Car oil filter guide: How to open, clean and change your oil filter

Car oil filter guide: How to open, clean and change your oil filter

The oil filter in vehicles is commonly underestimated, but as it's responsible for the healthy transmission of your vehicle. So, it's important that you know how and when to change the oil filter, to keep your vehicle running smoother for longer.

While it might not sound that serious, a soiled oil filter can significantly damage your car's engine, which can result in costly repairs. Although this is an incredibly important internal part of your vehicle, you might be surprised to hear you can actually clean and change your oil filter all by yourself. In this handy car oil filter guide, we will be explaining just how you can save yourself some money and restore your car's oil filter at home. We'll cover:

What does an oil filter do?

Your oil filter is an integral part of your car's engine system. The engine oil itself is responsible for four main functions: it helps to cool the engine by transferring heat, seals the gap between your piston rings and cylinder walls, absorbs contaminants and suspends soot particles that are created during the combustion process. But, it can only do these jobs effectively if it is clean. The oil filter is a mixture of paper and material that's arranged tactically to trap particles that are around a few microns in size to stop them from travelling around the engine. This keeps the oil clean, ensuring the engine can run smoothly.

In most models, oil filters are located near the middle or at the bottom of the engine and are available in two types: screw-on metal cannisters and paper versions that fit within a plastic cylinder. However, both perform in the exact same way, so strictly speaking, neither is "better" than the other.

Eventually, the oil filter will be completely saturated with contaminants and therefore unable to absorb anymore, meaning toxins are able to find their way into your engine. So, if you leave your soiled oil filter as is when changing your engine oil, the clean oil you've just added will become just as dirty as the previous batch was as soon as you start up your engine.

When you neglect to maintain and change your oil filter, you can cause damage to many different areas of your engine. This means you'll need to be clued up on a range of things including how often your oil filter needs changing and how to identify oil filter problems; both of these we will be discussing in the following sections.

What oil filter should I use in my car?

Before you learn how to change an oil filter, you'll need to consider which one is suitable for your car. And, luckily there are a number of simple ways to find out what oil filter your car needs. For one, checking your vehicle handbook will provide you with the details you need. However, if you've misplaced your handbook, contacting the vehicle manufacturer's customer service team will be a good route to go down.

Alternatively, for a quick fuss-free way to check, you can simply enter your registration number into the box provided on our homepage to find a range of products to suit your car.

How often should I change my oil filter?

How often should I change my oil filter?

If you've found yourself wondering "how often should I change my oil filter?", it's worth noting that each time you change your engine oil, you should look at changing your oil filter, too.

Generally speaking, your oil filter should last for around 3,000–5,000 miles, but there are a few oil filter problems that can shorten this period. For example, bad weather can put extra demand on your oil filter. This is because most engine oils are quite thick and when your engine heats up it causes them to become thinner and more liquid. But, when your oil is failing to heat up because of cold temperatures, the oil pump attempts to force cold, thick oil through even the smallest of engine passages. This in turn can penetrate the filter and find its way to important engine parts.

Most obviously though, you should make sure that you're changing your oil filter when the service light is showing. Even if you already know that your oil is well topped up, the service light illuminating can mean there are a number of problems including a soiled oil filter, so changing this yourself can help to save you the time and money you'd spend taking it to a mechanic.

These aren't just the only circumstances in which your oil filter will need to be changed. In the next section, we will be discussing how to identify oil filter problems.

Symptoms of oil filter problems

There are a few physical signs that can indicate problems with your oil filter, and subsequently when it needs changing. These include:

Poor acceleration

Your car's performance level is one of most obvious indicators of its internal health. So, if you feel like your car struggles when you accelerate, it could be due to a poorly functioning oil filter. While the engine will still run, it won't perform at the same ability it usually can and will end up damaging essential parts of your vehicle.


A sputtering sound from your engine can signal that your oil filter is clogged. As well as not being able to release oil as it should, a blocked oil filter can cause bigger, more expensive issues further down the line including an overheating engine. However, be aware that an overheating engine can be caused by a number of other problems — read our blog on troubleshooting an overheating engine for more advice.

Metal on metal sounds

When your engine parts aren't well lubricated by oil, you will start to hear strange noises coming from the engine. The first sign is usually a tapping noise coming from the cylinders, as these are normally the first thing to be starved of oil. If the problem worsens, you may start to hear the sound of metal grinding against metal. This is a severe problem and you must pull over immediately if you hear these sounds when you're driving. Your oil filter will need to be replaced, and more oil will need to be added into the engine.

Reduced pressure

A drop in pressure is a cause for concern and can commonly be associated with an oil filter issue. Low oil pressure can create complications for your engine's performance and damage the components inside it. Most modern cars have an oil pressure warning light on the dash, which comes on when the pressure drops to a dangerous level.

Dirty exhaust emissions

When your oil filter is clogged, the emissions coming out of your exhaust will be sooty and dirty and you'll be able to smell burning oil. This usually means that the oil filter will need replacing, and the clog will need removing from your car's engine.


If you find that your oil filter is leaking, this could be because it's screwed on wrongly or not tight enough. The pressure from the engine therefore forces oil to leak out of the filter, so it's important that you know how to install your oil filter properly. Similarly, using an oil filter that's too small can cause its seal to become loose when attempting to screw the filter to the engine. This means there is space for oil to leak out of. This means you need to be sure you check what size oil filter your vehicle needs, by looking at your vehicle handbook — or by entering your registration plate into our handy parts feature.

Now you know the signs and symptoms of a faulty oil filter, you'll need to know how to change your oil filter correctly.

How to change the oil filter

How to change the oil filter?

Whether your car is displaying issues associated with your oil filter, or you're changing it as you add fresh oil in, you'll need to know how to change your oil filter properly. This includes knowing how to drain, loosen and remove the oil filter.

How to remove and clean the oil filter

Once you've located your oil filter, you will then be able to tell which kind it is: the paper version or a screw-on type. For the latter, you should be able to unscrew the cap with some pressure behind your hand. Paper oil filters have a cap on the cylindrical plastic housing they sit in, which also unscrews. Once open, you can simply lift the paper out.

Using too much force or powerful hand tools can cause the caps or housing to break, but don't worry — we have plenty of replacement of oil filter housing and housing covers in case you do apply too much pressure.

Be aware that, despite the type of oil filter you have, removing them can cause splashes of oil to be released. So, make sure you're wearing protective clothing, hand protection and eye protection when unscrewing these.

You should also be aware that not all cars have reusable oil filters. While some older models have filters that can be replaced after cleaning, most modern cars will require a completely new filter. So, be sure to check which kind is right for your vehicle by checking the owner's manual. This is very important, as cleaning a non-reusable filter could lead to your engine becoming damaged.

To remove and clean your oil filter, you'll need to follow these eight steps:

  1. Use a floor jack and jack stands (both of which can you find in our range of jacking, lifting and towing equipment) to raise your car high enough so you can easily access the underneath of the car, and the oil filter.
  2. Position a draining pan underneath where the filter is in case any trapped oil leaks out.
  3. Unscrew the bolt or cap that is holding the oil filter in place by turning it anti-clockwise. You can use latex gloves or an oil filter wrench if this is too tight. If it still remains stuck, we'd advise seeking help from a trained mechanic who can help without causing damage to any other important parts of your engine system.
  4. Lower the reusable filter and remove the wire cloth filter you'll find behind the access area.
  5. Use an automobile parts washer or fresh brake cleaner to wash your wire cloth filter in a parts cleaning tank.
  6. Leave the wire cloth filter to air dry completely and then place it back into the reusable oil filter case and secure the access area.
  7. Place the filter back in place and re-tighten the bolt by turning it clockwise by hand.
  8. Lower your car from the jack and stands.

If any oil drippings have made their way onto your draining pan, it's important that you carefully pour these into a container with a secure lid and take this to your nearest oil recycling bank to dispose of it responsibly. Simply pouring the oil down your drain can clog it.

How to install a new oil filter

Once you've removed the old one, you can begin installing a new oil filter — but not before you lubricate it first.

  1. Take a small amount of clean engine oil and smear it around the rubber gasket of your new oil filter — this helps it to fit securely inside the engine block. Take a small amount of clean engine oil and smear it around the rubber gasket of your new oil filter — this helps it to fit securely inside the engine block. Canister filters will have a rubber seal around the filter face, while element styles will have new o-rings. These need to be replaced on the cap and then lubricated to ensure they do not split on fitting.
  2. Clean any excess oil from around where the filter screws onto the engine using a fresh cleaning towel.
  3. Screw your new oil filter onto the engine block using a firm hand.
  4. Tighten a further half or three-quarters of a turn using the oil filter wrench.

Knowing how to remove, clean and install a new oil filter is imperative for good engine health, so take the tips in this guide on board to ensure you know when and how you'll need to do this. Here at GSF Car Parts we have a selection of products to help with this procedure, including replacement oil filters, engine oil and more. And, with our handy parts recommendations feature, you can find the right parts for your vehicle by simply entering your registration plate into the box provided.

If you have questions about any of our products, don't hesitate to contact us on 0121 626 7971 or through our enquiries form. We have plenty more helpful vehicle guides and advice, so be sure to check out our knowledge hub for more.