Changing your oil filter (and oil, of course) is the cornerstone of responsible engine maintenance. Simply spin off the old oil filter and spin on a new one, easy as pie. But what happens when you go to do the thing and your oil filter is uncooperative? If you know how to remove a stuck oil filter you can get back to taking care of your car to keep it running smoothly. Here’s how to remove a stuck oil filter using a few tricks of the trade.
It’s easy to know when your oil filter is stuck because it seems like even super-human strength will not dislodge it. But before we begin to remove it, we have to ask ourselves how we got here. Likely, the last person to change the filter didn’t follow the cardinal rule of installation: oil the gasket and don’t over-tighten. While you don’t need to have used an impact gun to tighten the filter, it is possible to put a good bit of torque on an oil filter even by hand. Running an oiled finger along the rim over the gasket and then hand-tightening (snug plus a quarter turn) the filter to the engine will save you from ending up here again. I’ve seen even seasoned mechanics use a wrench to install a filter. Don’t be that person. It’s not necessary and it will come back to bite you. Hand tight, by hand, is the only way.
Tools Of The Trade
But let’s say that’s where you’ve landed and you need to get it off. The following tools and tricks are listed in order of ease, with the final one being a last resort. If the method listed is going to damage the filter body, move to the next option. Squeezing too hard on the filter will damage it, causing a mess or weakening any potential leverage points. Also check to see if there is a better angle to get at the filter for better leverage. Not every oil filter comes out the bottom of the engine bay, it may be better to reach in from the top or in rare cases from the wheel well. And remember that counterclockwise is loosening.
Some manufacturers design systems that require a specific oil filter wrench. Check your owner’s manual and if it calls for one, use it. The right tool can make a big difference in how much easier a job can be, while the wrong tool can just cause frustration.
Adjustable Oil Wrench Pliers
This tool is nice because it’s adjustable, so it can be helpful for different sized filters. It can also be used on some cartridge oil filter caps. Unfortunately, the grip isn’t always the best, and it can be difficult to maneuver in tight spaces in an engine compartment.
A strap oil filter wrench is extremely simple. A square rod has a nylon strap attached at one end. The other end attaches to a square drive ratchet or breaker bar. Slide the strap over the filter and start turning the square rod. The strap will tighten around the filter and the ratchet will provide the leverage.
A chain wrench is likewise adjustable, but gets a better grip than pliers. They are also prone to damage the filter though, so take care and note that if they have oil on the surface, they can be slippery. On the plus side they are handy for all kinds of other odd-shaped gripping situations so they can serve double-duty in your tool box.
These are specific to the circumference of the filter and have a relatively low profile compared to other types. You can wrench on these a little harder without damaging the filter, but it is still possible. Pro-tip: for better grip, line the inside of the band with sandpaper (grit contacting the filter). Just make sure the filter isn’t covered in oil before wrenching on it.
A 3-jaw oil filter wrench grips onto the bottom of the filter for maximum torque and clamps down the harder you turn on multiple points of contact. They are usually adapters that connect to a standard ratchet or breaker bar. Resist the temptation to use an impact gun unless the tool is rated for that level of power.
This is the last resort because of the inevitable mess it will produce, plus an increased risk of component and knuckle damage. But if all else fails, try driving a screwdriver through the body of the filter and spinning it off that way. At this point oil will likely end up everywhere, so make sure to grab plenty of rags. Likely it will just rip the filter apart so be extra careful as the metal canister will probably be sharp. If the filter rips apart then it will expose the ring of holes around the top of the filter where you can try to use a chisel and hammer to force it off. Be careful when using the chisel so as to not damage the filter mounting surface on the engine block.
Whichever method you use, always install the new filter with a light coat of oil on the gasket, and don’t over tighten so you don’t end up in the same situation again. You’re hero enough for just changing the oil.
Check out all the maintenance parts available on NAPAOnline or trust one of our 17,000 NAPA AutoCare locations for routine maintenance and repairs. For more information on how to remove a stuck oil filter, chat with a knowledgeable expert at your local NAPA Auto Parts store.
Photos courtesy of Blair Lampe.
Blair Lampe is a New York-based professional mechanic, blogger, theater technician, and speechwriter. In her downtime she enjoys backpacking wherever her boots will carry her, rock climbing, experimental theatre, a crisp rosé , and showering love on her 2001 Sierra truck.