What to Look For in an Oil Filter Wrench

Oil filter wrenches come in a range of styles suited for specific vehicles.

Oil filter wrench and an oil filterManuel Carrillo III | Capital One

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If you're a do-it-yourselfer looking to save a few bucks by changing your own vehicle's oil, you may need to invest in one more tool to get the job done. You'll need to find the right wrench for your vehicle's oil filter, which should be replaced every time you do an oil change.

Luckily, an oil filter wrench is an inexpensive addition to your automotive tool kit.

The Need for an Oil Filter Wrench?

Oil filters, which are shaped like oversized soup cans, spin onto a mount on the engine typically with right-hand threading and often require a specialized tool for removal.

In the days of old-fashioned V8 engines with lots of space under the hood, oil filters came in fairly standard sizes and formats and were easier to access. As vehicles have become more sophisticated, there are now different sizes and configurations for oil filters in both domestic and imported automobiles. Many are also located in awkward and hard-to-reach locations and call for more specialized wrenches to help with removal.

The Kind of Oil Filter Wrench You Need

The traditional oil filter wrench is the strap/swivel style. It has a handle with an adjustable metal strap or band that's placed around the body of the oil filter can, creating a tight enough fit to torque the oil filter off. A variation is the chain-type oil filter wrench with a metal chain that can be wrapped around to loosen even an oily twist-on oil filter.

Pliers-style oil filter wrenches also do a similar job for many standard-sized oil filters. As with specialized versions of household pliers, they feature long, curved tongs that reach around the oil filter and create enough grip to loosen it. They also require more space under the hood to use.

Other oil filter wrenches are called socket or end-cap wrenches, which are used in conjunction with a ratchet wrench to lock onto the top edges of the filter and provide good grip for removal and installation, especially on oil filters found in Audi, BMW, and Volkswagen products.

You can also get open-ended metal jaw or claw socket adapters, some of which are adjustable and work with various sizes of oil filters.

What to Look For When Selecting an Oil Filter Wrench

Before you purchase an oil filter wrench, check with an auto-parts website or a retailer to find out which kind of wrench will work best with the make and model of your vehicle.

Oil filters vary greatly between auto manufacturers and models, and the size and shape of the oil filter will necessitate the use of a specific kind of wrench. If your oil filter is in a difficult location, a more compact wrench could be required.

The good news is that oil filter wrenches won't break the bank. A swivel/strap wrench can be found for as little as $6, and plastic socket models start at less than $5. Pliers-style filter wrenches start at about $15.

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Andy Stonehouse
Andy Stonehouse literally fell into the world of auto writing while working as a ski-town journalist, and has not looked back since. A childhood spent dealing with the eccentricities of a 1976 MG Midget has made any subsequent auto experience a more safe and reliable drive. He has been blessed with nearby mountain trails and snowy roads in Colorado to do TV-adventure-styled test drives on a weekly basis.