Changing Filters: Pro Tips

Installing new filters every 6 to 12 months (depending on how much you drive) is an important part of vehicle maintenance. Many drivers leave this task to their local trusted mechanic. But whether you’re replacing an engine filter or a cabin air filter, the basic instructions can be found in your owner’s manual. Why not do it yourself? Here are half a dozen pro tips on changing filters on your own.

Engine oil filters

  • Torque – Do not over-tighten the oil filter. For spin-on oil filters, like this NAPA Gold oil filter, thread by hand and until the gasket makes contact. Then, tighten an additional one-third to two-thirds of a turn, but not far enough for the metal to make contact or else it will be extremely difficult to remove. Similarly, for cartridge filters, over-tightening the filter housing makes future removal difficult. Cartridge filter housings are usually tightened no more than 20 ft-lb. Check the manual to be sure.
  • O-rings – Always replace oil filter sealing rings and O-rings along with the oil filter. Canister filters come with new sealing rings, and cartridge filters usually come with new O-rings. These are not spare parts. Be sure the old sealing ring comes off with the old oil filter before installing the new oil filter.
  • Special tools – Special tools aren’t usually required to change an engine oil filter, but they can make it easier. Band wrenches are helpful if you have a lot of room to work, while oil filter sockets are handy in confined spaces. Avoid using slip-joint pliers and water pump pliers, however, because they can damage the filter. We’ll talk more about special tools in a future post.

Engine air filters

  • Judging dirtiness – In modern gasoline engines, a dirty air filter won’t affect fuel economy, but it can affect performance if it’s really clogged. If you can see dirt buildup in the pleats of the filter medium, it’s probably a good idea to change the air filter. You won’t do any harm by changing the filter early, but waiting longer than the interval recommended by the manufacturer could be risky. For diesel engines, replace the air filter according to the filter indicator, no matter what the filter looks like.
  • Seal the box – It’s important to choose the right engine air filter so that it fits properly in the air box, especially around the sealing edges. When replacing your engine air filter, make sure the filter and the air box tabs are fully seated and that all latches fully close. Otherwise, unfiltered air may get through to the intake.

Cabin air filters

  • Standard vs. charcoal – There are generally two types of cabin air filters: standard particulate filters and activated charcoal filters (sometimes called “carbon filters”). While both filter types sift out dust and pollen, which is great for allergy sufferers, carbon filters can also eliminate food and animal odours and absorb harmful gases like carbon monoxide and nitrogen oxide.
  • Cardboard and vacuum – When accessing the filter, try slipping a piece of cardboard under the filter before removal. As you slide the filter out, the cardboard will help prevent debris from falling into the fan, which is more difficult to clean. Have a vacuum on hand to make the job cleaner and keep you from breathing in the dust caught in the filter.

You don’t usually need special tools to change an engine air filter or cabin air filter, but you do when changing engine oil. For more on that topic, check out our tips on performing a DIY engine oil change. We’ll have more information on choosing car filters in our next article.

By Benjamin Jerew

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