This summer, smoke from a number of wildfires in Canada and Oregon made the air quality in Washington unhealthy, causing people with breathing difficulties additional problems, and even the healthiest of people discomfort in the form of scratchy throats and burning eyes.
But, people aren't the only ones affected. Your car may be sputtering from the dirty air, too. Smoky air can clog up your vehicle's air filter and force your engine to work harder as it tries to take in oxygen. Mechanics in eastern Washington have even reported some air filter's are so plugged the car wouldn't even start!
Now that the smoke is dissipating, your breathing may be improved, but your car's air filter has still suffered damage and will need to be replaced. Give it the "sunshine" test by removing it and holding it up to the light. If you can't see sunlight through it, it's time to change it.
Normally, filters should be changed once every 12,000-15,000 miles, but with all the smoke and ash in the air, it needs to be done much more frequently to keep your engine running smoothly. Replacing clogged filters will also save wear and tear on your engine and increase gas mileage, since your motor won't be working as hard to get air through the system.
Changing an air filter is very easy; they are generally located above the main block of the engine, inside a circular cover with a wingnut holding the top on, or a couple of clips on the edges. Simply removing the cover exposes the filter, which just lies loose in the tray. Take the old one out and put the new one in, then replace the cover and you're done. Or, for about $20 you can have it done at an auto tuneup shop.
Here's hoping that the coming rains will help extinguish the remaining fires and get all of us -- and our cars -- breathing easy again!