Extremely cold weather is tough on engines. This is because very low ambient air temperatures dramatically reduce the flow rate of conventional oils. Oil thickens when the temperature drops, and it can’t be pumped through the engine as quickly as it would when warm – leading to more metal-on-metal friction on internal moving parts than is normal. Unfortunately, that’s not where the potential for problems ends.

Oil filter functionality can also be affected.

The first issue is that very thick oil might have trouble penetrating the filter media, especially if the media has a high-efficiency rating. When this occurs, oil will bypass the media and be circulated through the engine unfiltered, to prevent damage to the media or oil starvation of the engine. It is important to use a quality filter that includes a bypass relief valve that matches OEM specs.

The second issue comes down to the sealing gasket on the filter. Most conventional spin-on oil filters feature a lathe cut sealing gasket that is made of nitrile. All rubbers, including nitrile, have a certain temperature of retraction. Extremely low temperatures make nitrile much less elastic and less likely to make a good seal. This is especially true on cold starts where there might be a spike in crankcase pressure. This issue can be mitigated by following a few critical points for oil changes and overnight storage of the vehicle.


1: Tighten 3/4-1 Turn

hand tightening oil filter

Tighten the filter properly. This means turning the filter ¾ to 1 full turn after the gasket has met the sealing surface on the engine or oil filter housing. Never under-tighten the filter and never crank it on too tight. It is also wise to lubricate the gasket with some fresh oil before installation. This will prevent the dry nitrile gasket from crimping when tightened.

2: Oil Weight & Viscosity

pouring oil into engine block

Always make sure that the appropriate oil weight and viscosity for cold climates is used – especially if there are extreme temperature swings between seasons. Heavier weights are affected more and flow slower, leading to pressure spikes that could break the oil filter seal. Try to use synthetic lubricants wherever possible, as they’re proven to flow better than conventional lubricants in extremely low temperatures.

3: Heat the Block

engine block heater

Encourage customers to use an engine block heater. Whether or not the vehicle is gasoline or diesel fuel powered doesn’t matter. Although, diesel drivers should always try to plug in during freezing weather, due to the requirement of heavier lubricants. The block heater will ensure that the oil in the engine and filter is able to flow with less resistance when the engine is cold started.