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How to Remove a Stuck Oil Filter and Prevent Future Problems

Technician installing new engine oil filter

Whether you’re a professional automotive technician or DIY auto mechanic, you have probably confronted at least one stuck oil filter in your career, perhaps on a weekly basis. Engine oil filters need to be replaced every 10,000 miles or so, but for a task that occurs so often, removing and installing oil filters is surprisingly difficult.

Whether your car is equipped with a cartridge oil filter or spin-on oil filter, removing the old oil filter is not always an easy task.

Know Why Your Oil Filter Is Stuck

No one expects to run into issues during basic maintenance, like an engine oil change, but they do occur frequently. There are two reasons the oil filter might be stuck:

  • Over-Tightening: Engine oil filter torque is lighter than most people think. Assuming the oil filter needs to be torqued like a lug nut is a mistake that pays you back.
  • Poor Lubrication: The oil filter area needs to be clean before you install a new one, but if the new oil filter gasket is not lubricated, it can stick to the engine.

Remove a Stuck Oil Filter

Removing a stuck oil filter can be difficult and a little messy. In some cases, you might wreck the oil filter or oil filter cap, but you can do it without any collateral damage. Here are a couple of methods to get out of this particular jam:

  • Wrenches and Pliers: Use a wrench — such as a chain, band or jaw wrench — or adjustable oil wrench pliers. One way to get a good grip on a stuck oil filter is with an end cap oil filter wrench, which you can use to both remove and install oil filters. Some vehicle models require a specific type of wrench, so check your owners manual before you choose one. Whichever type of wrench you use, be careful not to damage the oil filter in the process by yanking too hard.
  • Hammer and Chisel: Knock off a really stubborn oil filter with a hammer and chisel. This should be a last resort because it’s more likely to damage the filter. Tap the turned base of the oil filter in a counterclockwise direction to shake the oil filter loose.

Prevent Stuck Oil Filters

Now that you’ve removed the stuck oil filter, prevent it from happening again by using these tips:

  • Oil filterLubricate the Seal: After cleaning the oil filter sealing surface with a rag, apply a light coat of new engine oil to the gasket or O-ring. This will prevent sticking in the future. If your oil filter seal is pre-lubricated, you can skip this step.
  • Apply the Proper Torque: Spin-on oil filters are typically spun on until the gasket makes contact, then tightened an additional half- to three-quarter-turn. Cartridge filter caps may require a special wrench and should be torqued with a torque wrench — usually no more than 20 foot-pounds. Check for specific instructions for your oil filter or in the repair manual.

Careful preparation and installation can prevent stuck oil filters and damage to filter housings. Always check the instructions for the proper procedure beforehand to ensure your next oil change goes smoothly.

Check out all the oil filter wrench products available on NAPA Online or trust one of our 17,000 NAPA AutoCare locations for routine maintenance and repairs. For more information on oil filters, chat with a knowledgeable expert at your local NAPA AUTO PARTS store.

Photo courtesy of the U.S. Air Force.


Benjamin Jerew View All

Ben has been taking things apart since he was 5, and putting them back together again since he was 8. After dabbling in DIY repairs at home and on the farm, he found his calling in the CGCC Automobile Repair program. After he held his ASE CMAT for 10 years, Ben decided he needed a change. Now, he writes on automotive topics across the web and around the world, including new automotive technology, transportation legislation, emissions, fuel economy and auto repair.

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