Why Should I Clean My Air Filter On Outback Road Trips?

By Jim
Category: 4x4 Tips

cape york dust cloud

Why Should I Clean My Air Filter On Outback Road Trips?

We talk through the importance of regularly checking, cleaning & maintaining your air filter, especially when touring or heading off-road.

Discussions about aftermarket gear to assist and enhance your 4X4 adventures are very common amongst campers and adventure enthusiasts alike. These conversations aren’t just about customising your vehicle to suit your style, but about creating a 4X4 that is best suited for your particular purpose or touring plan; with cover for modifications and accessories being one of Club 4X4’s specialties.

One of the most important considerations when modifying a 4X4 to go off-road is how to improve the standard intake system to provide cleaner air with less restriction. This idea is so that the engine can breathe freely and perform at its best.

Years ago, the standard air intake position in a 4WD was from within the front guard, however we’ve seen this trend change. Many are now pulling air from high up under the bonnet, often next to the radiator. Whilst this provides clean air most of the time, it can be a problem when driving through water or in dusty conditions; especially when you hit some bull dust a little hard, creating a dust cloud in front of your grille.

A well-sealed snorkel can help by pulling air from a higher up and usually cleaner environment. This provides some engine protection for deeper water crossings but won’t eliminate dust entirely from your air box.

So, what do you about dusty air filters?

Let’s assume that you are running a standard air filter in your air box. These are designed to perform a task and usually, they do a great job. But, when you are on a trip and the tracks are dusty, even if you have a snorkel, you will probably end up with dust in your air filter.

On some trips, we have encountered so much bulldust that we had to add cleaning our air filters into our daily maintenance routine. It’s a really simple process and an extremely important part of your regular checks as to prevent filters getting this bad and risking reduced performance or even engine damage.

Does anyone out there check and clean their filters daily on a trip, or regularly in general? And if yes, what is your process? How do you do it?

Part of your trip planning should be figuring out the right gear and spare parts to carry with you to suit your vehicle and where you are heading. As far as filters go and what I carry with me, I always have two spare fuel filters and two spare air filters. This is a part of my spares kit and is always updated.

(The idea of the two fuel filters is that if you get bad fuel, you will probably block the new/replacement filter whilst it draws the rubbish out of the tank, so having an extra spare can save some frustration.)

During my filter cleaning ritual, one of the spare air filters will be swapped with the one installed so that there is an air filter in place to protect the engine while running to power the compressor for cleaning. The second brand new filter typically stays fresh and, in its box as a last resort (at least until I near the homestretch and return to highway roads). However, during the trip, I will check and clean the air filter every day if its dusty.

So – how do I clean my air filter? 

To do this, you will need a good compressor and a dust blower nozzle. The dual compressor from ARB has a tank accessory that allows for the build-up of 4L of air at the maximum pressure, which is plenty to clean an air filter. Endless Air’s engine-driven compressors are also an amazing product that provide a constant pressurized flow of air.

In a pinch, you could also use an electric blower or even a leaf blower; anything that can move a decent volume of air will be better than nothing. 

Every car will be slightly different, but here is the general process of inspecting an air filter: 

  • Shut the engine down 
  • Clean and blow away any excess dust around the air box to prevent it from entering the open intake 
  • Remove the top from the air box to provide access to the potentially dusty air filter 
  • Lift the air filter out and check if it is dusty, then place it aside and on a clean surface 
  • Using a microfibre cloth or similar, wipe the inside of the air box, removing any dust or debris, like bugs etc. 
  • Take the second, already clean filter and carefully place it in the air box, ensuring the seal is well aligned and in good condition 
  • Re-seal the air box and check the filter you have just removed for any damage, – ensuring the rubber seal is in good condition and that there are no breaks in the filter.  

The procedure of blowing the dust out of the filter is extremely important. To avoid blowing dust further into the filter material, you need to blow the air out backwards. The dust enters the filter on one side as air flows into the engine, so you will blow the air the opposite direction, hopefully, blowing dust out and away from the filter.  

Handy Hint: Figure out which way the wind is blowing as otherwise, you might become dusty yourself! 

Try not to be rough with the air filter as it could become damaged. Even small imperfections can let dusty air straight through the filter material or around the outside of a poorly sealed filter altogether, so if it’s looking a bit worse for wear, it might be time for a new air filter.  

To clean an air filter, hold the air nozzle at a good distance away from the filter to ensure there is not too much concentrated force on the material. Blow pulses of air to ensure the compressor can keep up with you and watch all the dust blow away. It’s disturbing how much these filters hold the dust. 

This will take a little time and patience, but its worth it. Once clean, you can place the clean spare air filter in a plastic bag and in a safe place that it will not get damaged. We keep our filters high in the canopy in a box to ensure they will not get damaged. 

Some of you might suggest that you should simply tap the filter against your tyre, or for the round filters, roll them over a hard surface. I used to do exactly that with my older 4X4s many years ago, but was always concerned about damaging the filter.  

There are many reasons why driving too close and in other people’s dust isn’t a great idea, but I can guarantee that cleaning your air filter will see you sit a little further back in future when driving in convoy. 

It’s important to remember that if you look after your investment, it’ll look after you. Maintaining a clean air filter can help to ensure the best in engine performance, reliability, and a peace of mind. 

If you’re like me and carry plenty of tools and spares along with your other gear, and your 4WD is insured with Club 4X4, then it might be worth upgrading your personal effects cover from the included $2,000 to $5,000 or $10,000 to ensure your portable gear is covered. 


-Michael Ellem 
Offroad Images 

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