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Do You Need a Tune for Headers?

Do You Need a Tune for Headers

OEM parts are designed with efficiency in mind at the cost of performance.

Aftermarket parts by contrast are designed to unlock a vehicle’s performance potential.

In my experience, it’s rare when you can simply slap on aftermarket parts and cruise on down the road without doing some adjusting.

Especially when you’re talking about an upgrade that can significantly transform the performance of your vehicle like headers.

The major reason why you want to tune your car after installing new headers is to re-align the fuel-to-air mixture to prevent future problems.

Come with us as we look at other considerations when it comes to adding performance parts like headers to your car.

Headers and Horsepower

Performance headers are designed to reduce restrictions that prevent exhaust gases from flowing freely.

The amount of horsepower headers will add depends on variable like the style, length and size of the headers.

Not to mention all the other modifications done to your car.

Swapping the stock exhaust manifold for performance headers not only helps your engine breathe easier.

But it also decreases the weight of your vehicle.

A major contributing factor to the weight savings is due to the fact that performance headers are made of thin-walled stainless steel.

Whereas stock manifolds are made of thick cast iron which while durable are also cheap.

Headers or Exhaust for Horsepower Gains?

Horsepower is calculated by multiplying torque by RPM. A vehicle’s exhaust system is comprised of several parts.

The goal of aftermarket parts for this area of the exhaust system is to un-restrict airflow and increase engine output thereby increasing horsepower.

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Only upgrading the cat-back exhaust will add 10 HP to your exhaust system’s repertoire at best.

You’ll experience more horsepower gains by starting at the front of the exhaust system – which is the headers.

In a lot of cases simply adding exhaust headers will do more to add horsepower to your ride than any other engine modification.

Don’t expect crazy numbers. But you should see an increase of 10 to 20 HP.

Best Headers for More Power

If you’re angling to get more horsepower by installing headers onto your vehicle – then size really does matter.

Short headers will deliver better low to mid-range torque.

But you’ll want to go for medium and long-tube headers if you want more horsepower at higher RPMs.

Headers Can Be Worth It on a Daily Driver

Even if you could care less about adding horsepower numbers to your car.

Installing headers can still improve numbers that most anyone with a gasoline powered engine should be concerned about – fuel mileage.

Again, replacing the stock manifold with headers improves an engine’s ability to breathe.

This comes down to the shape of the headers.

The design has to minimize back pressure to increase fuel economy.

If the header can deliver performance, efficient fuel consumption will be a natural upshot.

Headers and Noise

While headers can change the sound profile of your engine. Alone, they won’t make your vehicle sound much louder.

If you only want headers to improve fuel economy, this is a good thing.

To achieve a richer sound from your engine requires the addition of a full exhaust system, which best started from the headers.

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Shorter headers tend to be quieter, while longer headers tend to be louder.

Every Major Install Requires a Tune

That’s right. Every major performance upgrade like bolting on that new exhaust system requires tuning.


Because by changing how air flows in and out of the engine, you’ve changed how your ride functions.

This includes the addition of any breather upgrades like a turbo- or supercharger. An engine that is operating optimally uses fuel efficiently.

A tune allows you to drive confidently with smoother acceleration and a more comfortable ride.

Consequences of Not Tuning

Your ECU (electronic control unit) is pretty smart. Even without a tune it can learn how to adjust the air/fuel mixture in accordance with the new headers.

But not significantly. Which means it can only extend the time it will take for major problems to start surfacing.

Below are to big issues that can occur as a result of not tuning:

Damage to your engine: Since headers bolt onto the exhaust system allowing each cylinder its own pipe to expel exhaust gases. Aftermarket headers alter the air-to-fuel ratio and if not addressed this can lead to eventual engine failure.

Diminished performance: Instead of increasing your vehicle’s performance, adding parts like headers without a tune can actually rob your engine of performance as a result of the whole business of an air fuel mixture that’s out of whack.

Types of Performance Tuning

Appropriately, now you want to know how much its going to cost to get your street rocket dialed in. It might interest you to know that there are many ways to tune your car.

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Chip Tuning

This is the cheapest tune after upgrading headers or any major performance upgrade. Modern computerized cars run on multiple chips. A performance chip is programmed to override the car’s stock engine operation parameters for a better air-to-fuel ratio.

Flash Tuning

This kind of tune involves reprogramming the ECU. The ECU controls the amount of fuel and air in the engine. A plug-and-play affair is the cheapest route. Or you can take your car into a shop where they’ll do it for you, but it’ll be more expensive.

Dyno Tuning

This is the most comprehensive option because of the mechanical expertise and hours of testing involved, which is why it’s the most expensive.

But you get accurate information about your engine’s air-fuel mixture which provides a snapshot of real-world performance.

Risks of Tuning

Oh yeah, there are risks.

Although OEM parts are designed with efficiency more than performance in mind.

That’s because millions of dollars went into the research and development of your stock vehicle to ensure its reliability and longevity.

When you add performance upgrades, you’re tampering with a carefully calibrated system even if the car you’re working on is as exciting as a Chevy Aveo.

Any alteration will impact aspects like reliability and longevity.

Moreover, performance parts add more strain to a vehicle. That’s why you see cars like BMWs in repair shops more often than Toyotas.