After a long winter, especially this one, it just feels right to air out your car. The weather warms up, you roll down your windows, people can hear you singing from your driver’s seat again, and you’re done, right?
Until you start to sneeze. Or until sticky yellow pine pollen coats every surface of your car, inside and out. Whichever comes first.
Now is a good time to be thinking about fresh air for your car.
In terms of cabin air and those little air-freshener things, let’s just get it over with. In my world, that’s like putting lipstick on a pig.
You need to change your cabin air filter. How long has it been since you did that? Because I drive on dirt roads quite a bit, I change mine twice a year — those of you who manage to stay on paved roads, and also avoid city traffic, can do it less often. You’ll know you need to do it if your heat was starting to seem low flow or noisy or both. You can always check your car’s manual for what the manufacturer says, but I think once a year just before air-conditioning season is definitely a good idea.
A clean cabin air filter is going to cut down on pollutants and pollen in the car. But maybe more important at this time of year is that it is going to increase air flow, which will make your air conditioning system work better.
It’s not expensive to do — depending on your car, the part itself might run somewhere between $20 and $60. It’s not a hard do-it-yourself job, or it shouldn’t be, but actually it can be tricky to get at, depending on how it’s situated in relation to your glove compartment.
While we’re on this list of things to take care of right now, I have one word for you (or is it two?): air-conditioning.
Your life is just going to be happier if you get yours serviced now. For one thing, during the summer, my garage and every other one out here is as busy as a bar handling visitors’ various emergencies. And why wait until the system fails you on a sweltering day?
People have been asking me about the latest alternatives to Freon. What everybody knows is that the old stuff R-12 is a chlorofluorocarbon famous for destroying the Earth’s protective ozone layer. Things have improved up there some since it was banned in 1994. But what’s not so well known is that the substitute refrigerants have flaws, too.
The generation that followed R-12, R-1234A, is now being phased out for R-1234yf. It breaks down faster in the atmosphere, so that’s good, but it’s also highly flammable. And it’s requiring a major retooling at shops for both charging and removing the stuff properly. It’s expensive — around $120 per pound. It will take at least a pound, two for some cars, to get you set for the season.
What can I say? When it comes to the chemicals of the automobile age, we’re not there yet. But keeping your car in excellent condition will make it run cleaner.
Which brings me to one other air-related task you need to take care of about once a year.
Your engine has an air filter, too. It’s nothing fancy — though in classic cars their housings were great looking. And they’re easy to replace. Still, don’t let someone tell you it ought to be changed each time you do an oil change — although that’s a good time to give the filter a visual once-over. You probably need to change it about every 15,000 miles.
This filter keeps dust, dirt, and gunk out and allows air to flow into the engine. You need that for efficient combustion — it affects acceleration and performance, and, ultimately, that relates to fuel economy.