Changing the motor oil in your vehicle is one of the most routine parts of maintenance. Every 3,000 to 5,000 miles, car owners either pop open the hood or bring their car to the auto body shop for an oil change. It just happens. But you may be wondering, “Can I change oil without changing the oil filter?” Does it matter if the filter is a little dirty? While swapping out the oil filter for a new one is not always necessary, it is important.

Otherwise, you could face some nasty consequences. Here is everything you need to know about when to change the oil filter and why it’s important to do so.

Can I Change Oil Without Changing The Oil Filter title image

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The Importance of an Oil Filter

Sure, the oil filter might look like a superfluous addition to the engine bay, but it is an essential part of your vehicle. Without an oil filter, you would end up on the side of the road, hitchhiking your way to the nearest auto body shop. Oil filters work to purify the oil after it has been pushed through the engine.

The main function of motor oil is to keep the engine and all its moving pieces well lubricated. Oil reduces friction and wear and tear. In other words, motor oil preserves the life of your vehicle. However, the oil gets dirty from removing sludge and dirt from the engine.

That is where the filter becomes essential. The filter removes those flecks of metal and debris from the oil after it has left the engine and before it cycles back around. This keeps those pieces of debris from coming into contact with the engine, preventing clogging and other issues.

Why Your Oil Filter Needs to Be Clean

Now, you may be thinking, “So what if the filter is a little dirty?” Unfortunately, a slightly dirty oil filter is still dirty; and it’s not like a semi-dirty air cabin filter either. See, the oil filter does more than pluck dirt from the oil. It plays a role in oil pressure, too.

A clogged oil filter halts the passage of oil through the engine, creating backpressure. Additionally, there is a pressure relief valve on (nearly) every oil filter. If your oil filter gets blocked the pressure relief valve will bypass the filter allowing any contaminants and debris to circulate around the engine. A dented, scratched, or damaged oil filter will lead to major problems.

Do I Really Have to Change The Oil Filter With Every Oil Change?

As mentioned earlier, you do not always have to change the oil filter with every oil change. Some oil filters have a far higher mileage rating than the oil you put in your car. In fact, many manufacturers recommend changing the oil filter every 6,000 to 10,000 miles.

Plus, replacing that filter every single time you take your car in for an oil change truly drives up the cost of the service. It might not be much, but when you’re pinching pennies in today’s economy, you may need a break once in a while.

Here is some good news: Many auto technicians believe that oil filters should be changed every 7,500 miles or so. This means every other oil change if you change the oil every 3,000-3,500 miles. Here is the catch: It only applies to those who are driving in less extreme conditions, i.e not extreme heat or dusty conditions.

For extreme driving conditions, automotive mechanics agree that changing your oil filter every 3,000 miles is best for optimal performance. Such driving conditions include:

  • Stop and go traffic, such as numerous traffic lights and congestion
  • Operating your vehicle in extreme temperatures
  • Dusty or dirty conditions, including off-roading
  • Pulling or carrying heavy loads frequently
  • Many frequent short trips of less than 5 miles

How Do I Know I Need To Change The Oil Filter?

Let’s say you have opted to change your oil filter every 7,500 miles. It’s imperative that you pay attention to your vehicle between oil changes. Otherwise, you may accidentally damage the engine.

Here are some signs that you need to get your oil filter changed ASAP:

Poor Performance

Do you hit the accelerator only to have your car hesitate? Engine lag is a sign of many issues, but a clogged oil filter is one of them. Modern-day oil filters contain a bypass valve that, when the filter is too dirty, allows the oil to circulate without moving through the filter. Imagine how your engine performs when all it has is dirt and other contaminants to protect it! Other problems associated with poor performance included transmission, fuel injectors, and air filters.

Audible Grinding Noise

A metallic, grinding noise is a sign of friction within the engine. Should you hear grinding in the engine, pull over immediately. You will need emergency repairs to keep your engine from becoming irreparably damaged.

Sputtering Engine

When the parts in the engine are not properly lubricated, there is increased friction, which builds heat. If the oil filter is blocked up with debris, the oil will not make it to the engine. In turn, the engine suffers and sputters in protest. The faster you go, the louder the engine damage. This also means greater damage to the motor.

Dirty Exhaust

You will notice that the color of the exhaust is much dingier when the oil filter is clogged or dirty. Brown or black smoke is a sign that your vehicle may be burning through oil or fuel, which also means that your engine is getting damaged every time you hit the gas pedal. Be sure to get your oil filter replaced as soon as possible.

Low Oil Pressure

The oil pressure gauge should never drop while your car is in motion. If you see that, there is a serious problem. Drops can be caused by clogged oil filters or oil leaks, though the latter is less likely to happen all of a sudden. If you see the oil pressure diminish, stop driving and call for roadside assistance.

Clean Filter, Happier Car

Can I change the oil without changing the oil filter? As you now know, it depends. While changing the oil filter is not always necessary, it should be done frequently. You do not want to run clean oil through a dirty filter, because that can add contamination to the new oil. For optimal performance, changing the oil filter with every oil change is best!

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