Oil filters while not normally that expensive, can add up over time.

Everyone of us has to choose the right oil and change it every so often. Regardless if you pay a mechanic to do it or do it your self, with that comes the expense of changing the oil filter. Oil filters while not normally that expensive, can add up over time. Which has some people turning to re-useable billet oil filters. As we learned from talking with the experts at Canton Racing Products and K&N Filters, the billet oil filters might be the best looking and most cost effective option.

Functional Underhood Bling

One of Canton Racing Products re-useable billet oil filters

Mechanically-minded people appreciate function, but still generally agree that an XK-E Roadster is more beautiful than a Hummer. The same is true under the hood. Clean lines, obvious functionality, and that je ne sais quoi – shine – add up to visual interest and appreciation. In short, “shiny” is everybody’s favorite color.

Still, it’s ultimately performance most of us seek. Today, nobody trades bling for bang, in a performance-oriented world. Bang first, then bling. But it’s good if there’s both. At first glance the re-useable billet oil filters capture both functionality and a great visual appearance, but lets take a closer look at how exactly they work and determine if they are a good option for your beloved ride’s powerplant.

Understanding Oil Better

Before we get into the billet oil filters, lets first make sure we understand why we need oil. While most all of us understand that parts that move against each other need lubrication, many forget that oil serves other purposes too. It also provides significant cooling, carries off impurities, contaminants, and byproducts of combustion and friction.

Dirty oil is full of particles of carbon, iron, aluminum, copper, brass, and even steel. Environmental pollutants like dust, sand, and dirt, act more like a cutting fluid when combined with oil. Just as your sandpaper cuts cleaner and better when it’s wet, so does oil help these bad influences to do the job on your engine components.

Eighty years ago, plain bearings made of soft babbit absorbed many small particulates, shielding the crank and rods from damage. Fifty years ago, harder materials like bronze formed into thinner bearings, made extended life possible under higher compression. Today, some ultra-performance engines run without rod and crank bearings as we know them, steels and exotics are separated only by an oil film.

These developments have made engines smaller and more powerful, and more-dependent on good lubrication. Both the design of the engines and evolving oil technology have escalated to the point where, even with hyper-critical lubrication needs, modern systems and modern lubricants can stand up to the task.

But that works only if the oil is clean and at the right temperature. Oil is designed to work best within a certain temperature range. Too hot and it breaks down; too cool and it doesn’t do the job, even while robbing horsepower and putting undue pressure on pumps, lines, even on your oil filter.

Beyond The Billet – The Filter

The insides of both the K&N and Canton Billet Oil Filters

Anything that allows oil to pass, while stopping contaminants, can serve as a filter. The area through which oil passes, determines the pressure drop and amount of power the oil pump will use. When you open your oil filter you will see a LOT of pleated material, sometimes surrounded by screening. Some filtering materials do a better job than others. Cotton, paper, even toilet paper rolls, have been used in oil filters. Stable materials with small pores do a good job of filtering.

Jeff Behuniak of Canton Racing Products explained to us that Canton’s billet oil filters utilize a Cellulose fiber that is formed into sheets that makes an efficient filtering material, “Our cellulose-based non-pleated woven-depth elements allow 98% flow at 8 microns or roughly three ten thousandths of an inch.” For really dirty environments, Canton offers a stainless steel crucible element that’s cleanable, and filters down to 40 microns (about .0016”, slightly bigger than the grit on 400-grit sandpaper).

K&N's billet oil filter completely disassembled.

Tips From Canton and K&N On How To Inspect And Clean Your Washable Performance Oil Filter:

1. Oil filter should be cleaned per OEM specified service interval in conjunction with specified drain intervals by the lubricant supplier.

2. Place a drain pan beneath the filter. Remove the canister. Grasp the Stainless Steel Filter Element and rotate and pull down to slide it off the O-Ring in the mounting flange. Remove ByPass assembly from the inside of the element.

3. Rinse the Canister, O-Rings and Bypass. Hand wipe, inspect all O-Rings and replace if damaged. Viton O-Rings will last many years unless cut or otherwise damaged.

4. Do not use BrakeKleen or Carb Cleaner on O-Rings. The element can now be washed in a clean (new fluid) biodegradable parts washer or with filter cleaner. Wash element from inside out. Rinse and if available, use compressed air to blow off any cleaning agent from your stainless steel filter element. Again, blow from inside out. Otherwise, shake and allow to completely air dry before re-installing.

5. Hold your stainless mesh element to the light to ensure that it is completely clean. If it has particles in the element, return it to the wash area and clean again. Some debris may require multiple flushing to extract.

Canton’s billet filters are available in three lengths, to accommodate nearly any requirement. Their elements can be Canton’s own cellulose or other aftermarket units. Canton also offers a stainless-steel screen, for specialized applications like operation in hyper-dirty environments and new-engine first runs. This application is where you want to catch whatever’s left over from the machining and assembly, plus anything that may get loose, all that happens in the early running of any new engine.

A clean filter flows well. It’s when tiny particles get trapped in the filter that flow decreases, as there are physically fewer openings for the liquid to flow through. Behuniak notes that, “Using a physically bigger filter allows fine filtration without dropping pressure too much. For operation in really dirty environments, a big filter may be necessary; for small engines, engines where the oil is changed frequently, engines that are run in clean environments and that are well broken-in, and engines that do not need the extra cooling afforded by larger filters, small filters are ideal. They save space and weight (in both the assembly and the oil that’s in it), and do all the filtering that’s necessary. Further, their replacement elements are less-expensive, encouraging more-frequent oil changes.”

Steve Gibson, who is the Program Coordinator for Education at K&N Engineering, noted that their reuseable air filter is what eventually led them to a reuseable billet oil filter, “K&N has been known for our reusable air filters for years, so it was only natural that we follow up with a reusable oil filter,” Gibson said. “With one or two, rare-earth magnets, they attract ferrous contaminants, and overall provide the same protection as a standard oil filter, in a cleanable, reusable design.”

Gibson noted that the T-304 stainless steel mesh element is stable and less susceptible to pressure changes than traditional pleated elements; the new filters have a comparable life between cleanings [or, in the case of traditional filters, replacement]; and offer far less restriction than a standard oil filter.

Standard Maintenance

The first time you use a pleated filter element on any new engine, and at reasonable intervals thereafter, it’s a good idea to open that filter and look at what it caught. Both K&N and Canton explained to us that a single analysis wouldn’t tell much, however an examination at regular intervals would explain better what was happening inside the engine.

K&N has been known for our reusable air filters for years, so it was only natural that we follow up with a reusable oil filter – Steve Gibson

Because the filter housing is heavy hard-anodized aluminum, it stays with the vehicle for a long time. Cleaning it (swabbing it out with a clean rag) is the first part of routine maintenance. Then use soap and water, to remove all oil and traces of filtration material; and make sure everything is dry before reassembly.

“It’s very easy to clean,” Gibson went on to tell us. “The cap is threaded; we use a machine-knurled top ring to get a good grip, since it tightens in use, just like a spin-on filter. You lift out the center section with the element, inspect the O-rings, and clean it with soap and water.” You can also clean the (stainless ball, stainless spring) bypass valve with soap and water. Rinse and dry everything, lubricate the O-rings with clean oil, re-thread the cap, and you’re done.

Conclusion:

Ultimately, the initial cost is a bit spendy, but it’s a one-time thing; elements are roughly the same cost as a common spin-on filter. Off-the-shelf replacement elements may work, but Jeff Behuniak at Canton makes no recommendations on these substitutions. He warns that “most aftermarket elements also do not offer the fine filtration available with the Canton proprietary elements.”

In sum, billet oil filters offer big advantages. They’re reliable: way sturdier than typical spin-on units. They’re hard to dent and have a higher explosion pressure. The heavy-gauge aluminum can adds burst strength and also helps dissipate heat… Performance bling – the best of both worlds.