Oil changes are a key part of regular maintenance on your car, but the process involves more than just changing the oil. You'll also change your oil filter. All oil eventually gets dirty as it moves through your engine. Your oil filter helps keep it free of contaminants for longer, so it does a better job of protecting your engine.
I spoke to Scott Sullivan, communications specialist at Bosch Automotive Aftermarket, about the importance of oil filters. "An oil filter screens out harmful contaminants such as dirt, oil, and debris from getting into the engine leading to stronger, longer-lasting engine performance," he said. It helps protect metal parts, keeping everything moving smoothly by reducing resistance and collects dirt along the way. That's why fresh oil is a sort of amber color while older oil is darker and sometimes thicker. An oil filter slows down that process, so your oil does its job better for longer.
There are numerous oil filters to choose from, and they have a wide range of prices. While you don't have to buy the most expensive option, going with a random cheap oil filter isn't a good idea. An oil filter needs to be the right fit for your car and let oil flow at the required rate throughout the time between oil changes. If you do those oil changes yourself, then ease of removal and installation is also important.
We looked at pricing, capacity, efficiency ratings and consumer reviews for a wide range of filters to make our picks. We also included different styles of filters with a variety of media suited to different use cases in order to come up with our best category picks.
This extended life premium oil filter is made from synthetic micro-glass that has a 99% efficiency rating. It has a thick shell that provides extra protection against punctures from road debris. There are metal end caps to seal in the filter assembly and the center tube is designed to prevent filter element collapse. A bypass valve ensures oil flow is consistent and a silicone anti-drain back valve prevents dry starts. There's also a heavy gauge backplate that improves burst strength and a nitrile rubber gasket with a lubricity compound to reduce torque during installation and removal.
A trusted brand when it comes to oil and filters, this extended performance oil filter from Mobil is well-suited to vehicles with longer oil change intervals. The Mobil 1 Extended Performance Oil Filter's media is made from a synthetic fiber that has a 99.6% efficiency rating and a 28-gram capacity, which is double the amount of most other oil filters. It can also withstand up to 9x the normal system operating pressure up to 615 Pascals. It has a silicone anti-drain back valve to prevent dry starts and comes in a variety of sizes to fit multiple vehicles.
A low-priced oil filter that works with multiple vehicles, this one is also recommended by the Ford Motor Company for Ford, Lincoln and Mercury products. However, Motorcraft does produce these filters to fit other makes and models, too It has pressure-relief valves to prevent unfiltered oil from entering the engine, which also helps maintain the oil supply in cold weather. The outer shell is made of painted steel for durability and rust-resistance with a snug fit to prevent leaks. There's a silicone anti-drain back valve to prevent dry starts that could cause engine damage. This filter has an efficiency rating of 93% with a 12-gram capacity, which are both lower than more costly premium filters.
This Bosch oil filter meets all OEM requirements with a variety of sizes that will fit just like the original filter. The Bosch Premium Filtech Oil Filter is made from a blend of natural and synthetic fibers that give it 99.9% efficiency and it can hold up to 14 grams of dirt. There's a metal spiral-wound center tube for added strength and endcaps that are designed to help trap contaminants. A silicone anti-drain back valve protects your engine from dry starts while a relief valve helps keep a consistent flow of oil. There's also an internally lubricated nitrile sealing gasket that won't dry out, which helps prevent leaks.
This budget-friendly engine oil filter from K&N is made with a pleated cellulose media. It maintains a consistent oil flow rate, which can help improve engine performance and makes it ideal for engines with longer oil change intervals. Installation and removal are quick and easy. It has a fluted canister shape so it can be removed with an oil filter wrench, but there's also a 1-inch welded hex nut that lets you use a wrench. This oil filter has a heavy-duty canister made to be durable and resist punctures, which is a bonus for those who frequently traverse more rugged terrain.
This heavy-duty engine oil filter from Baldwin is a great choice for trucks. It has a spring-loaded metal bypass valve, so even at capacity, oil will continue to flow rather than slowing or stopping, which could damage your engine. It has a nitrile rubber anti-drain back valve and a steel cap for durability. It also has a high flow rate, which is important for keeping larger engines running smoothly.
Specifically designed for use with synthetic oils, this Fram engine oil filter provides extended protection for up to 20,000 miles. That makes the Ultra Synthetic oil filter well-suited to the longer oil change intervals often allowed with synthetic oils. It has a 99% efficiency rating with a dual-layered synthetic media to trap and hold dirt. There's also a premium silicone anti-drain back valve to avoid dry starts. It has a helpful non-slip surface that makes home installation and removal easier and it comes at a low price.
Making a second appearance on our list is K&N, this time for its Performance Gold oil filter. What makes this oil filter ideal for high-performance applications is its high oil flow rate, which is essential in extreme conditions. It uses a cellulose media with a 99% efficiency rating along with a spring metal bypass valve and silicone anti-drain back valve. Installation and removal are easy thanks to a one-inch hex nut welded to the top of the canister.
This cartridge oil filter from Bosch is made with a blend of natural and synthetic materials. It has a 42% larger filtering area and is 30% thicker than the average filter. This helps it capture more of the particulate in your oil while maintaining flow-through rates. It has an efficiency rating of 99% and can hold up to 14 grams of dirt.
If your vehicle uses a cartridge oil filter rather than a spin-on oil filter, then the Fram Extra Guard is another solid pick. It is rated to last up to 10,000 miles with media that features a blend of fibers and resin. It has a 95% efficiency rating and is designed for everyday driving rather than high-performance applications.
One of the trickiest parts of changing your oil is often removing the oil filter. Some filters have hex nuts to make the job easier, but others don't offer that convenience. In those cases, an oil filter removal tool will save you time and headache. We like these Craftsman pliers for the job. They fit filters from 2.5 inches to 4.5 inches in diameter with a slip joint for speedy adjustments. They have long handles with no-slip grips and teeth that grab the filter for turning in either direction.
Oil filters keep your oil clean between oil changes. Seems simple, but there are lots to choose from and lots of features to consider. Here's a rundown of what you need to know about oil filters so you can make the best decision about which one to buy for your vehicle.
You can find cheap oil filters that might seem like a great bargain. Who doesn't want to save a few bucks on oil changes? But before you buy that filter, make sure you're getting one that will do its job. "The risks of not getting a good oil filter include reduced engine performance, premature wear, engine failure, and costly repairs," said Sullivan.
A no-name brand that you've never heard of might be cheap, but it might also be low-quality. That could mean it has a low efficiency rating that lets lots of particulate pass through it and into your engine. It might not last the full time between oil changes or have features including anti-drain back valves to protect your engine. Even the media itself may be poor quality and prone to early failure.
This doesn't mean you have to buy the most expensive filter you can find. Instead, look for solid reviews or ask for the advice of the folks behind the counter at your local auto parts store. Another good route is to go with a well-known brand that you can trust and choose one of its more affordable filters.
Cartridge vs. spin-on oil filters
These are the two styles of oil filters. A spin-on oil filter is a steel canister with a filter inside. It's installed and removed exactly the way the name implies -- by spinning it on or off. They include a variety of components to ensure the oil flows smoothly so it's more than just a filter jammed into a metal cylinder.
A cartridge oil filter doesn't have a metal housing. It slides into a permanently mounted housing and includes gaskets to ensure a tight seal. Much of the appeal of this filter comes from its reduced environmental impact since there's no metal canister, but only internal media that's replaced during oil changes.
Oil filter filtration media
The media in a filter is the material that does the job of filtering the dirt out of your oil. That media is either synthetic, cellulose or a blend of the two. "Synthetic and cellulose are both great options with strong pleated material," said Sullivan.
Synthetic filters are made from a variety of materials including polyester, glass and nylon. They have a tight weave that makes them better at catching particulates. They do this without compromising the flow of oil through the filter. These are a more expensive but more effective option.
Cellulose filters are more affordable, but often have lower efficiency ratings since they aren't woven as tightly as synthetic filters. They don't do as good a job at catching smaller particles and they often have a lower capacity rating.
Sitting in the middle are blends. These are made of varying combinations of synthetic and cellulose materials. This gives them better performance than a cellulose filter but doesn't quite match up to a full synthetic filter. They also fall in the middle on price, making them a good compromise.
Oil filter construction
Look for an oil filter with metal end caps to help prevent damage. Cheap filters may have plastic end caps, which are prone to damage from road debris. Even worse are filters that just use cardboard. "The housing of a solid steel canister along with a flexible anti-drain back valve and tight sealing gasket are also important to protect the structural integrity of the media and provide maximum performance life," said Sullivan.
Synthetic and blended filters may also have a wire backing. This adds support to the filter to help keep it in place and maintain its shape for proper filtration.
There are several types of valves you may encounter on filters. Bypass valves allow oil to continue flowing when the capacity of your filter is exceeded. This lets unfiltered oil into your engine, which isn't great, but it's better than not letting oil through at all or at a significantly reduced rate.
There are also anti-drain back valves. These keep oil from flowing back in the filter when the engine is turned off and help prevent dry starts. Some valves are made of rubber, but a silicone valve is preferred as it holds up better over time.
Oil filter capacity and efficiency
The material collected by an oil filter eventually fills up the filter, so it no longer removes contaminants. This not only means dirty oil is getting into your engine but could also cause flow-through problems. A higher-capacity filter is more likely to do its job for the full interval between oil changes. If a long interval is recommended by your car's manufacturer, make sure it matches up with the oil filter you choose.
Even if your filter has a high capacity, if it also has a low filtration efficiency rating, then it's not going to keep your oil clean. A higher efficiency rating indicates that the filter does a better job of removing contaminants from the oil rather than letting them sneak through into your engine. A low rating lets the dirt flow right through the filter.
"Efficiency and capacity are both important features to consider when selecting an oil filter and can extend your miles driven after each oil change," said Sullivan. "However, driving habits and conditions the driver faces could diminish the efficiency of the filter. Also consider your engine type and climate."
Ease of installation and removal
This one won't matter much to those who always have their oil changed by a professional, but it's a much bigger deal if you plan to do the job yourself. An oil change isn't hard to tackle for the do-it-yourself crowd, but an oil filter with a few key features can make the job much easier.
Look for a welded hex nut. This lets you use a wrench on the canister without the risk of damaging it during installation. A grippy surface also makes the job easier so your hands don't slip on slick metal. Fumbling with an oil filter is frustrating and wastes time, so look for a filter with features that makes installation and removal easier.
Oil collects dirt as it moves through your engine, which reduces its ability to protect metal components and keep them moving freely. An oil filter helps filter out all those contaminants, so your oil can efficiently do its job between oil changes.
How often should the oil filter be changed?
An engine oil filter should be changed every time the oil is changed. It doesn't make sense to put clean oil in your engine only to have it flow through a dirty oil filter. Change your oil and your oil filter at the same time to ensure the oil properly lubricates and protects your engine.
What types of oil filters are there?
The two main types of engine oil filters are spin-on and cartridge. The main difference between the two is that a spin on cartridge is a metal canister that houses the filter while a cartridge is filter media alone that slides into a metal housing mounted to your car. The filter media in both filters can be synthetic, cellulose or a blend of the two.
Who makes the best oil filter?
There are many well-known companies that make quality engine oil filters. Choose one with good reviews from a name you know rather than a cheap no-name model that may not do the job. You can also find oil filters for specific applications. If you have a high-performance vehicle or a truck that frequently tows, look for an oil filter designed to handle those stresses.
Can I use any oil filter in my car?
No. Not every engine oil filter will fit in every car. Make sure the oil filter you choose has the proper fitment for your car's exact year, make and model. If it's not rated for your vehicle, then pick another one. Using an oil filter not rated for your vehicle could cause it to fail resulting in engine damage.