What Happens to My Car If My Oil Filter Is Loose?

  • Sep 13, 2021
image of an oil filter image of an oil filter

You probably know that fresh, clean motor oil is essential to keeping your engine running smoothly — but what keeps the oil clean during those miles between oil changes? The oil filter, of course! 

Your engine oil filter helps to keep debris from entering engine parts. It also helps to regulate oil pressure throughout the engine to ensure all components are properly lubricated. If your oil filter is coming loose, you could have serious engine problems! So what can you do about it? Keep reading to learn the symptoms of a loose oil filter, what may be causing it, and what to do if it happens to you.

Can a Loose Oil Filter Cause a Leak? 

The short answer is yes. If your oil filter is loose, you may have a leak on your hands. Because the oil pump is constantly pushing oil throughout the engine — and therefore through the oil filter — a significant amount of oil could be lost through a broken gasket seal or improperly sealed filter. The severity of the leak will depend on how loose the oil filter is. A broken or pinched oil filter gasket may also create a leak even though the oil filter is tight. 

Look For These Loose Oil Filter Symptoms

Loose oil filters are a surprisingly common cause of leaking engine oil in cars. If your oil filter comes loose, you might experience these symptoms:

Oil Puddling Beneath Your Car

The most visible sign of an engine oil leak is oil on the ground beneath your car. It may be just a few drops of oil or a sizable puddle. Either way, your oil filter could be to blame. In which case, you'll want to have your vehicle serviced by an expert technician at your local Firestone Complete Auto Care. 

Note: Always check your oil level if you notice a leak. Driving a vehicle with no oil or low oil could result in serious engine damage.

Frequently Topping Off Oil Between Oil Changes

If you have to top off your engine oil more than once or twice between oil changes, you may have a leak. A loose oil filter may cause you to lose oil faster than usual. Our expert technicians can inspect your oil filter during your next oil change service and determine if it is to blame for the excess oil usage. If further diagnostic work is required, we also offer an oil leak detection with dye service to help pinpoint the oil leak. 

Low Oil Pressure

Watch out for your engine oil warning light. If your oil filter is loose and leaking, it could be causing your engine to lose oil pressure. When a vehicle has leaked out all of the engine oil, the oil pump does not have fluid to circulate. This starves your engine of lubrication and can cause it to seize up or damage parts. Some other common causes of a low oil pressure warning are lack of engine oil, a faulty oil pressure sensor, or a bad oil pump.  

If your engine oil warning light illuminates, do not keep driving. Pull over and have your car towed to your nearest Firestone Complete Auto Care for a professional diagnosis.

Why Your Oil Filter Keeps Coming Loose

So, you’re pretty sure your oil filter is loose, and it’s causing your engine to leak oil. Maybe you’ve had the loose filter tightened before or even replaced it altogether — yet you find that it’s loose again. How frustrating! Here are a few reasons why your oil filter may be loose:

It’s Not Properly Tightened

It may seem obvious, but you’d be surprised by how often oil filters become loose simply because they weren’t tightened correctly. Most oil filters can be installed and secured sufficiently by hand. Yet, on occasion, a tightly attached filter may become loose due to engine vibrations over time. Some vehicles have specific torque specifications for the oil filter, and if it keeps coming loose, your oil filter may only be “hand tight.” 

On the other hand, an oil filter that is too tight can be just as problematic as a loose one. Overtightening an oil filter may crush the oil filter gasket or oil filter housing, causing it to break and eventually leak. Never use oil filter removal pliers to tighten the filter — only to remove it.

Your Oil Filter Gasket Is Damaged

An oil filter gasket that is cut, twisted, or broken means your oil filter won’t properly seal to the engine mating surface. Gaskets should be seated flat inside the oil filter base plate, or around the housing, without any signs of wear. Even if your oil filter is still in good condition, the gasket may be damaged if it is leaking. 

You’re Dealing with a Double Gasket

Another common cause of a loose or leaking oil filter is a double gasket. A double gasket situation occurs when the old gasket sticks to the mating surface of the engine block during removal, and a new filter is installed on top of it. Oil filter gaskets are notorious for sticking to the engine even after removing their corresponding filter. 

An oil filter gasket that was not properly lubricated during installation may cause this to happen. When removing an old oil filter, double-check that the old gasket comes off with it or make sure to remove the old gasket from the filter housing before new gasket installation. Otherwise, you may have to deal with a messy gasket blowout when you start the engine.

The Filter’s Threads are Damaged

The threads on an oil filter — where the filter screws onto the engine — must be installed properly. If a filter is cross-threaded when installed, the filter may not seal correctly to the mating surface and can eventually cause a leak.

You’re Using the Wrong Filter Type or Size

A loose oil filter may simply result from the wrong type of filter being attached to your engine. Not all filters are built the same or designed to fit onto engines the same way. Similarly, an oil filter that is too large or too small for the engine mount may cause the filter to become loose. Be sure to check your owner’s manual for the proper type and size of oil filter for your car.

What to Do About a Loose Oil Filter

A loose oil filter can be frustrating, especially if it’s a recurring problem. Thankfully, oil filters can be easy to replace. The best time to replace your oil filter is at every oil change. If you’re between oil changes and notice your oil filter is loose, don’t worry! Our expert technicians will replace and recycle your old filter quickly and conveniently.

Don't let a loose oil filter catch you off guard! Stay on top of oil problems with routine oil change services from Firestone Complete Auto Care.

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