How Often Should I Change My Oil Filter?

Alex Palmeri
January 30, 2018

Today’s cars are more sophisticated than ever, and automakers have made it a priority to lower the cost of ownership through longer service intervals. With advances in engines and engine oil technology, some cars can go 7,500 miles or more between oil changes. But what does that mean for the oil filter? 

oil filter
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Most owners' manuals say to replace the oil filter every time you change the oil. Some cars can go two oil changes for every one filter — but even if the manual says that’s OK, it’s not always the best choice. In fact, it's a good idea to change your oil filter every time you get your oil changed. To understand why, let's take a look at what the filter does, and what happens if you don't change it.

» MORE: How often should I change my oil?

What does an oil filter do?

The engine oil filter is a vital part of your engine’s lubrication system. It keeps the oil clean and free of harmful particles that can reduce the life of your engine. When the engine is running, oil is circulated through the filter, which strains out dirt and debris. From there, the oil is pumped through the engine’s passageways in order to lubricate all its moving parts.  

What happens if I don’t change my oil filter?

Oil is the lifeblood of your car’s engine, and it needs to be clean to do its job. Too many foreign particles in the oil can cause increased engine wear, which could ultimately lead to expensive repairs. A neglected oil filter will get overloaded with dirt and debris, and it’ll reach a point where it can’t filter any more gunk. In fact, in some cases the filter will become completely clogged and cause a restriction; in others, unfiltered oil will be sent through a bypass valve and back into your engine. 

» MORE: What to do if your car is leaking oil 

Why you should change your filter at each oil change

Automotive maintenance has changed over the years, but one thing generally remains the same: You should change your oil filter at every oil change. 

Most auto manufacturers recommend this, but some cars call for a different filter interval, typically, two oil changes for one filter. While that’s allowable per the owner’s manual, it almost never makes financial sense. 

An oil filter costs around $5 to $10, depending on the car model. Considering how important its job is, and how pricey a new engine is (think thousands of dollars), replacing the filter is cheap insurance against expensive repairs. The most expensive part of an oil change is the oil itself, and by not changing your filter, you’re immediately contaminating the new oil.  

Keep in mind that oil filters aren’t all the same. By skimping on cheap filters, you can end up with one that works less effectively and clogs more rapidly. We suggest making sure your mechanic uses filters from the original equipment manufacturer, also called OEM filters. These are engineered and made for your engine, so they’re the most reliable.

Alex Palmeri

About the Author

Alex Palmeri worked nine years as a master technician at Mercedes-Benz of Chicago and is currently the foreman at a large fleet garage. He writes about automotive news, maintenance and racing, and runs a YouTube channel called Legit Street Cars.

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