For the sake of fuel economy, it is not hard to see how easy it would be to overlook the air filter as a way to save gas, but save gas it does.

Air filters are devices which strain air through a membrane to separate particulates from the air that normally goes into an internal combustion engine. This is to prevent these particulates, such as dust, fiber, pollen and such to contaminate sensitive and hard-to-reach parts of the engine.

Air filters are judged according to two types of attributes: filtration and flow.

Filtration is the ability of the filter to separate particulates from the air. Flow is the ability of the filter to let air move through the filter element with minimal restriction, including the piping that guide air through the air filter and beyond.

Filtration elements are normally composed of paper, cotton, foam, and cloth components.

Paper. This is the most common and cheapest form of filter available. They are efficient, idiot-proof and costs less than other types of filters. The filter is normally a wide, round cylindrical shape about 3 inches in high. Particulates are easily spotted on the pleats of the air filter and can be cleaned off for further use. Paper filters have a shorter use life and are considered easily disposable.

Foam. Foam filters are oil-damp polyurethane elements. These are usually used in rally-type environments with the capacity to trap lots of dust.

Cotton. Oiled-cotton gauze filters are usually found in performance after-market air filters. Employs multiple layers supported by a metal mesh to trap dust and particulates.

Cloth. Cloth are oil-wetted as well and are considered on the same level as cotton-gauze filters. They also employ the same layering as cotton-gauze and are reusable to the point of just washing and re-oiling them.

When air flow is considered, the “plumbing” of the air filter system must be observed. What manufacturers usually attached to air filter systems is a complex set of pipes that flow up and down to slow down air flow somewhat. The purpose of this is to reduce ambient noise, sometimes at the cost of fuel efficiency.

After-market performance components have solved these problems by doing away with the plumbing system entirely and going for a more simplified straight or curved piping system topped with the filter element. This immediately shows better performance over the plumbing-type system but these do not filter out particulates as well.

Some after-market performance filter components usually include cone-shaped filters for cotton and cloth filters, mushroom-shaped filters for foam elements, and some two-stage hybrid filters, which clean out air much more efficiently but at the cost of some air flow.

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