Diagnostic Solutions: Air and Fuel Filter Maintenance

Diagnostic Solutions: Air and Fuel Filter Maintenance

Although air and fuel filter maintenance is usually considered a "no-brainer" by most import repair shops, advancing technology is changing the way we should be performing air and fuel filter maintenance.

es the velocity of intake air as it enters the air filter housing. This decrease in air velocity causes air-borne debris to fall out of the air to the bottom of the housing. This change in air velocity increases the life of the air filter and tends to dampen the throaty resonance of air rushing into the engine. Last, and most important, this reduction in air velocity helps increase the accuracy of the MAF sensor by removing turbulence from the incoming air. See Photo 2.

Unfortunately, many “tuner” or “hot-rod” technicians who replace OE systems with performance ­aftermarket systems might not understand that ­modern MAF sensors basically measure the volume and density of the incoming air by measuring the change in current flowing through a resistor or wire as it is cooled by a smooth, non-turbulent flow of incoming air. This operating principle provides the MAF sensor with the ability to precisely measure air flow in grams-per-second increments. See Photo 3.
photo 3: inspecting the maf sensor for accumulated debris is a major part of scheduled air filter maintenance.
While space doesn’t allow for a full discussion of MAF diagnostics, it’s important to know that dirty MAF-sensing elements miscalculate the amount of air flowing into the engine, which results in an erratic air/fuel ratio calculation and a subsequently erroneous calculated engine load or calculated barometric pressure data value on a scan tool. In most cases, miscalculations caused by dirt and air turbulence actually decrease, rather than increase, horsepower and fuel economy.

Of course, the popular perception is that increasing air filter capacity will increase an engine’s horsepower and fuel economy. The reality is that, because an engine is an air pump, increasing the air flow beyond the capacity of the engine’s peak demand will do nothing to enhance performance. In practically all cases, the OE air filtration system is, by far, the most efficient and the least maintenance-intensive system on the market simply because its design matches the engine’s original intake air flow requirements.

As I mentioned above, air filter replacements are the most over-performed and least understood of routine maintenance services. But the fact that an air or fuel filter might remain in place for extended intervals should underline the importance of how we perform an air or fuel filter replacement. All too often, inexperienced lube bay employees actually damage the air filter housings when changing a filter. Others may slip an air filter in place without cleaning the air filter housing or sealing surfaces.

Needless to say, dirt leaking past an air filter for thousands of miles will not only shorten engine life, but will foul the MAF sensor, throttle plate and idle air control (IAC) systems with dirt. Even in an era of electronically controlled throttles, dirt accumulation around the throttle plate can change the base air flow enough to cause cold-start and idle speed control complaints.
photo 4: perforations in the pleated areas can be detected by holding a bright light under the air filter media.
When disassembling an air intake system, always inspect the inside of the downstream ducting for dirt contamination. If dirt is evident, then dirt is leaking past the air filter into intake air. Because dirt around the throttle plate can cause performance complaints, the throttle plate should be cleaned with an aerosol throttle plate cleaner. Never use an aerosol carburetor or brake parts cleaner to clean a throttle body because those solvents might damage throttle shaft seals or peel delicate throttle bore coatings. An old toothbrush can be used to loosen hardened deposits. See Photo 4.

Next, inspect the MAF sensor for dirt contamination. Although minor MAF sensor contamination can be cleaned with an aerosol MAF cleaner, remember that cleaning the MAF sensor usually won’t restore the MAF to 100-percent efficiency. Because a cleaned MAF will probably be operating at a maximum of only 80-90-percent efficiency, a MAF replacement should be considered. Next, lubricate neoprene hose fittings and duct attaching points with a light film of silicone or silicone grease to assist reassembly. Be sure to vacuum all debris out of the air filter housing and clean the sealing surfaces before reassembly. If the ­vehicle has a “snow screen” built into the air inlet, ­inspect and clean if necessary. Replace the housing if it’s damaged or distorted.

Scheduled fuel filter replacements are often ignored in the quick lube bays because they are more difficult and time-consuming to perform. Many modern vehicles also have the fuel filter built into a “fuel pump module,” which eliminates the need for scheduled replacements. In any case, an excessive load is placed on the electric fuel pump as it struggles to pump fuel through a clogged fuel filter. This is why many fuel pump manufacturers want new filters to be installed with their new fuel pumps. See Photo 5.
photo 5: the worm-gear clamps have been installed on this fuel filter for temporary testing. high-pressure fuel hose clamps should be used for a permanent installation.
Proper precautions should always be taken when replacing chassis-mounted fuel filters. Always lube threaded fuel connections with penetrating oil before removal. It’s also a good diagnostic practice to detect water or rust contamination by draining the filter contents into a clear cup or container.

Next, prevent corrosion by lubricating all threaded fittings and attaching bolts with light grease or an anti-corrosion compound. When inspecting all hoses and clamps for wear and damage, remember that fuel injection systems require special high-pressure fuel hose and clamps. Fuel injection hose clamps are built to avoid cutting or damaging the fuel hose. Fuel injection hose itself is designed to withstand high fuel pressures. See Photo 6.
Photo 6: The rounded shoulders on this high-pressure fuel hose clamp prevent damage to the fuel line hose.
When reinstalling the fuel filter, make sure that the retaining bracket and fuel connections are firmly ­attached before starting the engine. Incorrect installation techniques can create a fire hazard liability if the fittings or hose attachments leak or become disconnected during normal driving.

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