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An exhaust is an integral part of how your car works. It’s easy to take your exhaust and how it performs for granted. When it starts to go faulty the performance of your car will nosedive and if it breaks completely then your car might not work at all. In fact, a faulty exhaust can lead to damage to other parts of your car too.
Finding the best car exhaust can be a challenge. There are so many models out there that the market can be incredibly confusing for someone that doesn’t know what they are looking for. Luckily for you, we have an in-depth guide that will go through everything you need to know about car exhausts. This includes:
- What an exhaust does
- The different parts of a car exhaust
- Things to look out for when buying a car exhaust
- Different types of exhausts that are available
- Review of the best exhausts you can buy
By the end, you will have a thorough understanding of car exhaust systems and be prepared with all the information you need to go out and buy one.
Up Front Best Exhaust for your Car
- Flowmaster 817692 Outlaw Stainless Steel: Thunderous Noise Option
- MBRP S7264AL 3″ Cat Back: Best Overall
Best Axle-Back Exhaust Systems
- Flowmaster 817511: Aggressive Rumbling Sound Option
- DC Sports SCS6013 Axle-Back Exhaust System: Fantastic Sound Option
What does a car exhaust do?
The exhaust on your car plays a vital function in the smooth running of your vehicle as well as the safety of yourself and your passengers.
To keep things simple, a car exhaust has four primary functions:
- Noise control – all the reactions that happen to make your car move are loud and your exhaust helps to muffle these sounds to a more acceptable level
- Performance improvement – an efficient exhaust allows gases to leave the system more resourcefully which means your vehicle will perform better overall
- An outlet for fumes – one of the main functions of your exhaust is safety and it allows for the safe evacuation of fumes and gases from your car
- Better fuel consumption – a good exhaust will also help to maintain fuel efficiency so your costs and environmental impact will be lower
Driving around without an exhaust system will not only be noisy and potentially very dangerous but it will also be illegal as your car will be in a defective state and won’t conform to vehicle emissions laws. So, your car exhaust is important to not only the smooth running of your car but also for safety reasons as well.
What are the different parts of a car exhaust?
You might not know this but your car exhausts are about three-quarters of the length of your car. Not many people see the underneath of their vehicle so they will probably never actually see their exhaust system in full. In most cases, there are six components that make up your standard car exhaust system.
First things first, the exhaust manifold is the component which links to the engine in your car. All those gases that are produced by your engine are collected by the exhaust manifold and transported through the system and then eventually released out the back of your car via the tailpipe.
This component is one of the parts of your exhaust which can be prone to faults as it is exposed to the high pressure and heat that is emitted from the car engine. Over time the manifold can crack which then results in small holes being formed. This results in a rattling noise and can cause your whole exhaust system to fail.
Next up is the oxygen sensor that is found on the side of something called the catalytic converter (see below). This job of this component is pretty straightforward – it is there to measure the level of oxygen in the system.
Why is this important? Well, it helps to increase or decrease how much fuel is being put through the system based on how hard the person driving the car is pressing on the accelerator. It ensures that the required amount of fuel is used.
All the components that make up an exhaust are important however the catalytic convertor plays a particularly valuable role. Its job is to ‘clean’ the gases that are produced by the system and cut down on the impact of some of the harmful components that are emitted.
Catalytic Converters generally work by converting toxins such as hydrocarbons, carbon monoxide as well as oxygen into water and carbon dioxide. These are required to be present on a vehicle in most places by law.
Diesel Particulate Filter
Diesel cars don’t just emit the gases that we have already mentioned but they also give out miniature soot particles and this is why a diesel particulate filter is present. What this does is filter out the larger soot particles which are simply leftover from the process of combustion that happens in your engine.
If this filter wasn’t part of the car exhaust system then your engine would produce hydrocarbons and other harmful gases which has a negative impact on both the environment and your health.
Basically, your engine produces a lot of noise. The combustion and chemical reactions that go on inside your engine aren’t quiet and even with an exhaust system, the decimal level is still going to go up.
This is why you have a silencer. It really does what it says. The silencer is made from steel that has been coated with aluminum to make sure that it can cope with the high level of heat that is produced. Its function is to cut down on the level of noise that is produced by your exhaust system so you and everyone around you aren’t deafened by your vehicle.
This is the final part of the exhaust system and the one that you are probably most familiar with. The exhaust pipe sticks out of the back of the car and expels what is left of the gases that are produced and have been a filter through the whole system. It offers a safe way for these gases as well as some water to be released.
What happens to your car when an exhaust is faulty?
If something like your car audio system broke then it is a mild inconvenience at worst, however, if your car exhaust system becomes faulty then it presents a dangerous problem.
There are several reasons why your exhaust system might become faulty. This includes:
- Rust – given the fumes and materials that are being passed through the system, this corrosive process can cause rust over time. This can cause joints and between two parts of the system to erode and eventually fail.
- The impact from driving – our cars sometimes take a beating going over potholes, bumpy roads and running over debris. Your exhaust could simply get damaged and parts can become loose.
- Blocked catalytic converter – The deposits of all the chemicals that pass through the exhaust can block the catalytic convert and cause a loss of power in the vehicle. You will usually smell rotten eggs or feel the heat under the car if this is the case.
A faulty exhaust not only has issues for the performance of your car such as losing power and performance but increase vehicle emissions can cause safety problems too. Fumes can leak from cracks and holes in the exhaust while having a damaging effect on other parts of your car. In more extreme cases and where an issue has been going on for a while this process can actually start a fire.
Another potential problem is harmful fumes entering the car itself. In most cases these fumes are odorless and you can’t see them either which can result in dizziness, fatigue, sudden headaches and can even be fatal in a worst-case scenario.
What to look for when buying a new car exhaust
Before you dive in and buy a completely new car exhaust, there are a few things that you will need to look out for first.
- Check the warranty – How long is your new exhaust system covered for? This is vital because if you have a short warranty and then something goes wrong with it, you won’t be covered. Make sure you check this out before you make a purchase.
- Stay in your budget – It is very easy to get carried away when buying a new exhaust as the prices can vary quite considerably between different makes and models. Set a budget based on what you can afford before you make a purchase and stick to it to avoid unnecessary spending.
- Vehicle compatibility – Not every exhaust system is going to fit on all makes of car. Make sure you don’t spend a lot of money and set yourself up to fit it only to realize that it isn’t even compatible with your model of vehicle.
Purchasing a new exhaust system can be a stellar method in which you can look after the maintenance of your car and help to extend its life. As we have already mentioned, a faulty exhaust can cause serious problems to the rest of your vehicle. Getting the right model for your budget and your car will ensure your safety and often better performance too.
Best car exhaust brands
We’re going to get into our list for the best car exhausts but just before we do we need to tell you what brands to look out for.
MagnaFlow has been around a while – 1981 to be exact – and they’re high-quality exhaust systems and reputation in the automotive market means that they are a big player in the market. Their products are known to be among the best around and they offer car exhausts for many makes and models.
Headquartered in California, Flowmaster has been around since 1983 and are well known among auto enthusiasts for their exhaust systems. Their products are distinctive due to the highly aggressive sound that they tend to emit and are favored by many vehicle owners who want an exhaust that will deliver added performance.
See how Flowmaster Super 40 compares to Super 44 here.
Borla was established in 1979 and have grown to become one of the biggest exhaust manufacturers in the market. Their HQ is in Tennessee and provide exhaust systems for both high performance and luxury models as well as vehicles which are widely available. All their exhaust systems are created with aircraft-quality austenitic stainless steel.
Another recognized name when it comes to exhaust systems. MBRP provides power-enhancing exhaust systems for a whole range of vehicles. Their exhausts deliver a quality performance without the massive price tag that you would normally find with similar products.
Different types of exhaust systems
If you didn’t already know, there are different types of exhaust systems. They can be broken down into three categories – header back, cat-back and axle-back. There are also some others however these are the three main types that are on the market.
Header back exhaust system
This is the most complete type of exhaust system that is available for your vehicle.
A header back system replaces everything from the header collector right through to the tailpipe. If you really want to increase the performance of your vehicle and enlarge the diameter of the system then this is the best type to choose.
They will cost more because you need to replace more components and they will take longer to install but it is worth it in the long run. Many people don’t need the entire system replaced but if you are eager to vastly boost your fuel efficiency and vehicle performance and you also have the knowledge and skills to do this yourself then it can be a very worthwhile venture.
Cat back exhaust system
This type of exhaust doesn’t change the whole system. It starts from the catalytic converter to the tailpipe so the actual installation isn’t as complicated and won’t take as long as the header back systems.
This tends to be the most popular upgrade for many people. One reason for this is because it is easy enough to do and will create a better airflow which will boost performance and efficiency without the higher price.
These systems will also produce more noise and an aggressive sound which is what many car enthusiasts are after while you shouldn’t have any legal issues with the emissions as the catalytic converter isn’t being replaced.
Axle back exhaust system
Finally, we have axle back exhaust systems. These systems replace components from the rear axle to the exhaust tip and they are usually easier to install as you aren’t replacing as much as the previous two.
You will also save money as they are usually cheaper as well. By replacing your existing setup with an axle-back exhaust system you will get the benefit of better performance, a loud aggressive sound if that is what you want and you won’t spend as much money either. Like the cat back system, you shouldn’t fall into any problems with emissions as the original catalytic converter remains.
Check out how Axle-Back vs Cat-Back Exhaust Systems in our full comparison.
Best exhaust systems for your car
By now you have a much more in-depth knowledge of how a car exhaust works, why you need to replace a faulty exhaust, the different types of exhaust and also what the best brands are.
We now need to talk about the best car exhausts that you can buy. We’ve broken it down into the three categories we mentioned above.
The exhaust system will ensure you are heard before you are seen as it provides a real thunderous noise. Installing the system is straightforward given the detailed instructions that you receive and most people tend to be able to do this in 2 hours.
It might take a while longer getting your existing exhaust system off however the only really tricky part of the installation process is the black tips although it certainly isn’t out of the capability of most people. The exhaust system comes in at a fairly mid-range price, so for the majority of consumers, it is very affordable. The look of the exhaust looks great too and the black tips really add an extra dimension to the aesthetics.
Overall the Flowmaster 817692 Outlaw Stainless Steel Aggressive Sound Cat-Back Exhaust System provides an awesome sound and is straightforward enough to install while benefiting from an affordable price as well.
- Easy to install – can be down in a few hours
- Fantastic deep sound
- Comes with a limited lifetime warranty
Installing the black tips can be a bit tricky
Crafted from aluminized steel, this car exhaust system provides a noticeable boost to the performance of your vehicle. By increasing airflow and maximizing fuel efficiency, the MBRP S7264AL 3″ Cat Back, Dual Split Rear Exit Exhaust System is a budget-friendly choice.
Coming in at under $500 (for most online retailers), it is one of the cheaper models on the market, however, it provides a real aggressive sound. For some people, it is almost too loud but it really depends on your preference. It might also be useful to check your state’s laws regarding exhaust noise as this is one of the loudest models available.
The exhaust system itself is fairly straightforward to install and can be done by pretty much anyone with a basic knowledge of cars. For an affordable exhaust system that produces an aggressive noise then this is a solid choice.
- Provides a boost to your car’s performance
- An affordable way to enhance your vehicle
- Can be installed easily
Perhaps slightly too loud for some people
Best axle back exhaust systems
This axle back car exhaust system is easy to install because you aren’t replacing the full system. If you want an aggressive rumbling sound then this is a great option as with all Flowmaster products it really benefits from a loud noise.
The system itself looks great although the noise can be a bit too high for some people. It is reasonably priced and certainly among the best axle back exhaust systems on the market
- Aggressive sound like all Flowmaster products
- Easy to install as is axle back system
- Beautiful appearance
Can be too loud for some people
2. DC Sports SCS6013 Axle-Back Exhaust System
This axle back exhaust system produces a fantastic sound that isn’t going to deafen anyone in the vicinity of your vehicle. If you want a sound that doesn’t suffer any crackling then this exhaust is a great choice.
While it doesn’t provide much of a powerful enhancement to the vehicle it is very reasonably priced so it is a cost-effective option that is in the price range of most people.
- Great sound that isn’t overbearing
- Reasonable price
Won’t get much power enhancement
Frequently Asked Questions
Do you still have some questions about car exhausts? Have a look at our FAQ below.
Yes. There are three main types of exhaust systems. Header back which replaces everything from the header collector right through to the tailpipe, cat-back systems which only goes from the catalytic converter to the tailpipe, and finally axle-back systems that go from the rear axle to the exhaust tip.
Each system requires a different time frame to install it and a different level of skill as there are more components that need to be fitted.
There are many reasons that your car exhaust will fail and there are also several signs that you should be aware of to decide if your exhaust is faulty or not.
If your exhaust is making a strange noise then that could be a sign that something is wrong. Listen for rumbling, rattling or loud noises. A hissing sound can also mean that there is a crack in the system somewhere. If you smell rotten eggs (sulfur) then this can be a sign that the catalytic converter is blocked.
Reduced performance such as lower fuel efficiency can also be an indication that something is wrong with your exhaust system too.
In most cases a faulty car exhaust isn’t particularly dangerous. It generally leads to reduced performance of your vehicle.
That being said, if your exhaust is leaking fumes from a crack or a hole that has formed then this can be very dangerous and even fatal. The fumes that can leak into the car itself are odorless and can’t be seen either. A faulty exhaust can also create a fire which can be a major hazard while it may harm other parts of your vehicle too which can result in substantial damages to your car.
Yes. Most people are more than capable of changing the exhaust system on their vehicle by themselves. When you purchase a new exhaust system such as the models we have highlighted to you above, you get a full set of instructions and everything you need to fit it onto your car.
There are some essential tools that you should have already.
For many people this is a straightforward enough job that should only took a few hours at most. Often times the hardest part is getting your existing exhaust off your vehicle.
No. While there are many exhaust systems which are universal so they will fit on practically any vehicle, many exhausts are specially made for certain makes or models of car.
Make sure that you check the compatibility of your vehicle and the exhaust system you want before you make a purchase.
Yes. While some people do put on a new exhaust simply as an aesthetic measure or to increase the noise their car will make, a new exhaust should see a significant boost to your performance. It will increase fuel efficiency and even its horsepower.
Will increase airflow and a more efficient system you should see a boost in the performance of your vehicle by installing a new exhaust.
In most cases, no. As long as your new exhaust doesn’t damage any other parts of your car then the warranty on your vehicle should still be valid. For most types of car warranty, it will remain intact after you have fitted a new exhaust.
There can be some exceptions to this rule – for example, if the new exhaust has caused damage to other parts of the car that then needs to be repaired. This probably won’t be covered by your warranty but in most cases, you will be fine.
No. Different states have different laws for exhaust systems. In California for instance, laws around car exhausts have been strict for a while to ensure noise is kept to a minimum.
A new law came into effect on January 2019 that meant that violations changed from a ‘fix-it ticket’ straight to a fine. Check the laws in the state where you live to ensure your new exhaust system is compliant.
We hope that you now have a much better understanding of not only the important function an exhaust system plays on your vehicle but also what the best exhaust systems for each type are.
Exhausts are one of those parts that can be damaged fairly easily by something like an impact on a bumpy road or simply rust that forms over time.
A faulty exhaust not only affects how the car performs such as with fuel efficiency but it can have a potentially dangerous impact on your vehicle too. Driving with a faulty exhaust for a long period of time also puts yourself and your passengers in danger.
Picking an exhaust system for your vehicle isn’t as easy as simply finding one online and clicking ‘buy’. You need to think about several things first such as vehicle compatibility, how to stay within your budget, and also the type of warranty you will get on that part.
Deciding how much work you want to do with the installation is important too. If you don’t mind a few hours work and have a bit more technical knowledge then header back systems are ideal for the best outcome. Similarly, cat-back systems require time to fit while the axle back car exhaust systems can be done in a short space of time.
Upgrading your exhaust can help to increase the performance of your vehicle through better fuel efficiency, make your car safer and more environmentally friendly while also providing an aesthetically pleasing edge as well.
If you enjoyed this guide then you might also be interested in some of our other guides including How to Find the Best Car Batteries and Tire Buying Guide: A-Z Guide to Finding the Best Tires.