Car AC Smells Bad. Is it the Cabin Air Filter? - Bernardi Parts Acura
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Acura MDX AC Smells Bad: Causes and Solutions

Have you ever noticed a weird, stale car air conditioner smell? If so, it might be time to change your cabin air filter.

Acura MDX

What causes the bad AC smell?

There are a few potential causes. The good news is, there’s also one most likely cause of that funky smell coming out of your car’s air conditioner – a dirty cabin air filter.

Your car’s cabin air filter cleans pollen, dust, and other particulates and allergens from the air coming through your AC. A clogged or dirty cabin air filter will trap moisture, making it a hotbed for bacteria. The (not so) nice part is, it’s easy to diagnose, as the foul odor when you turn on the AC is pretty hard to miss.

Depending on where you live, mold might be an issue. That’s unlikely in places that are warm near year-round, like Texas and Florida, but it is the case here in New England, where we only need our car’s AC a few months out of the year.

Acura Cabin Filters

Those long winter months are perfect periods of incubation for all manner of bacteria and mold, and the excessive condensation created by cranking the AC to max in the face of a Boston August heat wave – when the humidity has the air feeling about the same consistency as clam chowder – can add more fuel to the stinky fire.

It’s also possible that a coolant leak is behind the odor. If the smell is sweet, rather than musty or pungent, it could be a sign of an antifreeze leak in your cooling system – from any of the coolant housing unit; the heater core, pipe or hose; or even the radiator. If the smell you notice is sweet, you should go to a qualified Acura service technician as soon as possible.

How Do I Fix bad AC smell?

Acura recommends changing your cabin air filter every 30,000 miles. Of course, if you notice a gross, musty smell at 17,000 miles, you’re not going to wait to take care of it.

The simplest way to fix the issue is to replace your air filter. Although this is something you could do yourself, depending on how comfortable you are with some light DIY, there is good news. Because the cabin air filter is in a pretty easy-to-access location – tucked into the back of your passenger-side glove compartment, behind a protective plastic panel held on by two tabs.

Once you pull out the sleeve that holds your cabin air filter, turn it upside down to remove the old filter and replace with your new Acura cabin filter for a 2014-2019 MDX.

Acura Cabin Filters

The new filter should fit in and be held in place by the lip on the plastic sleeve. Then just slide the sleeve back in, plastic grid facing down, until you hear it click into place. For peace of mind, give the filter a light tug to make sure it’s properly secured — a loose or incomplete seal will mean more dust and allergens in your cabin.

That’s it! Just 15 minutes start to finish, and no tools required!

If your drive an older MDX, these OEM Acura ail filter replacements will fit 2007-2013 models, as well as the 2005-2012 Acura RL, 2014-2017 Acura RLX, 2009-2014 Acura TL, and the 2010-2013 Acura ZDX. For other, newer Acura models, like the 2011-2014 TSX, 2013-2018 RDX, and 2013-2017 ILX, this is the replacement cabin air filter you need.

Do I also need to change the air conditioner filter?

The cabin air filter is another name for the air conditioner filter. In fact, to make matters as confusing as possible, there are even a few more names you might hear used for the same part, including cabin air dust filters, cabin air purifiers, micron air filters and, last but not least, passenger compartment air filtration systems. Variety truly is the spice of life.

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