Early oil filter designs
Early oil filter designs were based on a replaceable element fitted inside a metal housing. When changing the filter, one removed the housing, discarded the element, cleaned the housing, added a new filter and re-installed the assembly to the engine. By the mid-20th century, spin-on filters gained popularity. Here, the filter element and the cartridge are self-contained. You simply remove the works, discard it, and screw on a new filter during the oil change process. Today, there's been a move back to the earlier oil filter design. In this system, oil is filtered through an element contained within a separate housing, because the replaceable filter element may be more environmentally conscious than a spin-on filter. Keep in mind that today's motor vehicles require far fewer oil changes than those of yesteryear.
Today’s oil filter types
There are many types of oil filters available today, and there is likely an equally large number of tests in which various filters are cut apart and diagnosed. The truth is, all oil filters are not created equal. The bottom line: You usually get what you pay for.
But are there any real differences between standard filters, high-performance filters, face filters, and synthetic filters? Absolutely.
You have to first consider the mission of the motor vehicle. Case-in-point is a racecar. Here is something that will seldom, if ever, experience cold starts (in many cases, the oil is warmed prior to starting). Oil is changed frequently, simply because the engines are inspected and regularly disassembled. Oil in racecar engines was once far thicker than that found in passenger cars, but today it's just the opposite. Racers have discovered the benefits of light oil.
Without going into detail, it's not uncommon to find race engines filled with oil as light as zero grade. Racing filters are engineered to work with those oils. Some race filters are not fitted with drain back valves.
On the other hand, many racing oil filters are engineered with an internal media that is resistant to high temperatures and water levels in the oil that can plug standard oil filter media types. Many racing oil filters are engineered to provide high levels of oil flow with low restriction. Certain racing oil filters engineered for use in endurance applications (for example, 12- or 24-hour races) contain a different media that is designed to trap smaller contaminants.
Some race or high-performance filters are built with more robust cases to protect against damage from track debris. Heavier baseplates are also incorporated in some of these filters. This ensures that the filter body does not flex under high-pressure conditions. Some are constructed so they can be safety-wired to prevent accidental loosening. A few of the high-performance filters also incorporate rolled threads instead of cut threads to ensure the filter doesn't strip during installation.