An oil filter is a type of filter installed on your engine to trap contaminants in the oil that lubricates engine components. The oil filter traps contaminants that would otherwise cause premature wear and tear inside the engine and lead to costly repairs. The filter itself is a cylindrical container that mounts to the side or front of your engine.
There are two basic types of filter, the canister filter and the cartridge filter. Spin-off canister filters are the most common. They are self-contained units that resemble a metal can and are found in a variety of sizes depending on your vehicle make and model. A series of small holes forms a circle around the edges of one end of the canister to allow oil to enter the filter. Inside the canister is a porous filter medium where the impurities are trapped. A rubber seal closes off the filter against the engine to prevent leaks.
A cartridge filter features a permanent cylindrical housing affixed to the engine. The housing can be removed from its mount to expose the cartridge filter element inside. Only the filter element and rubber gasket are replaced.
An oil filter is typically replaced at the same time the oil is changed in your engine. Your vehicle manufacturer’s recommendation, therefore, is the first and most important indication that you need a new oil filter. Every manufacturer designates a specific interval between oil changes. That recommendation will vary depending on the make and model.
The specific interval between oil changes is laid out in your vehicle owner’s manual or maintenance schedule. Most vehicles today also feature a maintenance reminder on the digital display to let you know it is time to schedule an oil and filter change. You can also ask a reputable repair shop for the manufacturer’s recommendation.