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RV Diesel Air Filter Change: The How, When, and Why to Do It

RV Diesel Air Filter Change: The How, When, and Why to Do It

If you’ve got a diesel pusher motorhome, knowing when to change the diesel engine air filter is important. And if your rig offers easy access to your air filter, knowing how to do it yourself can save you some cash. We found the RV diesel air filter change to be one of the easiest routine maintenance tasks required on our rig. We’re laying out the steps so you can do it, too.

Why Is a Diesel RV Air Filter Change Important?

The most important reason to replace the air cleaner in a diesel RV is to protect against contaminants getting into the engine, which can cause serious damage. That filter is the only thing stopping debris from getting into your engine through the air intake.

Another reason to be diligent about changing your diesel pusher’s air filter is that a clogged or old air cleaner/filter can reduce the flow of air to the engine. That restriction can result in power loss, lower fuel efficiency, and reduced acceleration. And let’s face it, diesel engines are expensive, both to buy and repair. Proper maintenance is key to keeping costs down.

Split screen showing dirty vs clean diesel air filter

Here you can see our used, dirty diesel air filter beside a fresh new one. It’s not hard to see how a dirty filter can deprive an engine of clean air, leading to poor engine performance… or worse.

To keep your diesel pusher’s engine running strong for hundreds of thousands of miles, this routine maintenance task shouldn’t be ignored.

How Often Does an RV Diesel Air Filter Need to Be Changed?

The frequency of this important maintenance task will vary by year, make, and model of RV and engine. For example, the manual for our 2005 Cummins ISL calls for changing the air filter once every 3 years or 75,000 miles, whichever comes first. As we never averaged 25,000 miles a year, we replaced ours based on time, every 3 years.

Depending on how demanding the conditions are where you travel (think extensive boondocking trips deep into dusty off-road situations), you may need an RV diesel air filter change more often. Check your owner’s manual for your RV’s recommended frequency.

The job can be done at an RV service/repair shop, but if your rig provides easy access (like ours did), it’s a super easy DIY task.

How to Change an RV Diesel Air Filter

Again, this was a pretty simple maintenance task on our Newmar diesel pusher because it offered such good access to the air cleaner. Your mileage may vary where access is concerned, but the process should be fairly similar for many diesel-powered RVs. If you can reach it, and remove it, you shouldn’t have any trouble.

What You’ll Need

The only tool you’ll likely need to change your RV’s diesel air filter is a socket wrench to loosen two large hose clamps. One comes from the air intake and the other secures the filter to the air hose that leads directly into the engine.

You’ll also need a few additional items. Here’s everything we used to get this simple job done:

  • Socket wrench and deep sockets
  • Clean rag(s)
  • Old cloth or shop-grade paper towel
  • Spray silicone
  • Nitrile work gloves
  • Replacement air filter
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Clean the Area Around the Air Filter

Before starting the job, clean the area on and around the air filter well to prevent any dust, loose dirt, or debris from falling into the engine when the filter is removed. The most important thing to remember is that removing the air cleaner opens up a direct path into the engine, which needs to be kept very clean (as in completely clean).

Loosen the Hose Clamps

Using a socket wrench and a deep socket, loosen the two large hose clamps, starting with the upper one that comes from the air intake. Depending on the location and position of the lower clamp, it may be hard to see. So you may need to feel around a bit to locate it and get your socket onto the nut.

Parts and locations described

The left photo shows the location of the upper hose clamp that comes from the air intake, and the filter minder (which you may or may not have). On the right is the lower clamp underneath the air filter, which leads directly into the engine’s air intake.

Unlatch the Filter Buckles

Unlatch both the upper and lower brackets that hold the filter in place. They simply snap open and closed by hand, so no tools should be needed.

Remove the Upper Air Inlet Hose

Remove the air inlet hose located on the side of the filter (the one that comes from the air intake) by twisting and pulling. Be sure to do this before you remove the output hose to the engine. This is so important because, as mentioned, allowing dirt or other debris into the air intake can damage the engine. So leave that hose for last so there’s less activity in the engine compartment once it’s off.

Remove the Filter

Twist and pull the filter to remove it from the output hose that goes to the engine. You may need to wiggle it a bit. Once it comes loose, carefully remove it from the engine compartment. We can’t stress enough how important it is to avoid knocking debris into the engine’s air intake.

Cover the Engine Air Intake With a CLEAN Rag

Cover the engine’s air intake with a clean rag. This is done because the intake is now completely exposed, and any dirt or debris that’s allowed to enter this area could severely damage the engine. We know we’ve said this repeatedly. That’s because the only real risk in doing this job is getting dirt into the engine. It’s easy to avoid, but only if you’re aware of how important it is.

Split screen showing the open engine air intake on the left and the same intake covered

A critical part of this maintenance task is preventing dirt or debris from getting into the engine’s air intake.

The need to keep the internal engine components completely clean is why step one of this task is to clean the old filter and the area around it before removing it. Covering the opening once the old filter is out will make sure that the engine air intake stays clean while you’re completing the job.

Clean the Clamps that Hold the Air Filter

Using a rag or cloth, clean the clamps that held the air filter in place. This is an important step because you don’t want to later knock any loose debris or dirt into the engine air intake while you’re installing the new filter.

Clean and Silicone the Inside of the Air Filter Intake Hose

Use a clean cloth to wipe the inside edge of the air filter intake hose. Then, spray some silicone onto a clean cloth or shop-grade paper towel, and wipe it onto the inside edge of the air filter intake hose. This not only cleans the area but also lubricates it to make reassembly easier.

Clean and Silicone the Opening of the Engine Intake Hose

Spray some silicone onto a new clean cloth or paper towel, and carefully remove the rag covering the engine air intake. Clean and lubricate the opening of the engine air intake hose as well. Make sure the opening is nice and clean, and inspect the air intake to ensure that no debris has fallen into it.

Install the New Air Cleaner

Carefully set the new air filter in place. Always start by inserting the filter into the engine air intake hose to safely seal up that all-important area first. Push and twist the filter into place, making sure it’s properly seated into the hose.

Don’t tighten the clamp just yet. First, slip the other hose onto the filter — the one that comes in from the RV’s air intake. Once the filter is in position with both hoses loosely placed over their respective openings, snap both buckles around the filter housing, clamping it into place. Then use your socket wrench and deep socket to tighten both hose clamps.

Reset Your Filter Minder

If your rig is equipped with a filter minder, now would be a good time to reset it. We also like to use a felt-tip marker to write the month and year directly on the filter as a quick reminder of when we last replaced it.

Again, your air cleaner/filter may be positioned differently from ours, but the general steps should be about the same. If you’d like a more visual guide, check out our video and follow along as we replace the air cleaner on our Newmar Mountain Aire diesel pusher:

For more easy DIY RV maintenance tutorials, see our post on RV DIY fluid & filter maintenance. You may also be interested in our post discussing how much it costs to maintain an RV. For information on Spartan vs Freightliner chassis options, see our post on the diesel pusher chassis.

And, lastly, you may want to check out the RV Life Maintenance Tracker, so you can easily stay on top of ALL the maintenance your RV needs.

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PLEASE NOTE: We're handy RVers, not professional technicians. We're happy with the techniques and products we use, but be sure to confirm that all methods and materials you use are compatible with your equipment and abilities. Regardless of what we recommend, consult a professional if you're unsure about working on your RV. Any task you perform or product you purchase based on any information we provide is strictly at your own risk.

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