How Often Should You Change Your Oil Filter

March 7, 2012

Find out how often you should get an oil filter change, depending on your vehicle, and learn how to change an oil filter yourself.

Oil Filter

When to get an oil filter change depends on the condition of your vehicle and driving habits. Since a portion of the engine's oil remains in the filter when the oil is drained, you should chance the oil filter at the same time as the oil. Most oil filters range from $4 to $10.

Take the Owner's Manual and Driving Conditions into Account
The manuals for vehicles will recommend one change interval for "normal" conditions and a different interval for "severe" conditions. The normal recommendation for a 1990 Honda Accord is changing the oil and filter every 7500 miles. Fram, a filter manufacturer, identifies "severe" factors as short trips of less than five miles, carrying maximum loads, operating in severe dust conditions, stop and go driving, excessive idling and other conditions. The same 1990 Honda Accord manual recommends the owner change the oil every 3750 miles for severe conditions. If your vehicle is older, this may dirty the oil faster too. As gaskets and other parts in the engine compartment age, they may deteriorate and leak in dust and other contaminants.

Filter Parts and Wrenches
Different types of oil filters and tools exist. The most common oil filter wrench, designed to loosen the "spin-on" filter has a metal band that contracts around the filter and grips it when you turn the handle. Companies also sell pliers-type oil filter wrenches. With a long handle and tooth-grip head, it's easier for your arms and hands to exert torque on the filter. The home mechanic may find this necessary if a shop spins the filter into its housing too tight. Other cars have an internal oil filter and require an oil filter socket wrench to accomplish the oil filter replacement. Upon re-installation, some filters require a drain plug gasket to seal the oil in.

However often you change your car's oil and filter, perform the job safely. Keep a flashlight, filter wrench, gloves and rags ready to use.

How to Change an Oil Filter

The steps for changing an engine's oil filter are basically the same for most vehicles. In most cases, changing an oil filter is accompanied by changing the oil, so a few more steps would be added.

Tools and Materials

  • Clean rags
  • Some old newspaper
  • A new oil filter
  • 2 good-sized blocks of wood
  • A flashlight
  • A quart of oil
  • A plastic bag
  • Latex or nitrile gloves (optional)
  • Car elevating ramps (in some cases)

Set up
The first step is to park the vehicle on a level surface and set the brake. Take the blocks of wood and put them behind and in front of one of the rear tires. This is to ensure that the vehicle doesn't move. If the vehicle's engine is hot, it's a good idea to let it cool for awhile. If the engine has been running for awhile, the oil filter is going to be very hot and will burn you.

Locate the Filter
Take a look at the car. How high or low does it sit? Is there a good amount of space underneath the front bumper? This will become important after you locate the oil filter.

Pop the vehicle's hood and set the prop. Take a look in the spaces around the sides and rear of the engine, using the flashlight if necessary. You're looking for a round object protruding from the lower half of the engine. Normally it is about the same size and shape as a can of soup. That's the oil filter. It's probably a different color from everything else around it, and it will probably be a lot cleaner too. The most common colors for an oil filter are orange, white or blue.

Now you're going to have to decide what the best way to reach the filter is going to be. You might be able to just grab it from the top. In other cars the only way to reach it is from underneath. If you can't get it from the top, you're going to have to go underneath the car to remove it. On vehicles with low ground clearance where you can't reach the filter from above, ramps will be necessary to fit underneath the car.

Remove the Old Filter
Once you're able to easily get to the filter, you're ready to remove it. Spread the newspaper on the ground underneath where you're going to remove it. If you don't want to get dirty, now is the time to make sure you have gloves on.

Wipe off the filter with the rags—this will keep the filter from being too slippery and make it easier to remove.

Now you're going to unscrew the filter. It should be pretty easy to turn, almost like opening a jar of peanut butter. As you loosen the filter, now is the time to be mindful of the fact that the filter is full of oil. Be careful not to let it spill out, especially if you're under the car. Don't let the oil get on your face or into your eyes. Spilling a few drops is pretty much unavoidable, and this is what the newspaper was for.

Now take the old filter and put it in the plastic bag. Tie it up and make sure it's not going to spill.

Install the New Filter
Take the new oil filter and quart of oil out. There will be a big hole in one end of the filter. Pour some of the new oil into the filter until it's about ¾ full. Around the hole there will be a rubber O-ring. Put a few drops of oil on your finger and spread it around the top of the ring, then clean your hands with the rag.

Now replace the filter on the engine. Tighten it until the O-ring makes contact with the side of the engine block, the turn it another ½ to ¼ turn, just until it is about as tight as the lid of a jar.

You're done.

How to Dispose an Oil Filter after an Oil Filter Change

After replacing the oil filter and changing the motor oil, you are left with a bucket filled with used oil and a spent filter. Your car has been replenished with fresh oil and a clean oil filter, but now you need to do something with the refuse.

Most curbside garbage and/or recycling pickup services offer to take used motor oil as long as it is secured properly in a plastic milk jug or some similar container. If it is not properly sealed, they will not take it, so be sure that it is secured. Oil filters, on the other hand, might be different. You should call your waste management provider and inquire about the situation. There's a chance they will take the old oil filter if it, too, is sealed off in a plastic bag or sealable container.

Another option is to contact a service station. They are required by law to properly dispose of oil and old oil filters, so they might take yours off your hands for free, or they might charge you a small handling fee. Visiting your local recycling center is another safe bet to get rid of your used oil filter the right way.

Related Questions and Answers

What Comes in an Oil Filter Wrench Set?

An oil filter wrench set is used to loosen and remove an oil filter. Changing an oil filter can be difficult, as they are covered with oil, grease and grim, which can make it hard to get a grip on the filter. An oil filter wrench is designed to fit over the top of a particular size of filter which allows you to twist it free. An oil filter wrench set normally comes with five to ten different sizes of filter wrenches. They normally come in a plastic case. This gives you the ability to remove oil filters from just about any type of vehicle. These kits commonly cost between $25-$50.

What Happens if You Bypass an Oil Filter System?

If you bypass the oil filter system it can eventually damage the engine, but nothing catastrophic is going to occur immediately. All modern engines bypass the oil filter if the filter becomes blocked or clogged. There is a good chance at some point your vehicle has bypassed the filter system. Filters are also a modern invention. Cars in the early days did not have oil filters. A filter helps the oil last longer, which means fewer oil changes. Dirty oil can cause excessive wear and tear on your engine but will not cause a complete failure. An oil filter should be changed every 6,000-7,000 miles.

Where Can I Buy Discount Oil Filters Online?

Discount oil filters are available from a wide variety of sources online. Doing a Google search will bring up tons of sites. A couple of the more reputable and well reviewed are OilFiltersOnline and Auto Parts Giant. Both of these sites sell discount oil filters. You can search their inventory by the year, make and model of your vehicle. You can also filter the results by brand if you prefer a particular brand of oil filter. An oil filter should be changed about every other oil change, which works out to about every 6,000-7,000 miles. An oil filter can be changed at home if you are comfortable working on your vehicle.

What is the Proper Method for Oil Filter Disposal?

Oil filter disposal is important. An oil filter should be disposed of properly or it can cause environmental damage. The best way to dispose of a used oil filter is to take it to a recycling center. If your town or city has a recycling center, they will dispose of oil and oil filters for you. There will often be a small fee. If your city does not offer this service, you can throw out an oil filter, but first you must drain the oil out of it. Puncture the dome of the filter and drain all of the oil out. You an expect to get 2 to 12 ounces of oil out and it could take up to 10 hours for all of it to drain. The filter is now safe to dispose of in the trash.

What are the Best Oil Filter Ratings?

Oil filter ratings are normally printed on the side of the box. The best rating will depend on your vehicle and the type of driving that you do. Check your owners manual for the manufacturer recommendations. Oil filter ratings consist of single pass efficiency, which is a measurement of the percentage of contaminants that are removed by a single pass through the filter. Look for single pass ratings of 98%-99%. Multi-pass ratings measure the contaminants removed over the thousands of miles and multiple passes through the filter. A rating of 96%-98% is the top of the line. The final rating is the micron rating. This refers to the size of the particles that are allowed through the filter. A rating of 10 microns is the best.