Truck Exhaust Systems 101

Any Truck or Car enthusiast will tell you that upgrading and customizing their vehicle is a never-ending process. The brief moment of elation one gets from their most recent modification is generally followed by a general feeling of “OK, What next?”

This is true on both an aesthetic and functional level; Installing a sharp, chrome Putco Tailgate Handle Cover is simply not enough when you have a variety of other areas that now seem all that much more boring. For example, Driver/Passenger door handles are generally in need of help from the factory, as well as fender trim to not only enhance looks but protect as well. I mean, if anything is worth doing, then its worth doing right.

Upgrading a vehicle’s performance is no different. Generally speaking, when you upgrade one portion of the engine, another modification is often desired, (if not necessary), to obtain maximum performance. Such a theory was brought to me while eating some delicious Asian Cuisine with a friend of mine a few weeks ago. His father accompanied us for our meal, which was a privilege since they have a family racing business and are more than knowledgeable when it comes to engines and performance.

During the course of conversation, I had mentioned to him about the upgrades I had made to my truck, including the Airaid Cold Air Intake, along with the Billet Aluminum Throttle Body Spacer. Going on into detail about the increase in low and mid-range power I had gained, he asked me, “What about your exhaust system?” Well, I really had no answer for him. It had never even crossed my mind to upgrade or replace Flash’s exhaust, as it was a nearly brand new, factory system that had many, many good miles ahead of it.

Sure- its great that you have upgraded the intake. Now your engine will pull in cooler, denser air with increased volume. But that air has to go somewhere once it leaves the engine. If your still running the factory exhaust system, then you haven’t seen the full potential of your upgrades.”

Whoa. That actually makes perfect sense! Much like the factory air filter discussed in previous blog entries, the factory muffler system is equally restrictive resulting in less-than-optimal gas mileage and power output. Dumbfounded at what should have been an easy concept, I returned back to work with one thought in mind: Time to go Muffler Shopping…

This week’s tip is all about exhaust systems. An exhaust system is actually just a mix of pipes and mufflers. The exhaust system’s only purpose in life is to remove spent gas from the engine to a place more convenient. Exhaust systems are available in several configurations. Cat-back, turbo-back, and axle-back are the most common aftermarket exhaust system configurations.

These systems are available with single and dual tip applications. Vehicles with smaller engines do not require dual piping on their exhaust systems. Dual pipes offer more ventilation for vehicles with larger engines but, for a standard four cylinder engine, would be for cosmetics only.

That doesn’t mean that vehicle owners shouldn’t install a dual exhaust, it just means that the dummy pipe on a four cylinder dual exhaust system would be… well, Dumb. The secondary pipe won’t do a thing for vehicle performance.

OK, Hot rod. So, it may look fast but if you wanted horsepower then you should have bought a car designed for horsepower. Fast looking tips are a lot less expensive than a dual exhaust system. If you’re just after looks, then tips are the way to go.

Raise your hand if you have ever wondered “What is the difference between cat, turbo, and axle-back exhaust systems?” Good job. Now put down your hand before you start drawing attention to yourself.

Cat-back exhaust systems go from the catalytic converter to the rear (or side in some cases) of the vehicle. This system leaves all of the emissions control equipment in place but allows you to change the piping and muffler.

Axle-back exhaust systems are an alternative to a cat-back system. An axle-back system replaces the section of piping from the rear axle, to the rear of the vehicle. This set up is perfect for your Ford Fiesta. It’s actually the only type available for some cars because the bulk of the piping is welded to the catalytic converter. The turbo-back system is only available for vehicles equipped with turbo systems.

The turbo-back system will include every pipe from the turbo to the tip. This will not include the catalytic converter. The factory converter will be retained for use on the new system.

Upgrading your vehicle’s exhaust system is a good way to increase horsepower, acuire more ventilation, and release torque that has been held hostage by your engine -not to mention that the sound of your vehicle will go from a squall to a roar in no time. The larger mandrel bent tubing and low restriction mufflers make a great difference for your vehicle.

Alright, now we can’t forget about “Big Brother” and all his restrictions. The government doesn’t fancy the idea of you bypassing smog control equipment and they have no problems with telling you about it. I can see it now; you’ve just completed installation of your new system and off you go to get the car registered. Not a good idea.

Most major cities require you to get “Smogged” before you can drive your car on their “turf”. So there you are at the testing facility, the emissions test has just completed and they notify you that you have failed. They inform you that it will be necessary for you to re-install all smog control equipment before your vehicle can pass the inspection. This is why most exhaust manufacturers make systems that keep all OEM smog equipment in place.

When buying an exhaust system, one of the first questions will be about gas mileage or horsepower. The performance gain is different for every application but the average is approximately 10%. These systems will also increase fuel efficiency. In Part 1 of this tip, I mentioned that “The exhaust systems only purpose in life is to remove gas from the engine to a place more convenient.” This simple process allows the engine to run cooler and perform better. A better performing engine will use less gas and increase your fuel economy under normal driving conditions.

Several exhaust systems are designed to be completely bolt-on. Bolt-on means that factory mounting locations are used for installation and all hardware is included. Actually, I believe the only things not included are the hand tools and a cold beverage of your choice.

Exhaust manufactures make their systems out of several different grades of steel. The best type is aircraft quality T-304 stainless steel. This grade of stainless steel will allow the exhaust system to last throughout the life of your vehicle. Aluminized steel systems work well but are more susceptible to rust. This rust will make your exhaust fall apart over time. Don’t get me wrong, an aluminized steel exhaust system can still be a good purchase but don’t expect to get any extra miles out of it.

Fun Fact: A possum does nothing for an exhaust system. I have a 1984 Monte Carlo that at one time was my daily driver. I hit a possum going about 60 MPH and… -lets just say those rusty old pipes never stood a chance. The car then sounded like a lawn mower on steroids.

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