How (not) to Install a Cabin Air Filter
By: Stephen Pallotta
We’ve all heard of the typical “how-to,” that’s great and all... but let's try something new, something improved, something that will make you scratch your head a few times and hopefully save you a little pain. This blog will attempt to explain the way how to… sorry… how not to… replace the air filter in your Tesla Model 3, and remove that disgusting funk that not even a N95 can do anything about. To start things off, let’s review a short list of helpful hints & tips that I wish I knew before I started the project of a lifetime:
Slightly helpful hints & tips:
- To start, realize that you should have bought yourself a nice little piggy bank and labelled “Car Funds.” You will put roughly 15% of your income into that, most of it will go to new tires. Once you have enough saved up, go into your Tesla app and set up an appointment to have your cabin air filters replaced by a professional.
- Factors that play into lifetime of cabin air filter: frequency of using the HVAC system, quality of air where you live, if you leave you car parked outside or inside, and personal sensitivity to particulates.
- How you will know when to change it: every time you change your engine oil is a decent metric, oh sorry, um... about once a year.
- Go to Youtube and type in “How to change air filter in Model 3.” Then watch as many videos on the topic until you completely zone out and realize you probably got yourself into something you shouldn’t have, that was about three videos for me.
- Find a place in the shade, or a garage, or any location where your shirt may not be drenched in sweat by the time you have all your tools arranged.
- Get a thick pad of sorts for your knees, especially if you attempt this project on a hot summer day. You can use your floor mats, oh yeah… remove the floor mat on the side where the filters are so that you can actually take off the panels.
- Wear a long sleeve shirt. I literally somehow got rug burn and am in pain the day after as I’m writing this… how on Earth did I get rug burn (face palm)
- Don’t have big Italian fingers that make it impossible to complete the most difficult part of this whole project, removing that evil screw from the plate that blocks the filters (seriously if you get this far in the project, this is where you will realize you done messed up attempting it)
Alright, that’s enough nonsense, let’s get going here.
Make sure that you have done your research on how to complete this project from start to finish (reading this blog does not constitute as research). For me, one of the best ways I learn is by watching or doing, but since I didn’t want to totally destroy the car, I watched a few videos first. There are many great videos out there on the topic, but as we know, Gen Z/Millennials have about a 15 second attention span, so I lucked out and found this one which was only about 6 minutes long.
We know the right tools can help make all the difference, and thankfully with the filters I bought on Amazon (hey… somebody has to help Jeff Who get to space), they actually came with all the tools I needed! For just 30 bucks, you get the two HEPA filters (with activated carbon), 1 * T20 Hex Screwdriver, 1 * Buckle Crowbar (the little plastic trim remover/clip remover, and the fairly useful Installation Instruction pamphlet (which is much more functional and time efficient than reading this blog). Ok, so at this point there’s only one more thing you will need to spend your hard earned dollars on, evaporator cleaner. As mentioned this blog is more of a “how (not) to,” so let me tell you what you should buy… not what I bought. I decided to take the more frugal route and purchased Frost King ACF19 Foam Coil Cleaner, which honestly is an amazing product and I’m very happy with it, but yeah… get one with a hose, preferably Lubegard 96030 Kool-It Evaporator and Heater Foam Cleaner. Ok, that’s everything, taddaaa, let’s get this project going now!
The part you actually came here for:
- Remove the floor mat, as mentioned before this works as a half-decent knee pad for your knees that think they’re 30 years older than they are (don’t get me started on my back pain…….)
- Use the trim removal tool (Buckle Crowbar) to remove the carpeted trim on the center console. I highly recommend starting from the back, once you have pulled it away a little, you’re really better off just using your hands and pulling the trim now. You oddly don’t want to do this too slowly, not because you have better things to do with your time, but because there’s a greater chance of breaking the clips if you pull it away too slowly.
- Congratulations, you successfully removed the trim, you’re halfway there (haha just kidding, not even close). This next part is fairly simple, see those little clips on the ceiling of the footwell, remove all 4 (put them somewhere safe, there aren’t many things to lose, but if you’re like me, you’ll still find a way). You don’t need to be on your back for this, but when you’re done and doing this part in reverse, I found it to be helpful.
- Now go ahead and remove the panel slowly. Not too slowly, but be aware that there is a speaker and light that are part of this panel. You’ll want to remove clips that hold these parts on. Of course I was only able to unclip the wire for the light… so I had to push the panel up into the back of the footwell to give myself a little more space.
- Alright this is the worst part. Prepare yourself: mentally, physically, emotionally, spiritually, and whatever other “allys” exist, trust me, you’re going to need them all for this part. If you can do this successfully without as being dramatic as me, you may want to consider becoming a heart surgeon. If you can do this part of the project, you will instantly be qualified to be a practicing medical professional (this is just a joke, you will still need to go to med school for 15 years and take out a student loan that you’ll finish paying off when you’re 85 years old). Take the T20 Hex Screwdriver that was included in the air filter set, reach way back into the footwell on the left, and attempt what should be reserved as a training course for Navy SEALs. Once you get the screw out, place it somewhere safe, then pull back the cover that blocks the filter. Oh, one more helpful hint, carefully pull the orange cable away, there’s a clip or two holding it down. This will just make everything a little easier as far as removing the air filter plate.
- We’re almost done, seriously, I’m not being a punk this time. Alright, pull out the old filters and place them outside the car, you may want to check and see if they can be recycled. Take the bottle of evaporator cleaner, attach the hose, then spray inside the area where the filters were. The purpose of this cleaner is to rid your HVAC system of that utterly disturbing smell, don’t skip out on this part of the project! From a few videos I’ve watched, you should allow the foam to fill up the entire cavity, this may require the whole bottle. Try to move around the hose once it’s in the cavity, starting at the bottom and working upwards. Let the foam sit for about 15 minutes, then blast the AC on high for about 15 minutes. Make sure to replace the cap while the AC is running, you don’t have to put the screw back in, just make sure it’s on there snuggly. You’ll most likely see a stream of water forming under your car, no worries, this is totally normal, Teslas tend to get very excited when their owners take on DIY projects.
- Ok, we just about finished here! Put the new filters in, making sure that they are facing the right direction for the air flow. If you bought the ones that I did, this means the side with the little beads will face towards you. Also ensure that the little string is on the top right so that you can easily remove them next time you take on this project (if you’re brave enough to try it again).
- That’s it, you’re done, you are a DIY hero!!! Go ahead and put all the panels and clips back where they belong, get whatever bandaids you need for yourself, then a nice beverage and pat yourself on the back.
If you made it to the end, you deserve a medal! Sadly our budget isn’t quite there yet, but I almost always have TOCNYS stickers with me. Just let me know you read this blog, and I’ll make sure to give you one, as well as my condolences for taking up so much of your time.
Great blog! I didn't find the replacement so hard or painful. It's a bit tricky to get under there, but once you're there, it isn't so bad and it can save you a couple hundred bucks of service charges.