Fire truck air filters 101

Consider these factors when choosing OEM, aftermarket disposable or reusable air filters

Preventative vehicle maintenance for emergency response apparatus has proven to be a very cost-effective fleet-management practice. A comprehensive preventative-maintenance program can extend apparatus service life by ensuring proper and protected air intake for the engine; ensuring that the engine and transmission are properly lubricated with clean oil and fluids; and catching small maintenance problems while they can be easily and inexpensively fixed.

Preventative maintenance programs have their own expenses and every fleet manager is challenged to get the most bang for his buck when it comes to the filters and fluids that are the foundation of such a program. One area that those managers look to as a means to control costs is aftermarket products, which they can obtain from sources other than the original equipment manufacturers. 

The applicable standard is NFPA 1911, Standard for the Inspection, Maintenance, Testing, and Retirement of In-Service Automotive Fire Apparatus. Since 2006, NFPA 1911 has been the "bible" for apparatus fleet managers and emergency vehicle technicians.

The International Association of Fire Chief's Emergency Vehicle Management Section is another good source of information and guidance for your fleet-management needs. Specific interests of the section include but are not limited to:

  • EVTCC: National certification of Emergency Vehicle Technicians.
  • Promulgation of training and education regarding emergency vehicles and equipment.
  • Exchange and distribution of information regarding emergency vehicles and equipment.

Using aftermarket air filters
For this piece, I consulted my subject-matter experts, the emergency vehicle technicians who participate in the Emergency Vehicle Technician Association’s on-line forum, EVT Tech Talk. I posed the following question to this esteemed group: "What aftermarket air filters are available, e.g., K&N, what do they cost and what do they do (fuel mileage improvement, replacement costs, etc.)?

There are several factors to think about before using an aftermarket air filters wrote Anthony “Tony” Bulygo, retired master fire mechanic and member of EVTA.

"When considering aftermarket filters for any vehicle, don't forget to consider emissions certifications and whether the 'much better whamo filter' meets the engine and chassis manufacturer's specifications," Bulygo said. "The engine supplied with your apparatus or vehicle was emissions certified with the existing filter system.

"If you intend to modify from the original system as tested and authorized by the chassis manufacturer, call them ahead of time to receive their blessing. Don't get caught with a warranty claim denial because of the modification."

Under warranty
Have you ever heard of the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act? It is the federal law that governs consumer product warranties.

Passed in 1975, the act requires manufacturers and sellers of consumer products to provide consumers with detailed information about warranty coverage. In addition, it affects both the rights of consumers and the obligations of warrantors under written warranties.

So what's the short version? Unless it's specified in writing in the warranty for the vehicle that you must use OEM replacement air filters, you have the right as the consumer to use any aftermarket air filter that meets the OEM's specifications (116 CFR. §700.ó(b)).

The market
Fleet managers have been using aftermarket air filters from manufacturers like Fram, Donaldson, Wix, and Baldwin for many years. What's relatively new in the marketplace are reusable air filters such as the K&N washable heavy-duty replacement air filters for Class 4-8 trucks.

Though the K&N air filter typically may cost two to three times as much as a comparable disposable air filters, the manufacturer states:

  • Will not void vehicle warranty
  • Can function up to 50,000 miles before cleaning is required, depending on driving conditions.
  • Emissions legal in 50 states.
  • Will last the life of a vehicle.
  • Works with a vehicle's electronics.
  • Environmentally friendly as fewer air filters wind up in landfills.

Any air filter has two objectives: ensure that the vehicle's engine is receiving the required amount of air for proper combustion and ensure that foreign materials like dirt and dust are not part of that intake air.

With that being said, it's a bit presumptuous on the part of any air filter manufacturer to state that their air filter can make a dramatic difference in engine performance by providing greater horsepower or improved fuel economy. Fuel economy is based on a number of factors including weather conditions, road conditions, driver habits and maintenance habits.

Replacing the air filter (maintenance habits) is but one factor in the fuel-economy equation for any vehicle's operation. Nonetheless, it is an extremely important factor. Like the human body, vehicles will not function when they cannot breathe.

So the choice is yours. You can purchase disposable air filters that meet OEM specifications, replacing those filters at the specified intervals, and sending the dirty filters to your local landfill. 

Your other option is to pay for a more expensive reusable air filter that may be the last air filter you purchase for that vehicle. However, they require cleaning and re-oiling two or three times during the vehicles lifecycle, which adds cost and labor.

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