The Best Oil Filter Tools to Change Your Own Oil

When you change your oil, always replace the oil filter. It's easy when you have the right wrench.

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Why Change Your Own Oil?

You’ll save time and money changing your own motor oil, plus it gives you a chance to get underneath your vehicle to inspect for other issues or maintenance that may be needed.

There are two sides to every motor oil change: draining/replacing/disposing of the oil and removing/replacing the oil filter. The oil filter side of the job requires inexpensive but specialized tools, and choosing the right ones depends on the size and type of oil filter you have.

Generally speaking, there are two kinds of filters: canister-type and element-type. Each requires different tools for filter removal and replacement when you change your own oil.

Canister-Type Oil Filter Replacement Tools

This is the most common style of automotive oil filter. It includes a disposable metal cylinder that surrounds the actual filter element.

The complete canister threads onto the filter base of your engine. The filter element and metal housing are one piece, so both get thrown out with each oil change. You know you have a canister filter if you can see the painted metal canister threaded onto the outside of the engine somewhere.

As you shop for a filter wrench, measure the diameter of filter your vehicle uses. Generally speaking, oil filter wrenches are made to fit a range of filter sizes. That’s why a wrench that works with a large vehicle probably won’t work on a small one.

A strap wrench is the simplest, least expensive option for unscrewing canister-type oil filters. Slip the strap over the filter body, then rotate the handle. The handle swivels where it meets the strap, gripping the outside of the filter housing by friction, which allows the filter body to unscrew from the engine.

Standard oil filter strap wrenches are made to grip typical, large-size filters measuring 3-1/4-in. to 3-3/4-in. in diameter. Smaller canister-type filters are best removed with a gripping wrench. I’ve used this particular wrench for years on small car oil filters with a diameter of about 2-1/2-inches and it works well with a standard ratchet wrench and extension.

Although canister oil filters have been used for decades, they’re being phased out in some newer vehicles by an alternative that’s more economical.

Element-Type Oil Filter Replacement Tools

In an effort to reduce waste, automotive engineers are moving away from canister-type filters and toward replaceable oil filter elements that fit inside a reusable metal housing. Element-type filters keep all those metal canisters out of landfills, but they do require different tools for removing and replacing the reusable metal housing. You know you have an element-type filter by the presence of an aluminum filter housing that’s made of the same metal as the engine block, typically with cooling fins on the outside.

The wrench for removing a reusable oil filter housing is different than wrenches made for canister-type filters. And while a strap or gripping wrench can work with multiple vehicle makes, wrenches for element-type filters are usually specific to each make or family of makes. This wrench works on reusable filter housings found on Toyota, Lexus and Scion, for instance. Another wrench works on Mercedes-made Dodge and Jeep vehicles.

All reusable oil filter housings have flats or grooves where the wrench can engage the housing and allow it to be removed and replaced.