How did engines clean oil before oil filters?

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I remember people draining their old motor oil, and then pouring some kerosene into the crankcase and running the engine briefly to "clean out the sludge". The kerosene would then be drained, and the fresh oil poured in. Typical oil change intervals were 1000 miles. The Kendall trade mark of a hand with two fingers pointing up in a victory sign was to represent that you could run Kendall for 2000 miles.
 
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My 1937 GMC with the Olds 230cid flathead had the optional A.C. filter add on mounted to the firewall otherwise it was drain and fill
 
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Can anyone provide some insight on what any other types of filtration or oil cleaning was used before 1922, when the first Purolator canister filter came out. Below is a timeline I put together from some online reading but would like to see what the BITOG community can add.

Modern Spin on Oil Filter (50's to present)->

Cartridge filters (30's to present) ->

Sealed canister filters (20's to 30's) ->

Sump oil Screens/mesh used before filters? (?? to present) ->

Engine oilers / lubricators (total-loss system) were used to feed friction areas oil on 2 cycle engines (advent of the combustion engine to steam era?)

From what I could gather, screens and meshes were used on Brass Era wet sump engines. Not that those were serviceable, they were just catastrophic failure protection. Those engines that didn't have any protection, that was it, deal with the wear and change your oil often?

For example: The Model A didn't have an engine oil filter, just a screen in the oil pump. The 1903 Olds Runabout was a 2 stroke, used oilers, like hit and miss farm engines and steam engine cylinders.
Cleaning oil back in the day was called another oil change and they OCI were no very long!
 

ZeeOSix

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My very first car had no filter, only a centrifugal oil cleaner and judging by the sludge it collected it seemed to work reasonably effectively.
I know that BMW motorcycle engines a few generations older than mine employed a similar principle. The secret for long engine life was to know that you had to periodically clean these devices because once they filled up, they ceased to work. On the car it was a relatively simple operation of removing a circular plate, but the motorcycle engine needed a substantial strip down.
Lots of the smaller 4-stroke Honda motorcycle engines in the 70s and 80s just had a screen and also the centrifugal cleaner on the end of the crankshaft. I cleaned plenty when I was wrenching at a dealership. Only had to take the clutch cover off, not hard to get to. The centrifugal cleaner usually had some debris in it, so they seemed to work pretty good.
 

ZeeOSix

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I remember people draining their old motor oil, and then pouring some kerosene into the crankcase and running the engine briefly to "clean out the sludge".
Seems like a good way to pump kerosene full of crud through the oiling system, especially if there wasn't much of an oil filter.
 

BlueOvalFitter

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I have seen guys put rolls of toilet paper in some of the 1960's SBC engines with the paper canister filter. It probably was a better filtration system than using today's oil filters multiple times. :rolleyes:
 
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In the mid 20's Willys and other Knight sleeve valve engined cars used a Skinner oil rectifier. It is actually more of a pcv system than a filter but it had to help. It uses vacuum to pull crankcase vapors into the the device where the mess is heated by exhaust heat and in theory moisture and acidic compounds are boiled off and are drawn back into the intake to be burned. The remaining oil drains into the lower half of the unit where it accumulates until there is enough to lift a float valve opening the drain back to the crankcase and shutting off the vacuum source. Once drained the float drops, drain closes , vacuum opens and the process repeats.
 
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My Dad’s 1956 Chevy had an add on oil filter. He still changed oil every 1,000 miles. The engine was re-ringed and valves ground at some point but I remember it rolled past 99,999 miles on the way to the beach for vacation. Cars then didn’t show the sixth digit….
 
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What kind of car was that if you don't mind me asking? I'm interested in seeing what a centrifugal system looks like.
It’s not the same as what’s described here but Mack/Volvo have been using a centrifugal cartridge filter on their engines for years and Paccar does too. My EM7 Mack engine has 2 spin on filters and a centrifugal cartridge. It’s amazing how long the oil “looks” clean after a PM. I believe it’s one reason why Mack engines are so robust. Everything else falls apart on a Paccar it seems like but rarely do you see a lubrication problem.
 
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My Dad’s 1956 Chevy had an add on oil filter. He still changed oil every 1,000 miles. The engine was re-ringed and valves ground at some point but I remember it rolled past 99,999 miles on the way to the beach for vacation. Cars then didn’t show the sixth digit….


My Dad had a 54 Chevy with an oil filter. Apparently it was an add on as you mentioned.

Did yours have that metal can that threaded on to hold the filter? There was a o ring type gasket on top that was the worst part of the job. As you threaded on the canister that thin gasket would go askew and you would have to unscrew it and try again.
 
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My very first car had no filter, only a centrifugal oil cleaner and judging by the sludge it collected it seemed to work reasonably effectively.
I know that BMW motorcycle engines a few generations older than mine employed a similar principle. The secret for long engine life was to know that you had to periodically clean these devices because once they filled up, they ceased to work. On the car it was a relatively simple operation of removing a circular plate, but the motorcycle engine needed a substantial strip down.

One of the most successful motorcycle engines ever made relied on splash lubrication and had a coarse metal screen that figuratively speaking would only stop half bricks.

My first motorized vehicle, a 1968 Honda CB-350 motorcycle also had the centrifugal oil filter. It was easy to access and clean.

As mentioned, those are effective and do need to be cleaned on a regular basis depending on the severity of use.

Z
 
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My Dad had a 54 Chevy with an oil filter. Apparently it was an add on as you mentioned.

Did yours have that metal can that threaded on to hold the filter? There was a o ring type gasket on top that was the worst part of the job. As you threaded on the canister that thin gasket would go askew and you would have to unscrew it and try again.
Yes. Chevy actually used that same setup until 1968. If there was the smallest piece of debris and/or o ring left it would leak. In my opinion those didn’t do much anyway. I think more oil bypassed than got forced through the element.
 
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The engines didn't last very long either. Even with the short OCIs they couldn't go 50k miles without needing to be rebuilt.
My dad's 55 dodge with a small hemi got a rod knock about 80k. He had a mobile mechanic come out, put the car on the curb and he had a machine that turned the rod journal in the car. The repair was very short lived according to my dad.
 
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My Dad had a 54 Chevy with an oil filter. Apparently it was an add on as you mentioned.

Did yours have that metal can that threaded on to hold the filter? There was a o ring type gasket on top that was the worst part of the job. As you threaded on the canister that thin gasket would go askew and you would have to unscrew it and try again.
Our '54 Chevy (listed below) had the optional oil filter, connected through hoses. At every change, roughly a cup of old oil had to be suctioned out of the filter housing. The gasket for the cover was flat, not an O-ring, and functioned reliably every time, assuming reasonable care installing it.
. Chevy actually used that same setup until 1968. If there was the smallest piece of debris and/or o ring left it would leak. In my opinion those didn’t do much anyway. I think more oil bypassed than got forced through the element.
Well, it was a bypass filter, so, by design, only a fraction of pump output passed through the filter.

Late in the car's life a then-new hose to the oil filter blew up. That was reasonably exciting---and messy.
 

ZeeOSix

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Here's the info in the OM on a Honda XR200R centrifugal oil cleaner. They call it the "Oil filter rotor". The OM says to clean it every 1,000 miles, but after break-in they didn't seem to load up that fast.

20221107_194627-1.jpg

20221107_194705-1.jpg
 
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