Changing your oil filter (and oil, of course) is the cornerstone of responsible engine maintenance. 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.
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. 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.
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. 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.
Adjustable Oil Wrench Pliers
This tool is nice because it’s adjustable, so it can be helpful for different sized filters. Unfortunately, the grip isn’t always the best, and it can be difficult to maneuver in tight spaces in an engine compartment.
These are likewise adjustable, but get 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.
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)
These grip onto the bottom of the filter for maximum torque and clamp down the harder you turn on multiple points of contact. They are usually adapters that connect to a standard ratchet.
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. Likely it will just rip the filter apart, but 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.
Whichever method you use, always install the new filter with a light coat of oil on the gasket, and don’t over tighten. You’re hero enough for just changing the oil.
Check out all the maintenance parts available on NAPA Online 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.