micrometer, or one-millionth of a meter. In terms we in the United States more readily understand, a micron is something that measures .000039 inches. In other words, it’s a very, very small particle. But many of these microscopic particles assault a vehicle’s engine every time it hits the road. To combat this assault, most oil filters are rated at 10 microns, meaning the filter media has the ability to capture foreign particles as small as talcum powder. It is this high-performance particle-trapping capability that allows a quality oil filter to protect its host engine.

The air we breathe

Air quality is an important consideration for both the vehicle and the people who ride in it. The best automotive air filters are constructed with optimal dirt-holding capacity in mind. Dirt contaminants are capable of getting all the way past the piston rings. This filtering efficiency helps provide protection from harmful airborne contaminants that can foul the engine. According to a U.S. Department of Energy report, changing the air filter every 12,000 miles can also increase fuel economy by as much as 10%, so it is recommended that the air filter be changed during every third or fourth oil change, depending on its cleanliness.

Inside the vehicle, a maintenance area that has been gaining in acceptance involves the cabin air filter. As of 2006, the Filter Manufacturers Council estimated that 85% of all automobiles and light trucks produced in the United States were equipped with cabin air filters. Relatively unknown to the driving public until that time, cabin air filters are located in the vehicle’s fresh-air intake system and are designed to trap pollen and dust particles that may cause allergic reactions. In fact, studies have shown that the air quality inside cars on most roads is even worse than the outside air because the heating, air conditioning and vent system concentrate airborne contaminants inside the vehicle when the windows are closed.

Cabin air filters clean the air before it enters the passenger compartment. In addition to cleaning the air, they also trap dust and pollutants, preventing them from entering the vehicle and, in turn, leaving the glass, dashboard, heating, ventilating and air-conditioning systems cleaner.

Typically, cabin air filters are available in three designs:

• A particle filter that uses a special type of paper or non-woven material that can be electrostatically charged, allowing it to trap solid particles like dust, soot, spores and pollen.

• An absorption filter with an activated-charcoal media that filters out noxious gases and odors.

• A two-stage filter that combines the other two filter applications.

Current recommendations suggest that cabin air filters be changed every 18,000 miles, or around once a year.

Fuel for thought

The fuel that allows a vehicle to run is the lifeblood of the fueling system, so why not ensure its cleanliness and performance capabilities? That’s where the fuel filter comes in. Fuel filters are designed to protect an engine’s fuel system by removing contaminants such as rust, dirt, scale and water before they reach the fueling system. This is more important than ever as today’s demanding engines need high performance and protection to keep vital engine components such as fuel injectors clean and functioning at the optimum level. The most noticeable indication that a fuel filter needs to be changed is loss of engine power, hesitation and hard starts.

There are two common types of fuel filters:

• In-line fuel filters are metal or plastic filters that are located in the fuel line between the tank and injectors or carburetors.

• Element or cartridge-style fuel filters are installed within some type of housing in the fuel system and are usually located in the carburetor itself or may be located in or on the fuel pump or near the fuel tank.

Recommended fuel filter change intervals range from 15,000 to 35,000 miles, though fuel filters should be changed at least once a year for optimum engine performance.

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.