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  • The oil filter protects the engine from abrasion and premature wear by removing dirt, carbon, and metal particles in the oil.
  • Over-tightening and improper lubrication are two of the most common causes behind a stuck oil filter.
  • To remove a stuck oil filter, you can use an oil filter wrench, a screwdriver, or sandpaper.

The oil filter protects the engine from abrasion and premature wear. It removes dirt, carbon, and metal particles in the oil, preventing the bearings, journal, and cylinder wall from getting damaged.

Replacing the oil filter is a routine task that comes with getting an oil change.

Although an oil change is pretty straightforward, it can get a bit time-consuming, especially if the oil filter gets stuck.

What Causes an Oil Filter to Get Stuck?

There are generally two reasons an oil filter could get stuck: over-tightening and improper lubrication.

One of the most common mistakes DIYers make when changing the oil filter is applying the same torque as lug nuts. In reality, the engine oil filter requires a lighter torque. It’s also crucial to lubricate the new oil filter gasket to prevent it from sticking to the engine. The oil filter should only be hand tightened, and it needs to be dry enough to grip solidly when you’re installing it.

The oil filter should only be hand tightened, and it needs to be dry enough to grip solidly when you’re installing it.

– Richard McCuistian, ASE Certified Master Automobile Technician

But depending on the filter brand, the rubber seal may slightly expand even if the filter was installed properly, and that can cause the filter to be difficult to remove.

See also  How to Change Your Oil

How to Remove a Stuck Oil Filter

Several tools can help you remove a stuck oil filter. The great news is that you might already have them in your garage.

Use an Oil Filter Wrench

Using an oil filter wrench is the most common way to remove a stuck oil filter.

Before you try to unscrew the filter, make sure the engine is warmed up. Then, spray some WD-40 or another penetrant spray to loosen the filter.

You can use two types of oil filter wrenches, depending on your vehicle’s specifications. The first one fits directly on top of the filter cap. The second type is used for paper oil filters that let you remove the cap from the housing.

car oil filter wrench
There are several different types of oil filter wrenches. The type of wrench you need will likely be determined by where the filter is. The type of oil filter wrench in this photo will usually work on just about any filter in any spot, and it grips the filter tighter the more force you apply. It also won’t grip except in one direction, so this is a removal-only tool, which is okay. | Image Source: Richard McCuistian

Use Sandpaper or Valve Grinding Compound if the Wrench is Slipping

Sandpaper is arguably the cheapest material you can use to unscrew a stuck oil filter, but valve grinding compound is a cheap, gritty gray paste available at just about any parts store and it works just as well. It’s also good for partially rounded bolts and slipping Philips head screws.

Use the sandpaper or VG Compound grit to cling onto the filter to loosen it up. You can do this method by hand or with the assistance of an oil filter wrench.

Use a Screwdriver

Many DIYers treat the screwdriver method as the last option when trying to remove a stuck oil filter because there’s a risk of the old filter shearing off. That can make it harder to remove the stuck parts.

Using a screwdriver can also create a mess because hot oil can pour out from underneath the vehicle. So if you’re planning to use this method, be sure to have a few oil pans and mats around.

To remove a stuck oil filter using a screwdriver, drive the flat blade as high as possible in the old filter and turn it counterclockwise. In extreme cases, some people will drive the screwdriver through the filter then use the screwdriver for leverage. This is a last resort, though.

See also  What Are the Different Types of Oil Filters and How Do They Work?

Preventing the Oil Filter from Getting Stuck (Again)

A stuck oil filter can make a routine oil change quite troublesome. So to prevent the same problem from happening again, here are some things you can do.

First, make sure to lubricate the new oil filter seal. A light coat of engine oil on the gasket or o-ring can prevent the filter from sticking after some time. Some replacement oil filters are pre-lubricated. If you have one of those, you can skip this part.

The next thing you should do is apply the proper torque. Hand tightening is best rather than using a wrench.

In most cases, spin-on oil filters are screwed until they make contact with the gasket and tightened to an additional half to three-quarter-turn. Meanwhile, cartridge filler caps are usually torqued no more than 20 foot-pounds.

Remember that you should always consult your vehicle’s manual for the proper oil filter installation specifications.

Oil Filter Basics Every Driver Should Know

Knowing the inner workings of an engine oil filter is key to keeping your vehicle running in peak condition. Here are some things you should know about the oil filter.

Oil Filter Construction

A typical oil filter is made from closely packed cloth fibers or porous paper, which traps large particles. Meanwhile, microscopic filters pass through the filter pores and flow through the bearing film without touching the surfaces.

Oil filters have an anti-drainback valve that keeps oil in the filter and supplies the engine with enough lubrication as soon as it starts. This oil filter valve prevents oil from draining out of the filter when the engine is shut off.

The engine or filter also has a bypass valve, which lets oil go around the filter element. The valve lets dirty oil lubricate the engine if the filter gets clogged.

See also  How Often To Change Your Oil Filter and Other Related Questions

Types of Oil Filters

Oil filters can either have a spin-on or cartridge style.

different kinds of car oil filter
Oil filters can either have a spin-on or cartridge style.

Spin-On Oil Filter

A spin-on oil filter is usually used in most passenger cars and light trucks. It looks like a sealed metal can with a filter element inside.

Most spin-on oil filters have a non-slip coating, which makes removal and installation quick and easy. They can be difficult to remove when over-tightened. This type can also be mounted too loosely.

Cartridge Style Oil Filters

Cartridge oil filters have been around since the 1950s, but you’ll find these filters in newer engines. Compared to spin-on oil filters, cartridge filters are cheaper to produce and help reduce the amount of waste going to landfills.

Cartridge oil filters are usually found on top of the engine, making them easier to replace. It also contains a filter element inside a plastic or metal housing with a screw-on cap.

Oil Filter Disposal

Oil filters must be drained of oil and crushed before discarding. After draining the oil, the used filter can be disposed of as regular metal scrap. Remember to check local, state, and regional regulations and procedures when discarding oil filters.

Key Takeaways

Improper lubrication and torque are the main reasons why an oil filter could get stuck. Once this happens, you can use an oil filter wrench, sandpaper, and screwdriver to remove it.

To prevent dealing with the same problem, make sure to lubricate the new oil filter’s seal and apply the proper torque.

About The Authors
Written By Automotive and Tech Writers

The 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's thorough editorial process, our team strives to produce guides and resources DIYers and casual car owners can trust.

Reviewed By Technical Reviewer at

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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