Exhausted! Choosing an Aftermarket Exhaust System

No matter what you choose, an aftermarket performance exhaust is a surefire way to ramp up your vehicle’s performance, appearance, and sound.

By Matthew Guy Wheels.ca

May 19, 2017 5 min. read

Article was updated 6 years ago

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Sponsored by Partsengine.ca

It’s no secret that most auto manufacturers leave some room in a vehicle for performance improvement. Hamstrung by emission requirements, financial constraints, and the economies of scale, a lot of vehicles leave the factory fitted with exhaust systems which are perfectly capable, but keeps some power bottled up inside the engine.

Under the steely gaze of flinty-eyed accountants, engineers are often required to deploy a smaller diameter exhaust than could conceivably fit underneath any particular vehicle. For example, the wide open space underneath my Ram pickup on each side of a stock exhaust system is best measured in acres. A bigger system could’ve easily been fitted from the factory but cost and other restraints prevented that from happening.

How does a performance exhaust work?

At risk of oversimplification, the more efficiently an engine can draw in and expel air, the more power that engine will make. An aftermarket performance exhaust can free some of the power in your engine by allowing for a quicker, more efficient path for exhaust gases to escape. While an aftermarket exhaust won’t deliver the same kind of performance boost as bolting on a turbo or supercharger to your engine, it will likely add some efficiency by creating a freer flow of air in the exhaust system and reducing (but not eliminating) back pressure. While back pressure is necessary, it can stifle an engine somewhat if it is too high. This is why most aftermarket exhaust systems are slightly bigger in diameter than a stock system. Go too big, though, and one risks the chance of actually hurting their car’s performance.

Go too big, though, and one risks the chance of actually hurting their car’s performance.

Axle back or cat-back?

There are several different options at places like partsengine.ca for drivers who are looking to install an aftermarket exhaust. Complete exhaust systems will generally replace all equipment aft of the vehicle’s catalytic converter. Some drivers choose these “cat-back” systems, such as the choices available from Magnaflow, which come with all the gear needed to completely overhaul your exhaust system. Other packages only include a new muffler and tailpipe, and are sometimes referred to as axle-back systems owing to the amount of stock exhaust they replace located aft of the vehicle’s rear axle.

performance exhaust

Given all the suspension pieces, fuel tank, and other detritus underneath modern vehicles, it’s nearly impossible for an exhaust system to be perfectly straight. This means that the manufacturer will have to bend the exhaust in order for it to eventually snake its way to the back of the car. There are two types of bends used in making exhaust systems and, not surprisingly, the type used makes a difference in the way air flows.

The typical factory-made systems, as well as some aftermarket systems, use a crush-bend technique. This type of process creates a crinkled area in the pipes, which decreases the diameter and slows the exhaust gases. It’s a fast and cost-effective way to bend pipe, explaining why most factory systems are built this way. A mandrel bend, on the other hand, is what performance exhaust shoppers should be seeking. This type of bend is smooth, so the pipe remains at a constant diameter through the bend. A smooth bend and even diameter means there is less air resistance, so owners of this type of exhaust should get more efficient airflow and better performance.

Whichever style you choose, make sure to buy professional equipment like the gear available from Magnaflow. They’ve been making exhausts for decades, devoting truckloads of money to research and development. Going so far to install in-ground dynamometers at their R&D centre so they can fully test their products, their goal is to build equipment which not only sounds great but also adds power to a vehicle.

Stainless is best

Be sure to note the type of metal being used in the aftermarket exhaust, too. Most factory systems are built from something called mild steel, a product which eventually rusts and deteriorates over time, leading to loud unflattering noises and improper backpressure. This explains why your grandfather’s rusty Oldsmobile sounds louder than a NASCAR stocker but still doesn’t go very fast.

stainless steel exhaust

High quality aftermarket systems, such as the Magnaflow series of exhaust systems available at partsengine.ca, are built from stainless steel which is an incredibly robust material. It is not surprising to find aftermarket systems such as these which end up outliving the rest of the car. Every year, Magnaflow hits up the SEMA show in Vegas, showing off their hottest new exhaust designs, styles, and sounds. With a higher build quality, these types of exhaust systems shouldn’t require any more maintenance than the factory system installed by the manufacturer. 

It is not surprising to find aftermarket systems such as these which end up outliving the rest of the car.

Sound is King 

Less measurable, but no less important to a lot of gearheads, is the all-important cool factor of an aftermarket exhaust. Most systems, especially the ones hewn from stainless steel, feature exhaust tips which shine like diamonds poking out from the vehicle’s rear bumper. After all, shiny twin sewer cannons look great on just about any vehicle.

performance exhaust

And then there’s the noise ... the glorious noise. To gearheads, a properly selected and installed aftermarket exhaust is one of the most pleasant sounds on earth other than someone saying “There’s bacon for breakfast.” From the deep basso ruminations of a powerful V8 to the buttery-smooth cheetah purr of an inline-six, an aftermarket exhaust is engineered to provide a distinctive sound that matches your engine’s personality and enhances the roar.

No matter what you choose, an aftermarket performance exhaust is a surefire way to ramp up your vehicle’s performance, appearance, and sound. It doesn’t matter if your endgame is getting more out of your engine or creating show-quality looks, taking your time and choosing the right exhaust system can definitely change your ride for the better.

Not just another car parts store—Partsengine.ca is a 100% Canadian owned and operated aftermarket parts and accessories online retailer. Serving Canadians coast to coast since 2012, partsengine.ca differentiates itself by only stocking the highest quality products at the lowest prices possible. And being Canadian allows them to provide a level of customer service that is unparalleled in the industry, helping them secure the coveted Consumer Choice Award for Business Excellence in both 2016 and 2017.

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