There are certain car maintenance tasks that require specialized tools. You can’t loosen bolts by hand, for example, or give your vehicle a boost without a jack.
In these cases, looking for substitutes is pointless and could be dangerous for both you and your car.
Some tasks, however, can be done without dedicated gadgets by adapting non-automotive tools that will deliver the same results. Removing an oil filter is one such task.
Whether it’s to add new engine oil or a new oil filter, you’ll learn several different “wrench-free” methods to remove your existing oil filter.
Ready to perform removal without having to shell out on a wrench? Read on to get started.
Contents (Jump to Topic)
- 1 Key Takeaways
- 2 4 “Wrenchless” Methods for Removing Your Existing Oil Filter
- 3 Why Might You Need to Remove an Oil Filter Without a Wrench?
- 4 Wrapping Up
Safety First! – Make sure you always wear gloves and protective glasses or goggles.
Get Handy First – Try to remove your filter by hand first, then move on to other methods if this fails
If In Doubt… –…visit your mechanic. It will likely cost you less than any damage you might do to your vehicle if you get frustrated and go on the offensive.
4 “Wrenchless” Methods for Removing Your Existing Oil Filter
Enough small talk, let’s get to the meat of the article and show you how 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.
Method 1: 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.
- Gloves (preferably rubber).
- Safety glasses.
- Disposable rags.
- Drain pan.
- A jack and jack stands
1. 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.
2. 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. Once raised, replace the jack with jack stands.
As emphasized in our guide on How to Use Jack Stands, never work under a car supported only by a jack!
3. Position Yourself Carefully
It’s easier to steer clear of dripping lubricant when you have a wrench. With this technique, you don’t get that benefit, so take care to keep your face and torso away from the dripping zone.
4. Place Drainage Pan
Place your drainage oil pan to catch flowing motor oil as you normally would.
5. Remove Grease
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.
6. Grab and Remove Oil Filter
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 additional tools.
If this doesn’t work, move on to our next solution.
Method 2: 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.
- A belt.
- Rubber strip or sandpaper (optional).
- Gloves and safety glasses.
- Disposable rags.
- Drainage pan.
- A good car 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.
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.
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.
The strap and buckle should be securely attached to each other. Don’t pick belts that have adjustable buckles or complex mechanisms.
1. Get Prepared
Get your safety glasses and gloves on.
If needed, lift your vehicle up to the appropriate height and place it on jack stands.
Put your drainage pan in the right place to avoid making a mess.
2. Remove Excess Grease
Wipe away excess grease with your rags. Otherwise, your belt might slip and slide as you work.
3. 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 tighten.
Before you start twisting, 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.
4. 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.
Method 3: Make Your Own DIY Oil Filter Wrench
If you’re dealing with a stubborn unit (most filters apply!), the belt trick may have failed. If so, you have another option: 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.
- Socket wrench.
- Socket extension.
- Gloves and safety glasses.
- Disposable rags.
- Drainage pan.
- A Jack and jack stands (depending on the location of your unit).
1. 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.
2. 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.
3. 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. Make sure it’s secure around the socket extension.
4. 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.
5. Wipe Off Grease
Typical bandana material isn’t known for gripping strength. Wipe off excess lubricant from your old filter with your rags.
6. 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.
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.
7. Attach the Socket Wrench
Connect the wrench to the extension. Think, “right is tight, left is loose.”
Turn your makeshift strap wrench until the filter is loose enough to spin off by hand.
Method 4: Screwdriver Method
This is a last-resort tactic to remove stubborn units. If it won’t budge, stabbing a screwdriver through the filter is your only option aside from going to your mechanic.
- A strong screwdriver.
- Gloves (preferably heavy-duty).
- Safety glasses.
- Drainage pan.
- Jack and jack stands (depending on the location of your unit).
1. 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.
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.
3. Let the Oil Drain
Leave the tool as it is while the oil drains out.
4. Twist by Hand
Try giving the stuck unit a twist by hand. It should be loose enough to come off at this stage.
5. Rotate the Screwdriver
With units that still refuse to give, 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.
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:
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 installing a new filter 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?
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 wrenches, and not all work on all vehicles. To see the many different types (chain wrenches, spiders, straps, and more), check out our guide to the best oil filter wrenches.
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.
The next time you find yourself caught without the right tool, you’ll know how to remove an oil filter without a wrench, oil filter pliers, or torque wrench. We’re not suggesting that you make these methods a habit for every oil change, but this is handy information to have.
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!