10 Things to Think About Before Buying an Exhaust System

Choosing the perfect exhaust system for your beloved ride is an art as much as it is a science. Whether you're a die-hard car enthusiast or a casual driver, the exhaust system you opt for can significantly impact your driving experience.

From the growl of your engine to performance enhancements and the potential legal labyrinth, the purchase requires careful consideration. Before you rush to buy a new set of pipes, here are 10 essential elements that you must think about.

The Symphony of Sound

Roaring Power or Subdued Purrs?

Your car's sound is one of the first things you and others will notice. Car exhaust systems come in many configurations, each producing a distinct sound profile.

Some systems offer a deep, aggressive growl, perfect for those who want to feel their car's power, while others provide a quieter, more refined note, suitable for daily drivers who want to keep noise levels down.

It's important to find an exhaust system that not only meets your performance goals but also fits your personal preference for how your car should sound.

Decibel Degrees

It's not just about the character of the sound but also the volume of it. Many localities have noise ordinances that must be adhered to, and an excessively loud exhaust can turn heads for the wrong reasons.

Research the decibel levels permitted in your area to ensure any system you're eyeing complies with the law.

Drone and Resonance

Drone occurs within specific RPM ranges where sound waves reflect off the vehicle's body and create a constant hum inside the car. While some drone can be expected with more aggressive systems, excessive drone can be a deal-breaker for the comfort of your daily commute.

Resonance, on the other hand, can be more sporadic and often affects the car's performance and sound quality.

Performance Is Power

Torque and Horsepower

Performance exhaust systems can unlock power and torque gains due to their more efficient airflow characteristics. If raw performance is your goal, you'll want to look for an exhaust system designed to maximize exhaust flow without any compromises.

This often means wider pipes, smoother bends, and a less restrictive muffler.

Dyno-Proven Results

Many reputable manufacturers offer dyno results that show the horsepower and torque increases you can expect with their exhaust systems. While these numbers are not a guarantee of what you'll experience, they provide a good indication of the potential gains and the system's effectiveness.

Header-Back, Cat-Back, Axle-Back

Which system should you choose when considering an upgrade?

The  "Back"-terminology refers to the portion of the exhaust system that gets replaced.

The header-back replaces everything, offering the most performance potential.

A cat-back replaces the exhaust from the catalytic converter, and an axle-back replaces the muffler section only, providing a good balance between sound and power.

Your choice will depend on your budget and the extent of enhancements you wish to make.

Built to Last

Materials Matter

An exhaust system is exposed to some of the harshest conditions found in any vehicle. High temperatures, corrosive compounds, and physical abuse take their toll over time.

Investing in a high-quality stainless steel or titanium system can offer much greater longevity and resistance to rust and damage.


Some high-end exhaust systems come with a ceramic or thermal coating, which can further increase their durability and resistance to heat damage. While coated systems may be more expensive, they can save you from having to replace parts sooner than you'd like.

Weld and Construction Quality

The way an exhaust system is welded and constructed can have a significant impact on its strength and longevity. Look for systems that use TIG welding, which provides a cleaner, stronger bond, and avoid systems with visible defects or thin material.

The Law of the Land

Emissions Compliance

Most modern cars are equipped with oxygen sensors and catalytic converters that play a vital role in reducing harmful emissions. When modifying your exhaust system, it's crucial to ensure that these components remain intact and continue to function properly.

State and Federal Regulations

When it comes to the law and car modification, ignorance is not a defense. Before making any changes to your exhaust system, familiarize yourself with the regulations in your area.

Some states have very stringent laws regarding which modifications are allowed, and non-compliant vehicles can face fines or other penalties.

Inspection and Certification

If you're required to have your vehicle pass an emissions test, make sure any exhaust modifications are legal and won't cause you to fail the inspection.

Some aftermarket exhaust systems for performance vehicles are 50-state legal and come with a CARB (California Air Resources Board) certification, providing peace of mind and compliance.

Tailpipe Types and Tips

Aesthetics and Customization

When choosing an exhaust system, you're not just considering the pipes' functionality, but the look they provide to the rear of your car. Dual exhaust systems often offer a sportier look, but you can further customize the appearance with different tips.

Tips come in a variety of shapes and finishes, from carbon fiber to chrome, allowing you to personalize the aesthetic of your exhaust.

Sizing Considerations

The size of the exhaust tips, and to some degree, the number of tips, can make a big difference in how they look on your vehicle. Consider the design of your bumper and the space available to ensure the tips you choose are proportional and don't look out of place.

Single or Dual?

The Great Debate

When it comes to exhaust systems, the single vs. dual debate has been ongoing. A single exhaust system is simpler, lighter, and more space-efficient.

On the other hand, dual exhausts can provide performance benefits by separating the exhaust flow from each bank of the engine, reducing backpressure, and giving a more balanced flow.

Whether you opt for one or the other, ensure that your choice is advantageous for your vehicle type and is sound within legal and performance contexts.

Budgeting for Blast

How Much Should You Spend?

Exhaust systems come in a wide range of prices, from a few hundred dollars to several thousand.

While a higher price doesn't always equate to better quality, there is a correlation between price and the materials used, the manufacturing processes, and the performance gains you can expect.

Set a realistic budget based on your car's value and your willingness to invest in performance upgrades.

Long-Term Value

It can be tempting to go for the cheapest option available, but you should also consider the long-term value. A higher-quality, more expensive exhaust system may save you money in the long run by not needing replacement as often and might improve your car's resale value.

Car Types and Needs

Daily Driver

If your car is primarily a mode of transportation for your daily commute or runs errands around town, a quieter exhaust system that enhances fuel efficiency might be more suitable.

These systems often come with performance improvements without sacrificing the comfort and drivability needed for daily use.

Performance Vehicle

For weekend warriors or those with sports cars, an exhaust system that prioritizes power gains, and an aggressive exhaust note are likely at the top of the list.

Be sure to choose a system designed for performance vehicles that can handle the extra heat and stresses associated with spirited driving.

Brand Bonanza

Trust and Reputation

With a plethora of aftermarket exhaust brands on the market, it's essential to do your homework. Choose a brand known for quality products and a good customer service track record.

Look for brands with a long history and a good reputation within the automotive community.

Customer Reviews

Search for customer reviews and see what others have experienced with the brand and product you're considering. Pay attention to any recurring complaints or praises, as these can give you insight into your potential experience with the product.

The War Over Warranties

A warranty is a manufacturer's commitment to their product. Choose a system with a solid warranty that covers defects in materials and workmanship for an extended period.

A good warranty can provide peace of mind and save you money on repairs down the line.

Installation Investigation

DIY or Pro?

Exhaust system installation can range from a straightforward bolt-on process to a complex series of cuts and welds. If you're a DIY aficionado, you might be able to install the system yourself and save on labor costs.

However, if you're not comfortable making these modifications, it's best to leave it to professionals.

Maintenance Matters

Once your new exhaust system is installed, proper maintenance is crucial to keeping it in top condition. Regular inspections for leaks and damage, as well as ensuring all hangers and components are secure, can help extend the life of your exhaust.

In addition, cleaning the system can prevent a build-up of dirt and grime that could otherwise lead to corrosion.

The Final Decision

After considering these 10 factors, you should have a clearer vision of what you want in an exhaust system. Take your time with this decision and make sure the system you choose aligns with your car, your goals, and the environment you're driving in.

Remember, an exhaust system isn't just a modification; it's an investment in your driving experience.

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