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Summary
  • Most vehicles have spin-on oil filters, but a growing number of engines have cartridge mount filters that are accessed from the top of the engine. Removing those filter housings typically requires a special tool. The oil filters screwed into a filter head underneath the engine are supposed to be only hand-tightened, but sometimes removing the spin-on filters will require an oil filter wrench.
  • There are other methods that you can use to remove the oil filter because removing a spin-on oil filter is very similar to opening an upside-down sealed jar.
  • You can remove an oil filter wrench by simply unscrewing it with your hands, using a straight pipe wrench, or piercing the can with a screwdriver to unscrew the can.

When doing an oil change, you’ll also need to replace your vehicle’s oil filter aside from replacing the oil. The oil filter can vary depending on the make and model. Some vehicles have cartridge filters, which look similar to cold air filters and are screwed onto a filter head on the engine. Other vehicles have spin-on filters. These oil filters are screwed onto a filter head underneath the engine. Removing spin-on filters typically requires a special oil filter wrench, but is it really necessary?

What’s an Oil Filter Wrench?

Oil filter wrenches are special tools that can grip a slippery aluminum spin-on oil filter and remove it. The task of removing a spin-on oil filter might be as simple as removing a sealed jar, but sometimes the filter will be so tight that removing it can be very difficult without the right tool. Some cheap filters may have a gasket that swells over time, making the filter hard to remove even if it wasn’t over-tightened on installation.

, Do You Need an Oil Filter Wrench for DIY Oil Changes?

Pro Tips are nuggets of information direct from ASE-certified automobile technicians working with CarParts.com, which may include unique, personal insights based on their years of experience working in the automotive industry. These can help you make more informed decisions about your car.

Pro Tip: Spin-on filters shouldn’t be installed using a wrench, but with the gasket lightly lubricated. The filter should be hand tightened, but make sure the filter housing and your hands are dry so you can tighten it sufficiently.

different types of oil filter wrenches
These are a few of the different types of oil filter wrenches available. You have to find out which one works best on your filter. If it’s in a tight spot, a wrench with a handle might not have room to work, so you may need to use a wrench that can be turned with a socket or extension. Also, some filter wrenches are specifically for one size filter but others are adjustable to fit several different filter sizes. | Image Source: Richard McCuistian

Some cheap filters may have a gasket that swells over time, making the filter hard to remove even if it wasn’t over-tightened on installation.

– Richard McCuistian, ASE Certified Master Automobile Technician

Because spin-on oil filters come in many sizes depending on the vehicle model, many oil filter wrenches are designed to accommodate different filter sizes. The strap or pliers-style oil wrenches typically require more space under the hood around the filter.

Traditional or strap oil filter wrenches have a long lever with a rubber strip that’s designed to wrap around the oil filter and sometimes the strap handle is on a swivel. Some variants use a metal chain instead of a rubber strip to grip the slippery twist-on oil filter.

There are also socket or end-cap wrenches that are attached to ratchet wrenches but this type is size-specific and there are entire sets of these with cap wrenches that fit a variety of sizes. Some aftermarket oil filters have a hex or square lug at the bottom that allows conventional wrenches  or sockets to be used.

Regardless of the design, most oil filter wrenches are designed to provide a secure grip on the spin-on filter and provide a lever so that you can unscrew the filter more easily. You should take note that not all oil filters can be perfect for your oil filter. That said, traditional oil filter wrenches are quite versatile. Nevertheless, oil filter wrenches might be a specialized tool but they’re quite easy to get and affordable.

How to Take Off Oil Filter Without a Wrench

You might be wondering “do I need an oil filter wrench to remove my vehicle’s oil filter?” Technically, no. Unless a filter is in a very difficult place or is over-torqued, you can usually remove it by hand.

Using Your Hands

You can simply grip the oil filter and unscrew it from your engine. You just need good gloves, a good grip and a lot of elbow grease.

, Do You Need an Oil Filter Wrench for DIY Oil Changes?

Pro Tips are nuggets of information direct from ASE-certified automobile technicians working with CarParts.com, which may include unique, personal insights based on their years of experience working in the automotive industry. These can help you make more informed decisions about your car.

Pro Tip: If the oil filter is greasy, spray it with brake parts cleaner and dry it well so you can get a good grip on the filter shell.

Unscrewing the oil filter can be difficult because the can is quite smooth, and that can make it difficult to grip. Since the oil filter is often underneath the vehicle, it can also be hard to find the leverage to do so. Take note that if the engine is hot, the oil filter and the oil inside it will be too, so let your engine cool first before removing the oil filter.

Using a Straight Pipe Wrench

If you have a large enough straight pipe wrench at home, you can probably use it to remove an oil filter. It works much like a specialist oil filter wrench in that it can grip the oil filter and give you more leverage.

Note, however, that sometimes a pipe wrench will crush the filter shell and begin to slip, especially if the shell is breached by the teeth on the pipe wrench, then you’ll have a mess. If you decide to try a pipe wrench, tighten the wrench’s adjustable jaw around the oil filter, make sure that the wrench is secure, and start unscrewing it. Looking at the end of the filter, turn it counter-clockwise.

Puncturing the Oil Filter With a Screwdriver

In extreme cases where you can’t get it off by hand and a filter wrench won’t fit or won’t work, you might be able to drive a screwdriver all the way through the filter from one side to the other with a hammer about halfway up the side of the filter, then push it in a counter-clockwise direction to unscrew the oil filter.

Remember that oil will always spill out when removing a spin-on filter, so you should have an oil pan underneath to catch the oil. Make sure to wear protective gear like gloves or eye protection so that you don’t get engine oil on your body.

Overall, removing oil filters is a relatively simple process. As previously mentioned, it’s just like removing the lid of an upside-down jar. Oil filter wrenches might be inexpensive tools, but just know that there are other ways to remove an oil filter without a specialized oil filter wrench.

Keep Track of the Old Gasket

After removing the filter, make sure you know where the gasket is. If it sticks to the filter head and you install the new filter without removing the old stuck gasket, you can, at best, make a big mess, and at worst, destroy the engine.

gasket stuck to the filter head
This gasket stuck to the filter head, and this happens more often than you might think. | Image Source: Richard McCuistian
About The Authors
Written By Automotive and Tech Writers

The CarParts.com Research Team is composed of experienced automotive and tech writers working with (ASE)-certified automobile technicians and automotive journalists to bring up-to-date, helpful information to car owners in the US. Guided by CarParts.com's thorough editorial process, our team strives to produce guides and resources DIYers and casual car owners can trust.

Reviewed By Technical Reviewer at CarParts.com

Richard McCuistian has worked for nearly 50 years in the automotive field as a professional technician, an instructor, and a freelance automotive writer for Motor Age, ACtion magazine, Power Stroke Registry, and others. Richard is ASE certified for more than 30 years in 10 categories, including L1 Advanced Engine Performance and Light Vehicle Diesel.

Any information provided on this Website is for informational purposes only and is not intended to replace consultation with a professional mechanic. The accuracy and timeliness of the information may change from the time of publication.

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