What Is An Oil Filter In Cars? Learn About Cost, Location, Replacing etc.

Let me explain what an oil filter is, what it does, and where it is positioned in the car.

I’ll explain it in plain English so anyone can follow. Let’s dive in.

What Is The Oil Filter On A Car?

The oil filter a little device that’s designed to remove contaminants and impurities from your engine oil. As your engine runs, it can accumulate dirt, metal shavings, and other particles that can harm the engine’s delicate parts. That’s where the oil filter comes in.

The oil filter is made up of a metal canister and an internal filter element, which is usually made from synthetic or cellulose materials.

As your engine oil is pumped through the filter, the impurities and particles get trapped by the filter element, preventing them from circulating back into the engine.

It’s important to change your oil filter regularly. Most manufacturers recommend changing the oil filter with every oil change, usually around every 5,000 to 7,500 miles, but be sure to consult your car’s owner’s manual for the best maintenance schedule for your specific vehicle.

What Does an Oil Filter Look Like?

oil filter exposed

The oil filter is typically a cylindrical-shaped component, about the size of a fist.

They’re usually made of metal, with a threaded hole in the center to help you attach it to your vehicle’s engine.

Inside the filter, there’s a filtration material made from synthetic or cellulose fibers that’s designed to trap contaminants and particles that could harm your engine. The oil flows through the filter, getting cleaned up as it goes, before exiting through the center hole back into your engine.

You might find your oil filter near the bottom of the engine or tucked away in an engine compartment. Just look for that small, cylindrical metal piece with a nearby oil pan to collect any spillage during an oil change.

Oil filters come in different colors, but it’s the shape and size you should really pay attention to. Some vehicles even have a special oil filter housing that covers the filter entirely, which may require additional tools to access and replace it.

Do All Cars Have Oil Filters?

Most of the traditional internal combustion engine cars have oil filters for the engine. It’s their job to filter out dirt and debris from the motor oil, which keeps the engine running smoothly and helps prevent wear and tear.

You might think electric vehicles (EVs) don’t have oil filters since they don’t have traditional engines. Interestingly, Tesla Model Y has a gearbox oil filter.

Where Is A Car’s Oil Filter Located?

For most cars, the oil filter is easily visible, usually looking like a round, cylindrical object sticking out from the engine block.

oil filter position in car

However, some vehicles may have the oil filter in a more concealed spot, making it challenging to spot or reach.

For some cars, you might need to remove a few parts, like plastic covers, splash shields, or other components, to get better access. In other instances, you may need to get underneath your car.

How Long Does An Oil Filter Last?

You should change your oil filter at every other oil change at minimum.

For example, if your owner’s manual suggests oil changes every 7,500 miles, then you should replace the oil filter at every 15,000 miles. Most auto manufacturers recommend changing your oil filter at every oil change, so be sure to check the manufacturer recommendation specific to your vehicle.

But what if your car spends most of its time in the garage and isn’t driven very often? In that case, it’s best to consider replacing the oil filter based on time rather than mileage. A general rule of thumb is to change the oil filter every 2 years, regardless of how many miles you’ve racked up.

How Much Do They Cost?

The price of a new oil filter will typically fall within the range of $5 to $50, depending on the make and model of your vehicle. High-quality filters may cost a bit more, but they ensure the best protection for your engine.

Keep in mind that replacing the filter will also include labor charges if you choose to have a mechanic perform the task. This can add an additional $30 to $80 to the overall cost, depending on the complexity of your vehicle’s system and the hourly rate of the mechanic.

What Happens When an Oil Filter Breaks?

When your oil filter breaks, it can lead to a range of problems with your vehicle. The first thing you might notice is typically an oil leak. If the oil filter is installed too loosely or too tightly, it can cause damage to the gasket, leading to a leak.

This can result in oil dripping onto the ground beneath your vehicle, which is something you definitely want to avoid.

Driving without a functioning oil filter can be damaging to your car’s engine. The oil filter is essential in removing contaminants from the engine oil, helping to keep it clean and protect your engine’s components. Without it, the oil becomes dirty and less effective, potentially causing premature wear and tear on your engine.

It is not advised to continue driving with a faulty oil filter. While it may be technically possible to drive without one, doing so can greatly increase the risk of engine damage. Continuing to drive with a broken oil filter can lead to poor engine performance, reduced fuel efficiency, and even complete engine failure over time.

Can you replace an oil filter yourself?

Absolutely! Replacing an oil filter by yourself can be a relatively simple process, especially if you follow some basic steps and have a decent grasp on your car’s layout.

Let’s break it down into a few easy-to-follow steps.

Step 1: Gather your tools

Before getting started, make sure you have everything you need. This includes:

  • a new oil filter
  • a wrench set
  • a drain pan
  • some gloves
  • and towels or rags for cleanup.

Step 2: Locate the oil filter

Next, figure out where your oil filter is located. This might be different for each car, so consult your owner’s manual if needed. Normally, it’s found near the engine, often in plain sight.

Step 3: Warm up your car

Engine oil drains better at operating temperature, so let your car idle for a few minutes first. After turning your ignition off, raise and secure the vehicle. Then, lay down a tarp, some cardboard or a newspaper under at least a two-gallon catch pan.

Step 4: Remove the old oil filter

Place the drain pan below the oil filter to catch any leaking oil. Then, use an oil filter wrench to loosen the filter by turning it counter-clockwise. Once it’s loose, you can unscrew it the rest of the way by hand.

Step 5: Prep the new oil filter

Before installing the new filter, apply a thin layer of fresh oil to the gasket. This helps to create a better seal and makes it easier to remove the next time you need to change it.

Step 6: Install the new oil filter

Carefully screw the new oil filter onto the engine by hand. Once the gasket makes contact with the engine surface, tighten it an additional 1/4 to 1/2 turn using the oil filter wrench. Avoid overtightening it, as this can cause damage to the filter and engine.

Step 7: Check for leaks

After installation, start your car’s engine and let it idle for a few minutes. Look for any oil leaks around the new filter. If you notice any, turn off the engine and double-check that the filter is correctly installed and tightened.

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