A reader asks: My car has two cabin filter options. One is a carbon cabin filter and the other is a regular cabin filter. What are the differences or advantages between the two filters? Do the carbon filters provide better air quality? 

Our answer: The filter media of a carbon cabin filter contains activated charcoal. These filters have a darker appearance compared to regular paper cabin filters. The function of the carbon/charcoal component is to block some odors from the air entering the vehicle interior.  That is the only function of a carbon cabin filter.

Aside from the odor-removing feature, carbon cabin filters perform exactly the same task as regular cabin filters. Both filter types stop dust, dirt, pollen and soot from entering the car interior through the ventilation system. In that respect, cabin filters certainly do improve the air quality in your car.

Do Carbon/Charcoal Cabin Filters Remove Carbon Monoxide?

In other words, will a carbon cabin filter make the air in your car safer? Will it remove dangerous gasoline and diesel exhaust? The short answer is no. Carbon/charcoal cabin filters will not filter out carbon monoxide and other toxic exhaust fumes. Again, a carbon cabin filter can remove odors, but that feature does necessarily make the breathing air safer than with regular cabin filters.

How Often Should You Change Your Cabin Filter?

Your car’s cabin filter should be changed once per year. Once you see how dirty these filters can get, you’ll understand why they have to be changed relatively often. A clogged cabin filter can restrict the air flow of your car’s heating/cooling system. When its time to defrost your windows in winter or cool down the interior in summer, maximum air flow is vital.

Changing Your Own Cabin Filter

Rather than have a dealer or shop change out your cabin filter, consider doing it yourself. Shops will charge a small fortune for this task. Do a search on YouTube for the cabin filter change procedure for your vehicle. You might be surprised at how easy it is.