How to Remove an Oil Filter Without a Wrench – 4 Easy to Follow Ways

There are certain maintenance tasks we perform on our cars that require specialized tools. You can’t loosen bolts by hand, or give your vehicle a boost without a jack.

In these cases, looking for substitutes is pointless. It can also be dangerous, as you

could end up damaging your car or injuring yourself.

Fortunately, some tasks can be done without these gadgets. You can sometimes adapt non-automotive tools to fit a job in hand and get the same results. Removal of an oil filter without a specialized tool is one such task.

In this article, you’re about to learn how to remove an oil filter without a wrench.

Close up of a removed and dirty oil filter in a mechanics hands

Below, we cover simple and practical DIY techniques to remove your old oil filter. This includes building your own tools, and as a last resort piercing with a screwdriver.

You can pick between using a bandana and a socket wrench, or a belt, depending on your preference.

Ready to perform removal without having to shell out on a wrench? Read on to get started.

Why Might You Need to Remove an Oil Filter Without a Wrench?

There are a couple of reasons why you might want to try removing your filtration unit without one:

Avoid Expense

Automotive tools can be expensive. There’s no shame in not being able to afford specialized kit when there are other solutions you can try.

Damaged or Lost Wrench

Maybe you were ready to start working only to find your wrench broke in storage?

Another possibility is that you couldn’t find it at all, and don’t want to buy a new one to perform just a single task?

Incompatible Wrench

These tools are long-term investments and will last for years. However, you might end up with a redundant tool if you decide to buy a new car and it has a different type of filter on which the wrench no longer works.

There are many different types of oil filter wrench, and not all work on all vehicles. To see the many different types, check out our best oil filter wrench guide.

For instance, your new oil filter might be too recessed for a larger model (e.g., pliers) to reach. Or if you’re doing a favor for a friend or family member, this could be a one-time need.

If you’re on a trip and need to change your filter and don’t have yours handy, you’re not about to go out and buy a brand new wrench. Nobody wants to pay for something that will only be used once.

How to Remove an Oil Filter without a Wrench – 4 Methods to Choose From

Enough small talk, let’s get to the meat of the article and show you how you to get that oil filter out of your engine, despite not having the correct tool.

Following are four different methods, in order of what we see as which you should try first, and with the most destructive and messy option last.

First, Try by Hand

There’s a chance that your own two hands might be the only equipment needed to complete the job. For those of you who are skeptical, give it a try and find out.

Remember the old saying, “Nothing ventured, nothing gained?” You could end up saving yourself the effort of making a substitute tool.

Note that this may not work for recessed filters if you have big hands. It could be tricky to get a sufficient grip if space is too tight.

Equipment Needed:

  • Gloves (preferably rubber).
  • Safety glasses.
  • Disposable rags.
  • Drainage pan.
  • A jack and jack stands (depending on the location of your filter).

Safety First

You’re going to be getting up close and personal with your filter. Put on your gloves and glasses to protect your hands and eyes before getting started.

Jack Your Car

If you can’t access the filter while the car is level, jack it up. Remember to take care when doing this and position the jack correctly under the car, and once raised to replace the jack with jack stands.

Never work under a car supported only by a jack!

Position Yourself Carefully

It’s easier to steer clear of dripping lubricant when you have a wrench. With the technique we’re looking at, you don’t get that benefit. Don’t forget to keep your face and torso away from the dripping zone.

Place Drainage Pan

Place your drainage pan to catch flowing oil as you normally would. You could always place some rags under the pan on the floor, to avoid damage if there’s spillage.

Remove Grease from the Filter

Grease will make it more difficult for you to hold on without slipping. Get your rags out and wipe it off as best as you can.

Grab on

Using your dominant hand, grasp the end of the filter firmly. Attempt to turn in a counter-clockwise motion. Use as much strength as you can muster.

If it was hand-screwed on by you or your mechanic previously, it might come off without needing any additional tools.

If this doesn’t work, move onto our next solution.

Belt Strap Wrench

If hand-removal wasn’t successful, don’t worry. You can create a wrench using a cheap, accessible item and a tool most people already own.

Equipment Needed:

  • A belt.
  • Rubber strip or sandpaper (optional).
  • Gloves and safety glasses.
  • Disposable rags.
  • Drainage pan.
  • A good jack and jack stands (depending on the location of your unit).

Choosing the Right Belt

The belt is going to be doing all of the hard work. It’s important to pick one that’s suitable for the task at hand.

Durability

Take aesthetics out of the picture entirely. An attractive fabric might be more appealing to look at, but if it’s flimsy it’ll be useless. Look for materials that won’t rip under pressure, such as flexible plastics.

Excessive elasticity can be a bad feature too. If the material is too stretchy, you’ll have to put in more effort to get a tight grip.

On the same note, avoid purchasing a reversible belt. They often have mechanical pivots, which can break under pressure.

Grip

Shiny or smooth materials will slip, which makes for an ineffective grip. Pick a belt that has a rough interior.

You can also buy a rubber strip or piece of sandpaper to place between the filter and belt to increase grip and reduce the risk of slippage.

Buckle

The strap and buckle should be securely attached to each other. Don’t pick belts that have adjustable buckles or ones with complex mechanisms.

Get Prepared

Get your safety glasses and gloves on.

If needed, lift your vehicle up to the appropriate height and place on jack stands.

Put your drainage pan in the right place to avoid making a mess.

Remove Excess Grease

Make the process simpler by wiping away excess grease with your rags. Otherwise, your belt might slip and slide as you work.

Position Belt

Position the belt around the end of your filter. Hook the loose end through the buckle, but don’t fasten it. Instead, pull that end over the buckle again to create a cinch. Pull that end to create a tightening effect.

Before you start twisting, you might want to use your piece of rubber or sandpaper. Place your chosen material between your makeshift wrench and the filtration unit.

You may have to remove your gloves while you’re doing this. Don’t forget to put them back on as soon as you’re done.

Start Pulling

Pull the loose end counterclockwise. Keep your movements slow and steady so that the belt or friction material doesn’t slip off.

Continue this motion until the unit is loose enough to remove by hand.

Click here to find the original instructions and guide to the strap wrench technique.

Make Your Own Oil Filter Wrench

If you’re dealing with a stubborn unit, the belt trick may have failed. If so, you have another option to make your own DIY wrench.

You should have half of what you’ll need in a standard toolkit: a socket wrench and extension. Next, you’ll need a bandana. If you don’t have one, they’re easy to find and buy. You can always ask a friend if they have any old ones they no longer need.

This video will show you everything we’ve covered below:

Equipment Needed:

  • A Bandana.
  • Socket wrench.
  • Socket extension.
  • Gloves and safety glasses.
  • Disposable rags.
  • Drainage pan.
  • A Jack and jack stands (depending on the location of your unit).

Fold the Bandana

Fold your bandana by rolling it up until it resembles a strap. Imagine you’re preparing it to wear as a headband.

The end result should be a piece of cloth that can lie flat. If the bandana keeps unrolling, you may have rolled it too taut.

Make a Square Knot

Shape the bandana into a wide circle. Take the ends and tie a square knot, being careful not to shorten your strap too much.

For the readers who aren’t familiar with square knots, follow these steps:

  • Hold the two bandana ends, one in each hand.
  • Pass the right end over and underneath the left end, leaving a loop.
  • Tuck the right end underneath the loop.
  • Tighten it enough so that the knot won’t come undone. Leave some slack.

If you’re more of a visual learner, check out the video at the top of this section.

Set up a Socket Extension

Slip your socket extension through the slack part of the knot. If necessary, loosen it so that you can fit the tool through.

Now you can tighten the square knot. Makes sure it’s secure around the socket extension.

Prepare Your Car

Put on your gloves and glasses. Lift your car with a jack if you have to, replace the jack with jack stands, and set up the drainage pan.

Make sure your socket extension and wrench are somewhere within reach. You don’t want to be doing acrobatics to grab them when the time comes.

Wipe Off Grease

Typical bandana material isn’t known for gripping strength. Wipe off excess lubricant from your filter with your rags.

Set up the Bandana and Twist

Place the bandana around the filter and begin to twist the socket extension towards it. This motion will pull your makeshift strap tight.

You’ll keep twisting until it’s as tight as it can get. Don’t release the socket extension or the whole thing will unravel.

Once it’s secure, rest the side of the extension against the filter you’re removing. Hold it in position with one hand.

Attach the Socket Wrench

Connect the wrench to the extension. Keep a simple mantra in mind to know in which direction to turn it. Think, “right is tight, left is loose.”

Remove the Oil Filter

Turn your makeshift strap wrench until the filter is loose enough to spin-off by hand.

If All Else Fails – Screwdriver Through the Filter

This is a last-resort tactic to remove stubborn units. If it won’t budge no matter what, stabbing a screwdriver through the filter is your only option aside from going to your mechanic.

We recommend trying the other methods we’ve detailed before this one.

Equipment Needed:

  • A strong screwdriver.
  • Gloves (preferably heavy-duty).
  • Safety glasses.
  • Drainage pan.
  • Jack and jack stands (depending on the location of your unit).

Begin With the Basics

You know the drill. Get your car up on jacks and then onto jack stands if it’s hard for you to get underneath it.

Place your drainage pan and put your safety gear on.

Stab the Filter

This step may sound uncomplicated, but it does require some care. Don’t go jabbing at your filter like a horror movie villain.

Aim the screwdriver at the middle of the filter from a sideways angle. If you’re working in a cramped space, be careful not to damage anything else on your car.

Pound it through the middle as hard as you can. You want the tip of the screwdriver to emerge on the other side.

Let the Oil Drain

Leave the tool as it is while the oil drains out.

Twist by Hand

Try giving the stuck unit a twist by hand. It should be loose enough to come off at this stage.

Rotate the Screwdriver

For units that still refuse to give way, rotate the screwdriver a couple of times and try again.

If nothing has changed, it may be time to invest in a wrench or contact your mechanic. You can’t leave the replacement half-done.

Conclusion

The next time you find yourself caught without the right tool, you’ll know how to remove an oil filter without a wrench. We’re not suggesting that you make these methods a habit, but this is handy information to have.

In an ideal situation, you should buy yourself an oil filter wrench. Oil changes are one of those crucial maintenance tasks that aren’t going anywhere soon.

You’re not going to be using bandanas, belts or screwdrivers indefinitely. As is true for any job, the correct tool can cut down on effort and time.

Even still, there are situations where it’s not worth it to buy a new tool. Working on someone else’s car, far from home and needing a filter change, as examples. Save your money and try the DIY route.

If you have any questions, thoughts or tips to add, please leave us a comment below. We appreciate your feedback and look forward to hearing from you.

Kyle Palmer

From childhood go karting and motocross, to collecting and obsessing over scalextric, matchbox and radio controlled cars, I've always had an obsession with cars.Learning through manuals, books, trial and error, and more knowledgeable family members, I've also enjoyed tinkering with the mechanics and electronics of any vehicles I've owned.Now, over 3 decades later, I've started this site as a place for me to share my knowledge, to teach others how to care for and maintain their vehicles themselves, at home, so they can get the most of their vehicles and save a pretty penny compared to always seeking out professional help.

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