Stop Screwing Your Oil Filter On So Damn Tight

It’s time to rant about something that’s been bothering me for years: overly tightened oil filters. They drive me nuts, often turning what should be 10 minute jobs into arduous, oil-covered shit-shows. So allow me to recommend a solution: stop cranking your oil filters down so hard.

This story was originally published on May 4, 2018

It seems like every time I buy a new car, I struggle to remove its oil filter because the previous owner decided to crank that sucker down tight. Talking with my friends, it seems like FMT (“face making tight,” if you’re not in tune with wrenching lingo) is the commonly-accepted torque spec on these things. But I have to disagree; I contend that the true spec is GNT—good ‘n tight—at most.

I’ll begin by saying that, in a choice between a loose oil filter and a tight one, I’d take a tight one every time; ruining an engine over something this silly really isn’t worth it.

It’s also worth mentioning that tight oil filters aren’t really an issue when the filter is in a good location; my 1992 Jeep Cherokee’s filter, shown above, points straight up, allowing great access from the top. To remove that filter, I can just slap on an oil filter socket, and simply twist the oil-cleaning canister out with a ratchet.

On my Jeep Grand Wagoneer, shown above, there’s lots of side-access to the filter, so if that thing were on too tight, the move would be to use an oil filter wrench or oil filter pliers, and crank that thing out. Easy peasy.

But where the real issue comes in is where there’s no easy access to the top or sides of the oil filter, as is the case with my 1995 Jeep Cherokee (shown above), whose filter is tightly packaged beside the engine, between the block and the charcoal canister.

Getting a wrench, pliers or a socket on that filter is tough, as there’s just no room to twist those tools in that tight spot. So what a lot of folks end up doing is grabbing a flathead screwdriver and a hammer, and extracting the filter the messy way, just like this guy does with his Nissan:

I’ve had to do this a lot, and, while I really don’t mind getting messy, what bothers me about all this is that it’s so easily avoidable. Just don’t crank those filters down so hard!

Popular oil filter company Wix recommends only three-quarters of a turn on some of its filters, starting once those filters’ gaskets have touched the oil filter housing. That’s it. Purolator, one of the oldest names in the oil filtration business, recommends three-quarters to one turn, depending on the filter.

A full turn after gasket contact is actually pretty tight, and I myself generally go with somewhere just over 1/2 a turn on my Jeep Cherokees (this is obviously dependent upon the vehicle); the filters on my XJs seem to remain nice and snug even after 4,000 miles of driving. The point is to ensure that the rubber o-ring is being crushed enough that it seals the filter, and that the filter is snug enough to remain in place over time, even with heavy engine vibrations trying to shake it loose.

I can’t tell you how satisfying it is to just be able to reach into my engine bay with one hand, and twist the oil filter out without having to jerry-rig some sort of contraption or make a mess puncturing the filter with a screwdriver.

As someone who does oil changes frequently, fighting overly-tightened, poorly packaged oil filters is a waste of time I refuse to ever deal with again. And you should, too.

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