I went in for an oil change recently and the Jiffy Lube technician tried to up sell me on buying a better oil for my car, and on buying a more expensive air filter.

My car is a fairly normal compact car (Toyota Prius).

Most brands have several options in 3 grades Napa (includes silver midgrade for most vehicles though evidently not the Prius), And some higher priced brands claim to have superior performance over lower priced brands.

Are there any performance benefits to the more expensive versions of the air filter?

8 Answers 8


I spent several weeks researching this issue not that many years ago.

I read all sorts of claims and "proof" that a $50 air filter will improve your vehicle's acceleration, horsepower, torque, longevity, etc.

There would always be something about the "proof" that seemed questionable.

Then I read a most insightful comment. The insightful author pointed out that if all it took to improve power was a $50 (retail) filter that probably costs $2 to manufacture, then every vehicle manufacturer in the world would use those filters as standard equipment.

The logic and truthiness of this comment really resonated with me, and I decided the only real advantage of expensive reusable filters is the environmental one. Not having to throw a filter into the landfill is a real, tangible, and undeniable benefit.

  • 1
    THIS! Car manufacturers are always looking to get the most performance and efficiency to sell their cars and meet government regulations. If these filters really worked, they would be in every car manufactured.
    – Keltari
    Nov 23, 2018 at 19:45

Unless you're going to spend a lot of money on a cleanable K&N type filter, I'm not aware of any real benefits to upgraded air filters - it's basically a folded sheet of cardboard after all...

What is worth it, however, is getting a better quality oil filter. Many cheaper oil filters miss out the anti-drain-down valve that is commonly found on OEM filters, meaning the oil drains back to the sump when the engine is off, taking longer to get back up to pressure again and thus causing more wear to the engine.

As far as the oil itself is concerned, I would always recommend going for the grade recommended by the manufacturer on any modern car. Bear in mind that the technicians are always going to try and get you to buy the more expensive version as they make more profit!

  • 1
    Even some of the high-end aftermarket oil filters seem to be missing the anti-drainback valve. I've spent some $ on fancy big name filters only to hear the engine rattle on startup, which it never does with an OEM filter. Sometimes OEM really is better. Jan 3, 2012 at 14:27

Air filters are one of those things that can have real measurable effects. However, the measurements are often more hassle than normal people are willing to tolerate.

tl;dr: I don't think you'd be able to detect a change in performance on a Prius. I recommend that you don't bother.

Air filters have measurable properties that can be broadly lumped into:

  1. Air flow (more is better)
  2. Particulate removal (less junk is better)
  3. Hassle (this depends on the person)

To measure the air flow of a particular air filter, you will need two pressure gauges and fittings to punch into the air intake path before and after the filter installation. In the interest of full disclosure, even I lose interest in the experiment at this point. However, if you're willing to do the legwork, you can empirically determine which filter has the best flow for your particular car.

Measuring particulate removal is more of a Mythbusters affair. You'd need to assemble a tiny wind tunnel that can force a measured amount of particulates of the relevant size (usually sand and dust). Measure the amount of grit that you blow into the system and measure the amount that makes it through to the other side. The best filters in this category will be the most effective.

A couple of notes about that last measurement. First, you'd be essentially testing the filter to destruction. Secondly, high air flow and high particulate removal are somewhat at odds, depending on the technology of the filter. For example, a foam filter that gets its regularly scheduled oil spray can often separate out a lot of particulates using fairly loose pores.

Which brings us straight to hassle. On a previous car, I put in an AEM cold-air intake which was great in terms of freeing the intake path for that little four cylinder. However, the air filter needed to be sprayed with oil and getting to it was a major pain (it was positioned down in the right front fender). I later replaced the whole intake with a Comptech ice box (when they were still making parts for the rest of us). That moved the filter up to a more OEM-like position without losing the airflow.

On my current car, I'm doing nothing. I'm using the OEM air filter on my WRX because nobody has managed to convince me that it's worth changing filter types. I also don't want an oil soaked filter sitting in front of my turbo intake.

  • I have no major fear of a cotton/oil filter in front of my turbo. It may not filter quite as well (at least when clean, as they get dirty they filter better), but it's "good enough". Better if you can find a pre-filter to slip over it (especially for those of us operating in high dust environments). Foam/oil filters I don't let anywhere near my car. Either way, a good paper filter is just fine for pretty much anyone. If you're worried about air flow of cotton/oil vs paper, it's probably time to upgrade the intake piping and increase the filter area anyways... Jan 3, 2012 at 21:01

I have a supercharged 4.0 Ford Barra motor (Aus). It is the most finicky motor I have ever owned & the slightest change to intake air components either gives a performance advantage, no advantage or it will degrade performance. I tried a brand new leading market oiled styled air cleaner filter against a Ford factory standard paper filter. I then connected an ELM 327 OBD port ECU interface which then connected to a Bluetooth Tachometer & vacuum readout. On all tests there was a 2% higher rpm & vacuum reading from the standard paper element. Remember, this was done with two brand new filters so I did not over oil the aftermarket filter. I then tried the same test on an old air cleaned (compressor) paper filter & an older oil type filter of the same brand as above. This time I cleaned this filter and re-oiled it very sparingly myself. I did not think I applied enough oil to filter properly, it was very light on & only slightly colored pink. But the tests came out very similar only this time there was a 3% difference in airflow & vacuum favoring the dirty looking old compressor cleaned paper filter You can tell when you are on the road too. You can Poo-Hoo all you like but a 2%-3% air flow gain on a supercharged vehicle is very noticeable in rpm response time.


Well, he's kind of right. You will get about 1BHP more from a good quality filter. But unless you're the princess who slept on the pea, you won't notice. What better quality filters DO have going for them is that they take longer to clog up. So they don't really GIVE you more power, they're better at PREVENTING power loss once you've driven a couple thousand miles.

On a slightly related note: changing out your whole air intake system fools your MAF sensor into making the car run leaner than it's supposed to. A potentially dangerous situation that's not worth the tiny gain in performance.


Simple answers to your question.

1.Yes there is a difference, an after-market K&N Filter will improve power(not much but noticeable) and efficiency of your car at low speeds, but at higher speeds it will rob the efficiency quite a bit all due to increased air flow.

2.Stock air filters are better for the engine life and fuel efficiency since they restrict much of the air flow to the engine.

3.The most cheapest way to add performance to any vehicle is to add an after-market air filter and upgrading to a free flow exhaust(check with your country's law if they permit the emission since most systems remove the catalytic converter)

Note: while getting the filter if you go for the conical ones they will produce a muffled sound.


I think it depends on the application. I paid good money for a K&N air filter for my old commuter, an 18 year old Subaru 4-cylinder. After installation I heard some pretty neat growling noise from the engine on acceleration but the idle and gas mileage and performance were the same. On the other hand, a K&N air filter installed on my Kawasaki Concours not only gave me that cool growling noise on acceleration, but I did notice a smoother idle and a small, yes small, increase in top speed performance above 7,000 rpm. So there you go...I believe they're worth the bucks and the time spent cleaning them every few thousand miles if used in a performance application but for a regular old car the stock and cheap paper filter is the way to go.


Premium air filters: Often washable. Sometimes made in a country like the one where you live, paying for schools and pensions and such. Sometimes the "premium" word doesn't quite fit because the product is a Chinese washable cone that costs less than the disposable filter, but takes a hobbyist's time and skill to fit.

Standard air filters: Often very expensive for what they are at dealer prices. Sometimes a compulsory extra to some kind of standard service, and rather embarassing to opt-out-of. Sometimes hard to find cheaply in your size unless you wait a month and buy from China.

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