5 Symptoms of a Bad Oil Filter (Clogged, Leaking, or Wrong Type)

(Updated on December 6, 2021)

The oil filter has the crucial job of filtering the oil that lubricates the components of your engine. As oil circulates through the engine, it picks up contaminants and debris along the way. You’ll want to keep these contaminants out of the engine to preserve its lifespan.

The only way to keep these contaminants from harming engine components is to have an oil filter which can prevent them from entering the engine in the first place. The engine depends on the filter just as much as it depends on the oil itself.

If you had no oil filter in your vehicle, the contaminants would build up rather quickly inside the engine. This will create a whole lot of functionality issues in the engine and the vehicle.

Related: Best Synthetic Oils for High Mileage Vehicles

Signs Your Oil Filter Needs To Be Replaced

Most of the time, you’ll want to replace your oil filter at the same time as when an oil change is being done.

However, if you notice certain symptoms occurring in your vehicle, it’s a good idea to replace your oil filter with a new one. Otherwise, you could risk permanent damage to your engine which will cost thousands of dollars to replace.

Below are five of the most common symptoms of clogged or leaking oil filter in your car. You may even have the wrong type of filter installed which could be causing problems.

As soon as you recognize these signs, get to your local auto parts store to buy a new filter and switch it out or get your vehicle to the nearest auto mechanic or quick lube place so that they can replace the filter for you.

1) Engine Overheating

temperature gauge is high

Like your air filter or fuel filter, your oil filter can clog up if left in there too long. When an engine air filter gets clogged, you will usually only notice when you accelerate hard or visit the gas station, as your performance and fuel economy will suffer.

With an oil filter, the problems that manifest are potentially worse. A bad oil filter may restrict the flow of oil entering the engine. Once that happens, the engine will not receive adequate lubrication for its moving components.

Friction between the metal components generates heat quickly. If this heat cannot be adequately dissipated by the oil and cooling system, it could lead to the engine overheating. You will often see the “Check Engine” light come on when this happens.

2) Weak Engine Performance

slow acceleration

The performance of your vehicle can often reveal a lot about the health of your vehicle. If contaminants are building up in your engine because the oil isn’t being filtered properly, then it will diminish the engine’s ability to make the power it was designed to.

A dirty oil filter has a harder time pulling contaminants out of the engine oil. These contaminants may make their way through the small oil journals throughout the engine, causing restrictions or even blockages. This may also turn into engine sludge over time that gums up the motor. 

This means that when you step on the gas pedal, your acceleration will be reduced or even nonexistent. As you continue to let this problem go unfixed, the performance will only get worse.

3) Dirty Exhaust Fumes

black smoke from exhaust

Take a look at the exhaust fumes coming out of your vehicle’s tailpipe. Can you see smoke coming out of the tailpipe? If the exhaust looks gray or blue, you may have an oil burning issue. This is sometimes the result of a clogged oil filter causing oil to flow into your exhaust system where it burns up.

You may even experience a burning odor inside your vehicle from this too. These are very obvious signs that you need to replace your filter as soon as you can.

Related:  Causes of White Smoke Coming From Your Exhaust

4) Low Oil Pressure

oil pressure gauge

Some vehicles are equipped with an oil pressure gauge. Those that aren’t will still have a red oil pressure warning light. In normal situations, an oil pressure gauge will show a consistent amount of oil pressure that will never change. However, if you see the oil pressure dropping erratically as you’re driving, then you likely have a problem with your oil pressure.

Low oil pressure can quickly cause catastrophic damage to an engine. If you see a low oil pressure warning light, pull over as soon as it is safe to do so and check the oil.

If you have plenty of oil, you may have a problem with your oil pump, or a restriction that is inhibiting the proper flow of oil through the engine. 

One of the causes of low oil pressure can be a leaking or clogged oil filter which is preventing the flow of oil from going into your engine.

5) Metallic Noises

damaged piston

When oil is prevented from entering your engine and all those metal components grind against each other, all that friction will cause two things to happen. Like previously mentioned, it may cause the engine to overheat.

Where there is excessive heat, there is usually wear. An engine starved of oil will allow metal to metal contact between key (and expensive) components in the engine internals.

Wear from that metal on metal contact will also cause a lot of metallic noises to occur as a result of the grinding. These noises should be very easy to hear as you’re driving.

When this happens, the internal components of your engine are wearing themselves out and causing damage. Check your oil level and filter to make sure one isn’t the culprit.

See Also: What to Do if You Find Metal Flakes in Your Oil

Oil Filter Replacement Cost

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best oil filter for synthetic oil

An oil filter is one of the cheapest components to replace on a vehicle. Oil filters often cost around $10-20, and should be included as part of your routine oil change.

Changing the engine oil and filter is one of the simplest maintenance tasks that most do-it-yourself car mechanics can handle. If you are looking to save a bit of money (and have a space to work on your car), consider changing the oil yourself at home in your driveway.

There are many tutorials for how to do an oil change online. You can typically start by searching your year, make, and model, followed by “oil change”. On most cars, the process is very similar so even generic how-to videos should be enough to get you started.

If you want to tackle this on your own, consider finding a friend who has done it before. Be sure to practice proper garage safety, and don’t be afraid to ask for help if you’re not sure how to do something.

31 thoughts on “5 Symptoms of a Bad Oil Filter (Clogged, Leaking, or Wrong Type)”

  1. My car is hard started in the morning. After it has started and idled for minute or so, the engine initially fails to pick even if I press the gas pedal. Is this a sign that my oil filter is clogged? Thank you

    Reply
    • Could be the oil filter, oil, or a variety of other issues. Unfortunately, needs more info. I would suggest scanning for any error codes stored in your car’s computer using a diagnostic tool as the first step in diagnosis.

      Reply
  2. I’m embarrassed to say but my Kia needed an oil change but I add oil myself. While driving, my car started to making a grinding noise my oil light started flicking off and on and my car shuts off with no smoke but won’t crank up. What can be the problem? Thanks

    Reply
  3. Could a clogged or old oil filter, cause a car to jerk when taking off and blow a big puff of smoke ? Not ever time. Just after driving 100km for atleast 30km or more

    Reply
  4. My Honda Odyssey 2000 started to overheat and I noticed that I don’t have to let it set before checking oil dipstick , it isn’t moving up the stick , hopefully it’s a clogged filter from Valvaline Instant Oil Change so I guess trying fram filter before anything else , I have no idea where to get to the oil pump and can’t find anything on line for it ! Wish me luck !

    Reply
  5. I think you can understand what I stated ? Sorry I have been thinking about this issue ???? I hope it’s not a oil filter I should have said but praying it’s not a oil pump either

    Reply
  6. I have a 04 dodge Durango and it’s nearing 289, 000 miles. Luckily its only needed basic matanice. I do have to add a half to a quart of oil about every 6 weeks or so. Well about 3 weeks ago I heard a beep alarm from dashboard but didn’t get to c n time what light came on and went off. For the last 2-4 days the oil light has been beeping and flashing like crazy but only when I have slowed way down or came to a stop. Once I get going at a steady rate of speed it stops beeping, blinking and the light even goes off.. Engine hasn’t overheated, no kind of smoke coming from tail pipes and it doesn’t die. Im also not hearing a loud knocking noise. The vehicle was my daughters and then I got it from her. I went through log book & realized it’s been 3 & a half years since last oil and filter change. Is it possible that the oil filter is just so clogged that that’s why it’s doing it? Oh and I don’t lose any speed or power when trying to excellarat. Please and thank u for any response.

    Reply
    • Yes, a gummed up oil filter could certainly be the cause. I wouldn’t expect a loss in acceleration if the filter is clogged, but you would have a momentary drop in oil pressure (probably the reason for the oil light) and this will do damage to the engine over time. I personally would park the car until I could change the oil and filter.

      If that doesn’t resolve the oil light, further troubleshooting is needed. It’s not something I’d let go for a while without finding the root cause.

      Reply
  7. Hy my hyndai i30 everytime when I start it.it cuts off bt allows me to start it immediately. .sometimes it cuts randomly

    Reply
  8. I serviced my car but replaced my oil filter with a defected one. After some time there was a weird sound in the engine. I checked it and I replace the defected oil filter with a good one. I still hear the sound what might it be? Can that cause an engine knock

    Reply
    • If by “defected” you mean defective, I would avoid this in the future. Oil filters are cheap, so unless you’re desperate you should only use a working filter in that’s made for your specific vehicle. I personally would rather leave my old filter on for a while than run with the wrong filter, or no filter at all.

      From the description it’s hard to know what the noise is, but I imagine it’s possible for a bad filter to cause additional wear that could lead to engine knock, depending on why the filter was bad. No filtration will cause additional wear from dirt and debris. Broken parts in the oil system may circulate loose metal through the engine and cause additional damage.

      Reply
      • With this situation is it safe to be driven 50 mikes or should it be parked? Mine is an infinit but the basics are usually all the same
        Is there a certain number of miles that should be no no?
        Thinking of buying one that had this done when the dealer changed the oil but a tad nervous now

  9. I noticed my Hyundai i45 making a slight rattling noise when I accelerate up big hills and goes away after a bit, and today my oil light turned on when I came to a stop at a traffic light and had to wait for the green light. It turned off again once I took off, but the rattling noise in my accelerator occurred every time I pressed down on it. My oil levels are fine and I change it at home whenever it’s needed, my engine doesn’t overheat. I’m about 1000km away from my next service, could a clogged oil filter be the cause of my oil light coming on despite my oil levels being okay, and could it also affect my acceleration?

    Reply
    • That oil light is something you should get addressed as soon as possible. Perhaps it’s just the sensor, but you may have low oil pressure even if there’s enough oil in the crankcase. Consider performing an oil pressure test to know for sure.

      Reply
  10. if we have replaced the oil pump two times and added oil in between……what is the problem………we purchased this truck used an dealer said it was good…test drove it and checked what we would out………..day after signing papers truck made noise sounding like medal….replace pump………..week later same thing saleman was no help had to let it go back we were afraid engine damage might me next thing

    Reply
  11. I have a 2018 ssangyong korando. First start up in the morning makes a rattling noise. Sounds like rappers only for a second or 2. ?

    Reply
    • Just a guess, but could be valvetrain noise. In some vehicles, the timing chain rattles on startup during normal operation. Check to make sure the engine oil is topped up and bring it to a local shop if the rattle sounds expensive.

      Reply
  12. Hi, I have been experiencing low oil pressure at idle. One mechanic i took it to flushed it out and said it was a gunk buildup, but the light came back on the next day, with a different code–replace sending unit. Did that, and the light came on the next day after that repair. Still getting 20-25 psi at idle, which triggers the light. Could it be a filter issue? I would assume that the first mechanic replaced the filter when he flushed the oil. Thanks!

    Reply
  13. My 2009 VW Jetta 2.5 will lurch sometimes when I am accelerating and has been getting weaker each time I start the engine. As in, each time I turn the key it takes a few seconds to turn on and it sounds like my car is barely running after it is on. My engine light came on yesterday and I was wondering if the oil filter can cause this?.. before the car started getting weaker my battery died. Nothing was on in the vehicle to make it drain my battery. It happened twice in a row and then it started getting weaker to turn on the vehicle.

    Reply
  14. Hi, When i starts my Carina E there is no problem the oil light comes on and then off as normal and the sound is good. But by accerelating, the oil light is coming on. I took the engine cup off for checking if the oil drops splash out when the engine is on and there was no drops of oil coming out but found the cup dirty. Can the oil filter cause this?

    Reply
    • I’m skeptical that an oil filter is causing this, but I suppose it is possible if the filter is really clogged and restricting flow. I would have the vehicle checked out at a shop. Low oil pressure isn’t something to mess around with because it can destroy your engine very quickly.

      Reply
  15. Hi . I have a 2015 C250 mercedes W205. After I drive the vehicle and switch it off, I hear a dripping noise . There isn’t external leaks . I thought it could be oil dripping back into the oil pan, but I’m not sure. At the last service they changed the oil to synthetic oil, not sure of that had anything to do with it. Thanks

    Reply
    • Switching to synthetic oil should not cause a dripping noise.

      Have you been running the A/C more? Air conditioning systems create a lot of condensation, which has to leave the system so you don’t end up with a bunch of water. Usually there is a tube that dumps excess condensation onto the ground.

      Reply

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