How to remove a tight oil filter

Updated July 19, 2017

There is nothing more aggravating than trying to perform a seemingly simple maintenance service oil change on a car and discover an over-tightened oil filter. Today's vehicles position the oil filters in challenging locations which can be complicated enough to access, let alone finding out the filter is too tight to remove by hand. The technology to remove the oil filters has advanced along with the redesigns of the engine types. Rest assured that there is a proper tool to remove any oil filter. Most lube techs or mechanics will have a complete set in their tool box for the variety of vehicles on the road today.

Lift the vehicle to locate the oil filter (on a car lift or with a floor jack and jack stands). In some vehicle makes (GM is a common one), a cartridge filter can be located in the engine compartment below the plenum. This would require a socket type removal tool with a square drive to fit an extension and a ratchet to remove. Those the cartridge filter sits inside the housing, this type is uncommon to over-tighten, but will require the tool regardless due to the lack of room.

Locate the oil filter on the vehicle and determine which tool will be best to remove the filter. With filters in awkward locations, there are a variety of tools to remove it correctly if you cannot remove it by hand.

Place a cap socket with a square drive on top of the oil filter. It will fit the filter snugly. Insert the extension and ratchet to the square drive. Turn it counterclockwise to remove the filter.

Use a swivel band strap if the position of the filter does not allow access for a ratchet with a straight extension. The swivel band strap wrench wraps around the filter and the handle can be manipulated back and forth to allow leverage in different positions. Pull the handle counterclockwise to remove the oil filter.

Use the pliers type wrench in tight areas to access, but still allow some room perpendicular to the filter. This type of wrench wraps around the filter like a large set of pliers. Crushing the filter or slipping is common with this type when trying to remove an over-tightened oil filter.

Place the nylon strap type filter removal tool around the filter and wind up the strap counterclockwise until it is snug against the filter. Insert the extension attached to the ratchet into the metal square drive brace and turn the filter counterclockwise to remove.

Install a spider-type or cam-action filter wrench onto the filter and insert the extension attached to the ratchet into the square drive of the wrench. This type of wrench covers the bottom of the filter and is locked in a removal position by a cam. Remove the filter by turning it counterclockwise.

Inspect the oil filter base threads and flange. Make sure the threads are not damaged by the over-tightened oil filter. Make sure the gasket of the over-tightened oil filter has not adhered itself to the flange. This will cause a leak when the oil pressure rises during operation. Remove the gasket if it is still present and wipe the area clean of oil.

Apply a light coat of oil to the gasket of the replacement oil filter and tighten by hand. Never tighten an oil filter with a wrench and do not over-tighten an oil filter by hand.

Things You'll Need

  • Oil filter wrench pliers
  • Oil filter cap socket with square drive
  • Swivel band strap oil filter wrench
  • Swivel band strap with square drive
  • Oil filter socket set with square drive (for cartridge type filters)
  • Nylon strap with square drive
  • Spider type or cam action filter wrench with square drive
  • Ratchet (to match drive of extension and wrench)
  • Extension (to match drive of wrench)
  • Car lift or floor jack and jack stands
  • Replacement oil filter
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About the Author

Jody L. Campbell spent over 15 years as both a manager and an under-car specialist in the automotive repair industry. Prior to that, he managed two different restaurants for over 15 years. Campbell began his professional writing career in 2004 with the publication of his first book.