Toyota Tacoma Oil Filter Comparison
This is not an official Toyota comparison - this is just something we cooked up in the Olathe Toyota parts department. Please see the notes section for more details.
Many Tacoma owners run full synthetic oil because they understand that oil has a big impact on engine life. While the benefits of running synthetic oil are well documented, there's not nearly enough information out there on the impact of an oil filter on engine life.
Yet it stands to reason that your oil is only as good as the filter - if you run a premium oil, and then a cheap filter that doesn't function correctly, your oil could get dirty too quickly and/or oil flow could be restricted.
We've tried to help Tacoma owners determine for themselves which filter is best by comparing eight different Tacoma oil filters using the following criteria:
- Filter canister surface area - More surface area equals more oil cooling, which in turn improves engine cooling
- Filter medium size and total surface area - More filter surface area means there's a lower possibility of restricted oil flow in the filter
- Filter medium thickness and density - Thickness and density effect filter performance
- Filter medium microscopic analysis - While not very actionable, it is very interesting
- General observations about production quality, country of origin, etc., and
While we hope you find our comparison useful and interesting, the following must be noted: No filter comparison is complete without filter medium performance data. Unfortunately, determining the performance of a specific medium is nearly impossible without expensive testing equipment, and even then certain assumptions must be made (more about that below).
Overall, we think the comparison data we've pulled together will shine some light on the different filters and, at the very least, give any truck owner who changes their own oil some good oil filter background info.
Oil Filter Design 101
Before we get to the comparison data, we need to discuss a few aspects of oil filter design. First, it's important to understand that it takes pressure to drive oil through a filter. If, for example, we're driving down the highway, our oil system might be operating near 40psi. In order to filter that oil, we need to use some of that 40lbs of pressure to "push" our oil through the filter material (aka filter medium).
As you can imagine, pushing oil through a filter is a lot like pouring water through a coffee filter: if you try to pour too much oil too quickly, the filter can't keep up. When oil can't flow through the filter, it's driven through a bypass valve instead, the thinking being that unfiltered oil is better for your engine than no oil at all. On most vehicles, the bypass valve is activated when:
- The engine oil is too viscous to flow through the filter quickly, typically at vehicle start-up when oil is cold
- The engine is at or near wide open throttle, and the rate of flow in the oil system exceeds the flow rate of the filter
- The oil filter has become so dirty that oil can no longer flow through the filter medium (obviously, this is bad)
On the 4.0L Tacoma (and on most vehicles, in fact), the bypass valve is integrated into the filter canister. This is an important point to understand, as a poorly functioning bypass valve can cause oil flow restrictions and potentially result in a situation where the engine doesn't have enough oil (if only for a few seconds). On many of the filter assemblies we examined, the bypass valves were in a word - awful. While the OEM Toyota filter, Fram filter, and MicroGard filters all used a similar spring-activated plunger, lower quality filters didn't include a bypass valve per se. Instead, these low quality filters rely upon the system oil pressure increasing enough to force the oil past the drainback valve.
On the other end of the spectrum, filters from K&N and Wix used a very clever bypass valve design that seems to be every bit as functional as the OEM filter's bypass valve (and likely better).
However, there's more to filters than bypass valves. It's also important to know that there are trade offs in oil filter medium design. For example, you can use a filter medium that can screen out 99% of the particles as small as 2 microns, but what happens when the engine is running at full throttle? A filter medium that's too restrictive won't filter any oil at all, because the oil will just flow right past the restrictive, slow-flowing filter and instead go through the bypass valve.
On the other hand, it's been shown that particles as small as 2 microns contribute to engine wear. What's an oil filter designer to do? If they use a material that's too restrictive, the oil just bypasses the filter. If they emphasize flow rate over filtration capabilities, the filter is less effective at cleaning the oil.
Obviously, there is a compromise between filtration and flow rate. Yet common sense also tells us that filters with larger surface area are able to flow more oil and/or last longer between oil changes.
Finally, it's important to note that oil filter canisters have a small engine cooling effect. Oil filter canisters are generally exposed to ambient air, which means they can radiate heat from the oil, which in turn means the oil can absorb more heat from the engine as it travels through the system. Therefore, all things being equal, larger canisters are better for your engine than small canisters.
Our Oil Filter Comparison Method
Our comparison method seeks to relatively determine how well oil can flow through a particular medium based on:
- the surface area of the filter medium - more surface area means better flow
- the density of the filter medium relative to the OEM filter
- the microscopic view of the filter mediums, specifically looking for distribution, consistency, and void space
Additionally, we'll look at some miscellaneous other factors that indicate manufacturing quality, and of course price.
There are a couple of problems with our comparison. First, the scale we used to measure weight isn't terribly accurate. Therefore, our density figures are estimates only...they're useful relative to on another, but you wouldn't want to use our density numbers for your own analysis. Second, without testing the performance of each filter medium in a wide range of pressures, with and without contaminants, and also at different temperatures, it's hard to know which filter is truly best. The average vehicle can generate oil pressures as high as 70psi and as low as 10psi, operate in temperatures from the arctic to the desert, and generate all kinds of contaminants - which filter does the best in all the possible scenarios? Obviously, that kind of testing is not an easy thing to do, and certainly beyond the scope of this effort.
Finally, you'll note that we're using the Toyota OEM standard filter as our benchmark. To be clear, this isn't because we're in the business of selling Toyota oil filters...it's because we believe Toyota wouldn't sell a filter that didn't meet their minimum standards. While that may be an incorrect assumption, we think it's reasonable.
Of the filters we compared, the OEM filter medium is definitely the most fabric like...very similar to the material we found on the Tundra OEM filter in our Tundra oil filter comparison. However, at 150x magnification, it's hard to see much difference between any of the filter mediums. It seemed clear to us during our tests that the filter medium used in the Wix, K&N, and OEM filters was a step above the others in terms of quality because it was less paper-like, less crumbly when cut, and generally more sturdy feeling. However, how a filter medium "feels" and how it performs are two different things, so it seems the microscopic data is inconclusive.
Filter Comparison Data
In no particular order...
|Model No.||Price Paid||Country of Manufacture||Dry Weight (grams)||Outer Diameter (mm)||Height (mm)||Canister Thickness (mm)||Cut Cap Surface Area (calculated, cm2)||Anti-Drainback Valve||Bypass Valve|
|SuperTech||ST3614||$2.84||USA||188||74.25||78.05||0.33||230.96||Black rubber||Very poor quality. Oil would flow past drainback valve at high enough pressures b/c entire cartridge would move away from oil flow.|
|Toyota Standard OEM||90915-YZZD3||$4.33||Thailand||265||74.12||99.74||0.42||279.59||Black rubber||Spring-loaded plunger at end of cartridge|
|Wix||51348||$6.99||USA||253||74.21||83.58||0.39||238.63||Red rubber with grooves||Integrated between drainback valve and cartridge. Very slick.|
|Bosch||3330||$6.99||USA||253||75.36||83.87||0.35||245.32||Red rubber||Torsion-type spring plunger at end of cartridge. Very hard to depress.|
|ACDelco||PF53||$5.99||USA||189||74.46||79.8||0.33||230.96||Same as SuperTech||Same as SuperTech|
|MicroGard||MGL3614||$3.59||USA||209||76.17||84.34||0.38||249.74||Black rubber||Slightly less expensive version of spring/plunger at the end of the canister found on the OEM filter|
|Fram High Mileage||HM3614||$7.99||USA||237||76.32||85.91||0.4||255.24||Black rubber||Nearly identical to bypass on MicroGard|
|K&N Gold||HP-1002||$13.99||USA||351||76.38||85.91||0.47||256.36||Red rubber with grooves||Built into the bottom plate on the filter cartridge. This is probably why this filter is more expensive and also heavier (only extra metal at end of canister is 40 or so grams)|
|Cartridge Assembly (Insert inside filter canister)|
|End Cap Material||Length (mm)||No. of Pleats||Pleat Depth (mm)||Total Filter Area (cm2)||Thickness of Filter Material (mm)||Density of Filter Material (calculated, g/cm3)|
|Toyota Standard OEM||N/A - No end caps||80.34||43||20.14||1391.5||1.04||0.20|
|Fram High Mileage||Cloth-like cardboard||60.75||39||14.45||684.7||0.92||0.17|
1) The SuperTech Filter
General Observations: As the least expensive filter on the list (SuperTech is a WalMart brand), there's nothing miraculous to say here...but it's definitely not the worst filter of the bunch. You could definitely do worse.
Flaws We Found: The biggest flaws in this filter are the lack of a bypass valve and the cheaply manufactured cartridge. Sadly, neither of these things make this the worse filter of the bunch.
The SuperTech filter does technically have a bypass valve. Sort of. If the pressure in the canister is high enough, the pressure on incoming oil will push the anti-drainback valve back, which will push the cartridge back, which will flex the spring at the end of the canister and create a bypass. The concern with this type of design is that either a) it won't work very well, and the engine will be starved for oil at W.O.T. or at cold start, or b) that the bypass will work too easily and oil won't get filtered as much as we'd like.
Still the SuperTech isn't the only filter without a "real" bypass valve. The ACDelco filter uses the same cheap setup, and in all fairness the more expensive filters utilize a similar principle...albeit in a much better form.
Verdict: Considering the price and the fact that it's not the worst filter we looked at, it's not terrible. But it's definitely not the number one option here either.
2) The Standard OEM Filter
General Observations: The most notable difference between the OEM filter and all the others is the size - the Toyota filter has both the longest canister body and the biggest cartridge - in terms of outer diameter, length, and pleat depth. This means the OEM filter media has the largest surface area of any filter we looked at - nearly twice as big as many competitors, in fact.
Another big difference is that the OEM filter cartridge doesn't have any end caps. Unlike the competing filters (all of which use either a metal or fiber endcap to hold pleats), the entire filter surface would seem to be usable. In order to keep oil from slipping past the ends of the filter cartridge, there's a metal sleeve that attaches to the anti-drainback valve on one end and the bypass valve on the other. Additionally, each end of the pleats are glued together.
When you look at the microscopic views, it's pretty clear that Toyota's filter medium is more fabric like than the others, and this was also noticed when we cut out some filter material. The Toyota filter material is definitely the sturdiest of all the filters we took apart, but it's unknown if that's a good thing (it may have no impact). Finally, in keeping with the tenets of the Toyota production system, the specs on the OEM filters we tested matched up almost exactly.
Flaws We Found: First, the cartridge has a "super pleat" on the filter medium seam - two different pleats are glued together (note: superpleats are counted as one pleat rather than two). Second, the open ends mean that, if some of the glue holding the pleat ends together wasn't applied correctly, oil would be able to sneak by without filtration. Of course, this assumes that they aren't glued properly, and that wasn't something we saw in the filter we took apart.
Verdict: There's no denying that the size of this filter results in better engine cooling ability and, in all likelihood, high filter flow rates (perhaps the highest). Toyota uses a a fairly inexpensive-looking bypass valve, but we think it's safe to assume this valve is adequate. Considering the low price of the OEM filter when compared to all the other filters we looked at, the OEM filter seems like a very good value.
3) The Wix Filter
General Observations: Wix filters generally perform well in Internet oil filter comparisons like this one (see notes section for some links). This comparison is no different - the Wix has a very solid combination of a quality anti-drainback valve (red silicone rubber) and a cleverly designed bypass valve.
The bypass valve on the Wix (and the K&N) uses a thick o-ring mounted at the end of a spring inside a small metal cylinder. When the external pressure on this o-ring is high enough, it compresses the spring and opens up a gap that oil can flow through right near the front of the canister. This type of bypass valve would seem to be the most expensive, mostly because it requires more assembly and greater manufacturing tolerances than the plunger-type design used on the OEM filter (or at least that's our opinion).
Of all the filters we looked at, the filter medium used in the Wix most closely resembles the filter medium in the OEM filter. This would seem to be a good thing, as the OEM filter material was definitely the sturdiest of the bunch. While sturdy filter material might not matter much, it seems logical that stronger filter fibers hold up better during prolonged filter use. Combined with metal endcaps, this seems like a very sturdy filter.
One other note: The metal sleeve inside the Wix has a large spiral groove that supposedly increase flow rate...which seems hard to imagine. Fluids flow in what is called a 'no-slip' condition, which means that spiraling the inside of a filter isn't going to have nearly as much impact on flow as spiraling the inside of a gun barrel has on the speed and stability of a bullet. According to an interview we did on TundraHeadquarters.com with K&N filter engineer Bert Heck (see interview here), K&N doesn't focus on sprialing and instead tries to maximize the number of holes in the sleeve inside the filter...so it might just be a gimmick.
Flaws We Found: The metal end caps on the filter cartridge present two problems. First, the pleat spacing is pretty uneven...more than half the pleats are on one side of the cartridge, with some of them so close together that it's hard to envision them flowing a lot of oil. Additionally, the end caps are 7mm tall, and the filter medium that sits inside each cap probably doesn't flow a lot of oil.
The other area of concern is that the Wix filter medium is both thin (second thinnest in our comparison) and low density when compared to the OEM material. Again, if we assume that the OEM filter meets or exceeds all of Toyota's minimum requirements, we have to wonder about filters that would seem to do less filtration...assuming of course that density and material thickness have anything to do with filtration ability (they may not). Wix publishes beta ratios for this filter on their website (learn about beta ratios here), and they rate this particular unit at 50% efficiency for particles larger than 6 microns, 95% efficiency for particles larger than 20 microns (and that's excellent compared to the Tundra filter that Wix offers).
Verdict: The problems with the Wix filter are the uneven pleat spacing, the thinner and lighter filter material, and the thick end caps that decrease the effective surface area. The strong points are that the Wix still has the second largest surface area, a quality anti-drainback valve, and a very clever bypass valve. Despite the uneven pleats, the Wix filter's beta ratios are solid and it definitel seems like a good choice.
4) The Bosch Filter
General Observations: Before we cracked open the canister and really started looking over the innards, the Bosch filter was off to a good start. The cartridge end caps are metal, the anti-drainback valve seems to be of good quality, and the total surface area of the filter medium is second only to the OEM filter. Unfortunately, we found corrosion (aka rust!) inside the filter in a place where it would almost certainly pass into the engine. Flakes of rust flowing through the oil system aren't desirable - not one little bit.
Flaws We Found: There were two. First, we have the corrosion (more on that in a minute). Second, we have the bypass valve. It uses a torsion-type spring that is very, very difficult to depress with your bare hands when compared to the bypass valve springs found on competing models. While it could be that the Bosch bypass valve spring loosens up when it's surrounded by hot motor oil, it could also be that the bypass valve sticks. And, even if the valve operates better at warm temperatures, that still presents a problem at cold start when the bypass valve is sorely needed.
As for the corrosion we found inside this filter, there are a few possibilities. First, it's possible that our cartridge sat on the shelf for a long, long time. This seems likely, as the box was pretty dusty. Second, it could be that the filter was contaminated at some point, but this seems less likely because the corrosion occurred under the anti-drainback valve (which sort of attaches to the metal). If someone spilled Pepsi inside the filter and put it back on the shelf, it seems unlikely it would collect inside a tight-fitting rubber (or silicone) ring. Third, it could just be bad luck that this Bosch filter contained rust. An isolated manufacturing problem that made it's way into our comparison and nothing more.
Still, for what it's worth, there was a lot of excess glue on the outside of the cartridge assembly, and that's not something that would have been added after the fact. It seems that, based on the sloppy application of the glue and the uneven pleat spacing, there just might be a quality concern with these filters that manifested itself into rust.
Or maybe not - hard to say.
Verdict: To be clear, we're not saying that Bosch filters are bad...we're just saying that the one we opened was. If you're comfortable assuming that this was an isolated incident that could happen to any filter, then the Bosch filter seems like an OK choice...only the bypass valve isn't the nicest one in the comparison.
5) The ACDelco Filter
General Observations: Opening up the box, we're greeted with a beautiful blue piece of metal, easily the best-looking filter of the bunch. However, cracking open the canister, we find a filter that is in almost all ways identical to the SuperTech (Wal-Mart brand) oil filter. The only difference? There's more filter medium in the ACDelco filter.
Flaws We Found: Just like the SuperTech filter, the bypass valve is a bit of a joke here. It technically works, but it's not something we would choose over the other options listed.
What's more, the SuperTech filter was actually put together better than the ACDelco. The ACDelco's pleats were uneven in terms of both spacing and length, making the filter cartridge look very much like a misfit toy. The filter medium in the ACDelco filter is also the thinnest of all the filter mediums we looked at. Thinner is better when it comes to flow rate, but it's not necessarily better when it comes to filtration...or at least that would be the logical assumption. Without testing, we're just guessing on flow rates vs. filtration.
Verdict: It's hard to imagine a filter with lower manufacturing tolerances, and it's more than a surprise to see ACDelco selling parts that could just as easily be found on a shelf at your local Wal-Mart. For these reasons - and the fact that the ACDelco filter we bought was more than twice as much as the Wal-Mart filter, we feel pretty comfortable saying that this is the worst filter of the bunch.
6) The MicroGard Filter
General Observations: The MicroGard filter is good as far as we can tell, but also very average. On the plus side, it uses the same type of bypass valve and anti-drainback valve as the OEM filter and it's the second most inexpensive filter we evaluated. However, while there's nothing notably bad about this filter, there's nothing notably good about it either. It's near the bottom of the pack in filter medium surface area, it uses inexpensive materials (cardboard-like fabric cartridge end caps and low-density paper for a filter), and it suffers from the same uneven pleat spacing problem found on some of the other filters we looked at.
Flaws We Found: The only flaws are the uneven pleat spacing and the presence of a "super pleat," aka two pleats glued together. Both of these flaws are typical.
Verdict: For the price, it's not bad. However, considering that an extra $0.50 would buy an OEM filter with more than twice the filter surface area, there's no reason to recommend this filter over the OEM unit. *NOTE: In our Tundra filter comparison, we learned that the MicroGard filter for the Tundra 4.6/5.7 was identical to the Fram filter for the same model. It could be that MicroGard is simply a re-branded Fram filter produced for O'Reilly auto parts.
7) The Fram High Mileage filter
General Observations: The box the Fram oil filter comes in is one of the nicest in the bunch, and it includes cellophane wrapping which (we assume) keeps the gel-like substance hidden inside the cartridge from drying out. This substance looks like motor oil gel, and according to the box it's a "time released oil renewal" additive that helps your oil perform better (or last longer) between changes. Philosophically, anything that prolongs the time between oil changes has questionable utility, but let's assume that this Fram additive is a value add.
In addition to the gel-filled puck, we also have a black coating on the outside surface of the top-half of the canister. The purpose of this coating - which looks and feels a lot like the polyurethane coating used for truck spray-in bedliners - is not clear. Is the coating supposed to help protect the filter canister, or to make removal easier, or is it just for looks? If it's just for looks, that would be disapointing, as it seems like this coating would act like a thermal insulator. Putting insulation on the outside of an oil filter decreases it's cooling abilities, and that's not a good thing.
Fram's website says that their high mileage filters are 95% efficient at capturing particles which are 20 microns or larger, only this rating is for three specific sizes of filter, none of which fit the Tacoma. While it's safe to assume that the tested sizes are representative of all Fram filters, it's not a certainty...it may be that this filter isn't as good as the three sizes Fram brags about.
One other note: the bypass valve on this filter is nearly identical to the one on the MicroGard filter, which is further evidence that MicroGard (an O'Reilly store brand) is nothing more than a Fram filter in a different box.
Flaws We Found: It might not be a flaw, but what's the sense in adding a gel to your oil? If this gel is semi-solid at room temperature, doesn't that mean it's going to be semi-solid when your engine is cold? If not, how does the gel transition from semi-solid to liquid? Does it rob moisture (not the right word but you know what I mean) from the surrounding oil in order to dissolve and become liquid?
Secondly, if flow rate is so important in filter design, how does a solid plastic piece sitting directly in the path of return oil flow boost flow rates?
Third, considering the higher price of this filter, we'd like to see pleat spacing that was much more even (Wix and OEM filters have better spacing) and metal end caps instead of fiber/cardboard end caps. It's not that fiber end caps are necessarily bad, but other manufacturers use metal at a similar price point.
Verdict: There are concerns about the wisdom of adding a gel pocket to an oil filter, but even if we give Fram the benefit of the doubt here, the plastic puck that delivers the gel seems like an obvious impediment to oil flow. Since flow rate is a primary design concern, this seems like a major flaw.
8) The K&N Performance Gold Filter
General Observations: The first thing that will jump out at your about this filter is its' heft. The K&N almost weighs as much as two Wal-Mart brand filters, and there are two reasons for that. First, there's a nut on the end of the canister that allows you to wrench it off. Since it's best to change oil when it's dangerously hot (dangerous to human skin), a wrench-off filter is a nice feature.
The second reason for the heft of this filter is that the bypass valve is integrated into the filter cartridge, making for a very nice one-piece design. While it's not clear if this is truly a benefit in terms of performance, it certainly makes a lot of sense. The bypass valve itself uses the same o-ring-on-a-spring-inside-a-housing setup that Wix uses on their filter.
This filter also uses the red rubber (or silicone) anti-drainback valve that's definitely an upgrade over the valves found in the other filters, and the low density of the filter media (along with the quality bypass valve) indicates this filter is made to flow oil as fast as possible.
Flaws We Found: First, the spacing between the pleats isn't quite perfect. While this is a common issue (and perhaps not a big deal), it seems like a $14 filter ought to be pretty flawless.
According to the box, in addition to the wrench-off feature, K&N's filter is more expensive because it uses a heavy gauge canister that is more burst resistant. There are a couple of problems with this claim: First, the thickness of the canister (.47mm) isn't much more than the OEM Toyota filter (0.42mm) or the Fram high mileage (0.40mm). Second, when exactly would an oil filter burst open? While it's certainly feasible in a racing situation, it's hard to imagine it happening on your run-of-the-mill Tacoma -- especially if that Tacoma is running with a stock oil pump. While it's true that a thicker canister doesn't hurt, it probably adds cost to a filter that's already very pricey. In that sense, it's not an advantage (at least not for most people).
Finally, most filters that promise the ability to trap 99% of contaminants (as this filter does) include some sort of ISO testing data to support and qualify this statement. It's a bit suspicious that K&N doesn't offer any beta ratios on their website, nor do they have an ISO testing standards listed.
Verdict: Despite the gripes about uneven pleat spacing, unnecessary features, and no testing data, there's every reason to believe this is a great filter. The integrated bypass valve sets it apart, and the rest of the filter's specs are average or above. Still, when it comes right down to it, the Wix filter is nearly as nice as the K&N for half the price, and the Toyota OEM filter has significantly more filter surface area for even less than the Wix. If we were racing, this filter's high-tech bypass valve would be the first choice. If we're cruising to and from work, the grocery, picking up the kids, etc., this filter is probably overkill.
While we very much like the Wix and K&N filters, let's do the math. The Wix and K&N are both a) smaller (in terms of filter surface area) and b) more expensive than the Toyota OEM filter (at least if you buy the OEM filter online). While it seems possible that the bypass valve in the Wix and K&N filters performs a bit better than the OEM filter's bypass valve, it seems highly unlikely that Toyota would produce a filter with an inadequate bypass valve. After all, these are the exact same filters that Toyota puts on a brand new engine. Toyota has to warranty their new engines against problems for 5 years or 60k miles. If Toyota's oil filter bypass valves were inadequate, the cost of replacing or repairing engines damaged by constrained oil flow due to faulty bypass valves would seem to be higher than the cost of a decent bypass valve (we're talking about a few cents per filter here). Critics may argue that this comparison is biased because we came to this conclusion, but the surface area numbers speak for themselves:
There's no getting around the fact that you can flow more oil through a bigger filter.
Therefore, our conclusion is pretty simple: if you can find a Wix or K&N filter for the same cost as an OEM Toyota filter, you should think about buying it. Otherwise, based on the pricing we found, the Toyota OEM filter seems like the smart choice.
1. This isn't an official Toyota comparison - this is something we did here at Olathe Toyota Parts. We hired Jason Lancaster, editor of