Can I use a non-factory filter when I change my own oil?

John Paul, AAA Northeast's Car Doctor, answers a question from a reader wondering if it's necessary to use an original equipment oil filter.

Engine bay
–George Kennedy/Boldride

Q. When I go to the auto parts store there is always a shelf full of different brands of oil filters. Does it really make a difference what kind I buy when doing an oil change at home? The dealer tells me that if I use a non-factory filter it could damage the engine. 

A. I prefer, when possible, to use an original equipment filter, although that isn’t always practical. The filter material is one of the keys to a high-quality filter. I look for a filter that uses a synthetic blend of filter material (rather than just cellulose) and has an anti-drain back valve, like the original, that eliminates dry-starts. I have only seen one manufacturer that requires an original equipment filter and issued a technical bulletin about it. I have also been in dealerships that have run out of a specific filter and purchased aftermarket filters from the local parts store.

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Q. I have seen you answer a question similar to this one before, and I need you to put your Boat Doctor hat back on. I have a 21-foot boat with a four-cylinder engine that appears to be a Chevy. It is not running well. I did a compression test, and the two middle cylinders only have about 40 and 60 pounds of pressure. The end cylinders are 130 and 135 PSI. My neighbor thinks it’s a bad valve. What do you think?

A. I think you will be spending some serious money (after all doesn’t BOAT stand for Break Out Another Thousand) to get your boat engine running correctly. This compression test is a classic example of a leaking head-gasket. At this point, you will need to pull off the cylinder head and inspect the gasket. In addition to replacing the head-gasket, you will most likely need to rebuild or replace the cylinder head. 

Q. I have a 2006 Ford 500 that’s having electrical issues. The car will start, but the dashboard won’t light and the engine runs roughly. My mechanic couldn’t detect the issue, although he cleaned off the battery cables and the car ran fine for a week or two before the problem came back. The mechanic thinks it may be a battery cable harness that needs replacing. What do you think?

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A. Since cleaning the cables fixed the problem temporarily, I suspect your mechanic is correct. At this point the proper procedure is to perform a voltage drop test to see what is going on. I suspect that the negative cable may have high-resistance and it is causing the issues with both rough running and electrical power for the gauges. 

Q. I have a Chevrolet pickup truck with just 125,000 miles on it. It’s running a bit sluggish. I took it to my regular shop. They didn’t see anything out of the ordinary and suggested I go to a transmission shop. At the transmission shop they said it may be a torque converter issue, but they weren’t sure. Any thoughts? This has been a great truck. In the time I’ve owned it I have only replaced the tires, brakes, and fluids, so I hate to give it up.

A. I think you provided the answer in your question. Although the torque converter is a common problem, that isn’t where I would start. I believe you have the beginning of an engine misfire. Generally, as an engine misfires it will turn on the check engine light and it will flash, but not always. I think your truck, at 125,000 miles, may need nothing more than spark plugs and perhaps a spark plug wire replacement. Since you have never replaced the spark plugs this would be a good place to start. 

Q. I have a Buick and the battery went dead. I jump started it and then put a battery in it. The car is fine, but the speedometer gauge needle spun around and is on the other side of the pin in the gauge. I asked around and was told the gauge cluster would need to come out to reset the dials. Any suggestions? 

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A. This type of issue can happen when there is an electrical spike during a jump start. Some cars will allow you to go into a setting and reset the gauges. Others like your Buick make it a little more complicated. In most cases, the dash cluster needs to come out and the needles reset. Although I have seen some clever technicians direct compressed air through the trip meter reset hole and spin the needle all the way around.

John Paul is AAA Northeast’s Car Doctor. He has over 40 years of experience in the automotive business and is an ASE-certified master technician. E-mail your car question to jpaul@aaanortheast.com.

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The Car Doctor
Am I being a car snob?
November 12, 2020 | 4:25 PM