Rick's Free Auto Repair Advice

Oil filter buying advice

How to buy an oil filter—does filter size matter?

Not a bit. If you think a larger filter traps more contaminants, think again. If you really want to know how to buy an oil filter, know this; oil filter size has nothing to do with an oil filter’s efficiency. In fact, oil filter size, the number of pleats, and the construction of the filter end caps have absolutely nothing to do with filter efficiency. Neither does filter brand (more on that later). If you see an oil filter comparison study that compares filters by the overall size or number of pleats, it’s a bogus study.

Forty years ago filter manufacturers had about 3 different types of filter papers to use in oil filters. Today they can choose from over 80 different types of filter media, from cellulose to synthetic glass to non-woven polypropylene fabrics. So a filter made with these newer materials can be more efficient, smaller, and have fewer pleats than a conventional filter made with older filter media.

How to buy an oil filter—can you compare dirt holding capacity specifications?

In one word, no. Some filter manufacturers post their filter’s particulate holding capacity in grams. That’s a meaningless specification in most cases. Sure, you want your oil filter to capture and hold metallic particles, but if your engine is giving off enough metallic particles that you need to see a particulate holding capacity, you’ve got big problems. In the past, road dirt that got past the air filter was a big concern. But that isn’t an issue in late-model vehicles.

Why? Because the air intake systems on late model cars are sealed much better than in older vehicles. That’s because engine computers require a more accurate read on the volume and density of the incoming air in order to properly calculate the air/fuel mixture. Any leak in the air induction system (unmetered air)will throw off the air/fuel mixture. The bottom line is that the tightly sealed air induction systems and the latest automotive engine air filters keep out the kind of dirt that damaged engines and clogged oil filters. The only particulate matter you’ll see in a late model car is from soot created during the combustion process. And the amount of soot created is directly related to the condition of the engine. In other words, to get enough soot to clog a modern premium quality oil filter, you’ve got to have some serious engine wear or air/fuel problems.

How to buy an oil filter—it’s about capturing oil contaminants

What’s most important is the filter’s ability to capture sludge

Oil filter filled with sludge

Example of what sludge does to an oil filter. Old/New

and oil wear-related contaminants. For example, cold starts and short trips contaminate the engine oil with fuel and water. When mixed with engine oil, water and fuel turns to sludge. In addition, the viscosity improvers in modern engine oil can shear, causing polymer build-up in the filter media. I’m not aware of any filter manufacturer that publishes filter capacity specifications for that kind of buildup.

How to buy an oil filter—it’s all about mileage ratings

So what information can you use to buy an oil filter? The filter company’s filter life rating. If you own a late model vehicle, chances are you’re using an extended oil change interval schedule. If your owner’s manual recommends changing oil at 7,500 or 10,000 miles, you must install a filter that’s rated for that interval. If you install an economy filter that’s rated for 3,000 miles, but go the full 10,000 miles, trust me, your filter will quit working way before you change your oil.

Premium quality oil filters are made with top-quality materials like silicone backflow valves instead of nitrile, multiple layers of different types of filter medial, backing screens to prevent pleat collapse, and reliable bypass valves.

How to buy an oil filter—does brand count?

Nice try. Brand means very little. Each oil filter manufacturer makes economy, OEM and premium quality oil filters. They make them under their own brand name and also private label their oil filters for other companies and auto parts stores. Plus, oil filter manufacturers are bought and sold like a Monopoly game.

Here’s an example. If you search the Internet, you’ll find horrible reviews on Fram oil filters. If you check the sources of that information you’ll discover that most of that information about Fram is unscientific, biased and outright false.

Fram was owned by Allied Signal which then bought Bendix and then Honeywell. Honeywell consumer products division made Fram, Autolite spark plugs, Bendix brakes and Prestone. In 2011 Honeywell sold Fram, Autolite and Prestone to The Rank Group, a privately held company New Zealand. The Rank Group subsequently bought Champion Labs, maker of air and oil filters, Airtex fuel pumps and Autolite spark plugs (although, the division that owns Champion Labs is currently in bankruptcy proceedings.

Fram and Champion labs make air and oil filters for several other highly respected oil filter brands. In other words, those big name “filter” companies don’t actually make their own oil filters—they’re made by Fram and Champion Labs.

Now let’s look at some other oil filter brands like Purolator, Wix and Bosch.

• German companies MANN+HUMMEL and Bosch bought the Purolator filter business from ArvinMeritor in 2006. It was 50-50 joint venture.

• MANN+HUMMEL bought out Bosch’s 50% stake in 2013 and now owns 100% of Purolator.

• In 2016 MANN+HUMMEL bought the Wix and FILTRON brands from the Affinia Group

• German oil filter manufacturer Kuefner-filter states that they’re now the “Preferred Supplier of the Bosch Group.

• The Hastings and Baldwin filter brands are owned by Carcor which was purchased by Parker Hannifin Corporation Filtration Group on Feb 28, 17.

So the majority of all oil filters worldwide are made by just four companies:

The Rank Group, MANN+HUMMEL, Kuefner-filter and Parker Hannifin Corporation Filtration Group

Fram oil filter, Purolator oil filter, Bosch oil filter, Wix oil filter

Four major oil filter brands

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