In the early days of the automobile, air filtration was not a big concern despite the fact that most roads were either dirt or gravel. In fact, many of the earliest air cleaners were not air cleaners at all, but rather referred to as spark arresters, and functioned to limit backfires from igniting other components in the engine compartment. But soon, the benefits of supplying clean air became apparent with longer engine life and better performance.
Early forms of air filter design were often a wire mesh that could be cleaned and oiled, which soon gave way to the oil bath air filter. The oil bath air cleaner used a wire mesh air filter that would wick oil up from the bottom of the air cleaner and would also direct air flow over the pool of oil. This proved very effective at removing larger dirt particles, and when properly maintained with cleaning and fresh oil, it would last the life of the automobile.
As roads improved during the 1950s, the need to filter out large debris became less important, and pleated paper filters proved more effective at removing small debris. These paper filters were also more easily serviced and relatively inexpensive. Over the years since the adoption of the paper filter, it has taken on many forms; radial, axial, conical, and panel filters all function similarly and have stood the test of time.
However, performance enthusiasts are always looking for an additional edge over the competition. With the understanding that the paper filter effectively cleans the air entering the engine, there is also a fair amount of restriction created, causing the engine to have to work harder to bring air in and resulting in less power. To combat this loss in performance, a new line of filters was created using a pleated cotton mesh fabric soaked in a lightweight oil to trap debris.
These filters are made by a host of companies and sold under names like K&N, S&B, AFE Power, Spectre, and many others. Few can argue with the performance gains these filters offer, but many owners fail to perform the regular maintenance these filters need to operate properly. Join Mark Simpson as he discusses how to properly clean and oil your performance air filter.