How to Change Your Car's Oil Filter

Replaceable cartridge oil filter used in Ecotec engines fitted to 2011 Chevrolet Cruze
Changing your oil regularly is one the most important things you can do to extend engine life and optimize fuel economy.  While choice of oil is critical especially in newer engines, replacement and proper installation of the oil filter cannot be overlooked.

With the proliferation of extended-mile oil change intervals, the oil filter’s role has never been more important.  Something still has to catch impurities and cleanse the oil before it makes another trip through the engine.  Follow these tips for quick and painless removal and installation.  
Choose wisely.  Do not even try to use anything other than the exact oil filter specified for your engine.  Selecting it is easy enough.  Catalogs in the store will list the specific part number.  Just take a peek in the box to verify the correct filter is inside.  The part number should match the one on the box.  Better to take an extra couple seconds now than get an unpleasant surprise after your crankcase is empty.  As for which grade to buy, consider what you drive.  A newer four-cylinder turbo is probably more finicky than an older V-8 with a couple hundred thousand miles on the clock.  A few extra bucks for a premium filter on a higher-strung engine is cheap insurance.

Have the right tools.  Gone are the days of opening the hood and having unobstructed sight and access to the oil filter.  Engine bays are more compact and filled with, well, engine.  Whatever space is left is claimed by supporting components and the omnipresent plastic engine cover.  Assuming you can reach and remove the filter from above or below, your leverage could be limited and a removal tool could be needed.  Some cars even call for an engine-specific adapter that fits on a socket wrench, sold at the dealer’s parts desk.  The one-time expense will be worth it in time and skinned knuckles saved.  

Remove the old.  With the old oil drained, you can remove the existing filter.  If possible, wipe away any gunk from around the base of the filter, then use only as much force as needed to break it free.  Once it begins, you can loosen easily.  Keep it as upright as possible, because it will still contain some used oil.  Drain it, but hang onto it for the time being, just in case there’s a problem with the new filter.  It rarely happens and you obviously won’t want to run the car long with a used filter reinstalled, but as a temporary emergency measure, it beats getting towed.

Prepare the new.  Spread a little fresh oil around the new oil filter gasket.  This will encourage better sealing once it’s installed.  Depending on the angle of the application, you can add some fresh oil to the filter at this time.  That will speed circulation of oil through the engine and won’t tax the oil pump as much on initial startup.  

Install the new--carefully.  Gently begin threading the new oil filter on and tighten.  But do so carefully.  It may have taken some effort to get the old filter loose, but don’t let that be your guide when installing the fresh one.  While you understandably want a leak-free seal between oil filter and engine, it’s achieved easier than you think.  As the filter’s box will probably advise, just snug it, then give it another quarter-turn or so.  If you’ve tightened as much as possible, you’ve gone too far.  Some guys will actually use a torque wrench and adapter to be certain.  Snugging plus a little extra will probably do it though.  As you would on any oil change, check for leaks on startup and after driving.    

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