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Clogged air filters are the cause of the bad smell in a Tesla Model 3 or Model Y cabin — here’s how to fix it

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After 1 year or more of owning a Tesla Model Y or Model 3 electric vehicle, the majority of owners face the issue of a bad smell in their car’s cabin. Owners refer to it as a rotten or the kind of smell that comes out of a gym locker.

The reason for this dirty odor is the clogged cabin air filters of a Model 3 or Model Y. As soon as this bad smell starts coming (can vary from 1 year to 18 months), you need to replace these filters.

New filters are available both from the official Tesla online store and from aftermarket vendors. Tesla is selling the OEM cabin air filter for Model Y/Model 3 for $17 each and you need 2 filters to replace the old/clogged ones.

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Video: Tesla owner shares the vomit-like cabin smell problem in her Model 3.
New and clean aftermarket Tesla Model Y / Model 3 air filter (left) and dirty, clogged, and old filters causing the bad odor (right). Credits: Angelo Simms / Facebook.

So after 14 months, our 2021 Model Y LR smelled like a gym locker, the filter to the right is the old one (very nasty), and the new one that I got on Amazon to the left. Used the bottle of AC cleaner to spray the coil clean and reinstalled everything after it dried problem was solved all for about $60 bucks, it’s a simple DIY and the car smells great again (see the image above).

Tesla Model Y owner Angelo Simms via Facebook.

A Tesla Model Y owner from California was able to replace his vehicle’s cabin air filters for a total of $60 doing it all by himself.

What Angelo did was he also cleaned the air conditioner coil/grill before installing the new filters into the place. He used an AC cleaner spray for the purpose. Doing it will make remove the residue from the coil to remove the odor even more.

The instructions for removing and replacing the filters are clearly mentioned in the Model Y or Model 3 service manual (accessible with a 1-year free subscription).

I also posted a step-by-step guide back in 2019 when Tesla Model Y was newly launched. Tesla Raj did a video tutorial on how he replaced his Model 3 air filters with aftermarket HEPA filters to visually show us how it is done actually (video below).

Here’s some technical information about the screw taken from the Model Y service manual.

DescriptionTorque ValueRecommended ToolsReuse/Replace
Screw that attaches the cabin filter cover to the HVAC module1.2 Nm (.9 ft-lbs)6 mm socket
Flex head ratchet/flex head torque wrench 4 in extension
Reuse
Screw torque specifications for the Tesla Model 3 / Model Y cabin air filter removal and replacement. Source: Tesla Model Y Service Manual.
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The higher-end Tesla Model S and Model X come with large HEPA-grade filters and these vehicles have a Bioweapon Defense Mode option that the lower-end Model 3 and Model Y lack. After so many years, Tesla intends to keep the Bioweapon Defense Mode only for the luxury segment i.e. Model S/X.

So replacing the Model 3/Y filters after 1 to 1.5 years is the solution to getting rid of the bad cabin smell problem and it’s not too expensive to do it, especially in a DIY scenario.

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Tutorial video: Tesla Raj replaces Model 3 OEM cabin air filters with HEPA filters. Also shows us how to remove and replace them in your Model 3 (also applies to Model Y).

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By Iqtidar Ali

Iqtidar has been writing about Tesla, Elon Musk, and EVs for more than 3 years on XAutoWorld.com, many of his articles have been republished on CleanTechnica and InsideEVs, maintains a healthy relationship with the Tesla community across the Social Media sphere. You can reach him on Twitter @IqtidarAlii

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