How to Build the Best Tuned Exhaust for 2022

An often-overlooked aspect of performance and aesthetics can be your steppingstone to more power and enjoyment from your driving experience, so let’s break down the myths surrounding your pipes   
GT40 Replica Headers 8 photos
Photo: Superformance
Doug's Headers For Big Block FordCorvette SidepipesBorla Mustang CrossoverDual Cut OutsCatalytic ConverterBorla Exhaust TipChambered Muffler
A soundtrack can make or break your happiness. With so many options on the table, where do you start? Your factory system is designed to eliminate all sounds while eliminating harmful pollution. However, if you have followed our previous #tuningmonth guides your car shouldn’t be polluting.

With that out of the way, let’s start at the easiest upgrade: tailpipes. Exhaust tips are analogous to the horn of a brass instrument. After choosing a style that suits your car, leave them adjustable and make a few laps around town. Adjusting the length and angle of your tips can make a world of difference, so it’s trial and error. Don’t forget to tack-weld them for added security, ask me how I know....

Chambered Muffler
Photo: Amazon
Now let’s talk about mufflers. Your stock system is heavy because it's designed to eliminate as much sound as possible, and it does this with chambers. Each one cancels a certain frequency, so that has made 2 and 3 chamber designs very popular for daily use. Those of us who live on the edge often replace their mufflers with a resonator. Their job is to keep the sounds from being raspy while keeping drone out of the interior. Known informally as glass-packs, they can be ordered to-length and easily installed at home.

Active exhaust uses valves to bypass the muffler, giving you more performance and better sound. Should you want to join the club, a cut-out offers a nice solution. Operated by throttle position or manually, you can be quiet while cruising and raging when putting the hammer down. The best systems even include a key fob to open your pipes on remote start, smiles are guaranteed. Running a short length of pipe angled at the ground will keep the fumes from choking you, and the "turndown" offers a vintage roar.

The next biggest determinant in your sound is dual vs single systems. A “true dual” exhaust is divided left to right, with each cylinder head making its own music. While it was popular in the past, keeping them separated leaves power on the table. An H-pipe is used to equalize the pulses from each bank while also refining the sound. An X-pipe is the ultimate example, but it takes skill to route them around driveline and suspension components. This example from Borla is tuned for late-model 5-liter Mustangs to maximize flow and equal each bank.

Borla Mustang Crossover
Photo: Borla
Moving forward, we reach the most contentious parts of any exhaust. Every car sold after 1975 has some form of catalytic converter. Loaded with rare & expensive metals, they reduce nitrogen oxides by burning leftover fuel. They force exhaust to flow through a honeycomb of metal, much like a handful of straws. Removing them is not only illegal, but it will also spark your Service Engine Light immediately. In an ideal world, an owner could hollow them out using a chisel and then sell the platinum for a tidy profit. This is why thieves are stealing them in many urban areas,

Finally, we reach the single most important exhaust component: headers. Your original manifolds force each pulse to wait in a line, much like airport security. Headers allow each pulse an equal length to travel, allowing the engine to rev faster and improving the looks of your engine bay. However, not all headers are created equal, literally. Equal-length headers make great power at any RPM, but some of us like to push the limits.

A tuned-length header will factor in the engine’s firing order to determine the length of each tube. This is done to optimize scavenging, creating a suction at the back of your exhaust valves to make ample low-end torque. The downside is that they look like a pile of snakes while making routine maintenance a nightmare. The featured image shows how Shelby engineered a crossover for two cylinders. Known as 180-degree headers, they are the ultimate way to make power on a naturally aspirated engine.

Finally, size isn’t everything. Going too big will hurt your wallet and your ears, so you need to build in a little restriction to keep everything happy. My first system on the 2004 CTS-V made use of 2.5” (63.5 mm) pipes, but I went to 3” (76.2mm) because it seemed logical. While I did gain power above 4,500 rpm, the loss in torque down low forced me to revert to the smaller tailpipes temporarily. The best way to learn is to buy a cheap welder and do it yourself, so stay with us for all your automotive insights!

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