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The combustion air filter prevents abrasive particulate matter from entering the engine's cylinders, where it would cause mechanical wear and oil contamination.
Most fuel injected vehicles use a pleated paper filter element in the form of a flat panel. This filter is usually placed inside a plastic box connected to the throttle body with ductwork. Older vehicles that use carburetors or throttle body fuel injection typically use a cylindrical air filter, usually a few inches high and between 6 inches (150 mm) and 16 inches (410 mm) in diameter. This is positioned above the carburetor or throttle body, usually in a metal or plastic container which may incorporate ducting to provide cool and/or warm inlet air, and secured with a metal or plastic lid. The overall unit (filter and housing together) is called the air cleaner.