Headers – as part of your overall exhaust system overhaul – can make your car louder.
Your vehicle’s exhaust system is made of several components that work together to expel exhaust gases from the engine while reducing noise.
On their own, however, headers don’t affect noise as much as performance. They’re only designed to route exhaust gases from all the cylinders into the rest of the exhaust system.
Although terms like headers and manifolds are often used interchangeably, there is a distinction which we’ll look into.
If your aim is to get more sound out of your ride, we have a few suggestions to help you better reach your goal.
Manifolds vs. Headers
Part of the confusion about headers and manifolds lies in the fact that they’re both designed to do the same job. But they do it in slightly different ways:
Exhaust manifolds are made of thick, heavy cast iron which makes them more durable. They’re cheap to produce, and highly resistant to heat which is why almost all vehicles come from the factory with exhaust manifolds. But due to the uneven lengths of exhaust outlets connecting to an engine’s combustion chamber. Exhaust gases can’t flow as smoothly into the exhaust system through manifolds creating back pressure. They’re also designed with sound dampening in mind.
Exhaust headers by contrast are often made from stainless steel. This allows the pipes connected to the combustion chamber to be thinner. Each cylinder gets its own pipe which increases the speed at which exhaust can flow. And since they’re all the same length. The exhaust gases arrive at the collector simultaneously, relieving back pressure. These are some of the reasons why exhaust headers are almost always an aftermarket upgrade. And as you can imagine, they’re lighter too.
Headers Improve Engine Sound
An internal combustion engine makes a lot of noise. Manufacturers design automobiles to be as quiet as possible – even sporty vehicles.
Exhaust systems are one of the methods used to dampen the cacophony of sound you would otherwise hear from an engine. Without the clever engineering of this system roadways would be deafeningly loud.
But what if you want just a little more sound from your engine?
Due to their design, swapping an exhaust manifold for performance headers helps you hear your engine more clearly – even hear more aggressive burbles. To produce this richer sound, exhaust headers are both thinner and wider than stock exhaust manifolds which allows sound vibrations to flow better.
Let’s look at the key design characteristics distinguishing aftermarket performance headers from a stock exhaust manifold.
Types of Performance Headers
Aftermarket performance headers are designed with thin, even length pipes. This increases exhaust flow allowing gases to arrive at the collector simultaneously to relieve back pressure and makes your car sound louder. There are basically two types of performance headers that will affect how loud your car sounds: short tube and long tube headers.
Short tube headers (also referred to as shorties)are generally about the same size as an exhaust manifold. This makes installation easy since there’s no modification required to make things fit. They’re direct bolt on replacements for stock exhaust manifolds.
Long tube headers typically require an aftermarket mid-pipe since the length disqualifies them as a direct bolt on to the stock mid-pipe. Although you’ll experience a greater horsepower boost with long tube headers. Regrettably you can’t use them with a turbocharged engine.
Back Pressure is an Enemy of Performance
Back pressure is a force acting against the positive flow of exhaust from the headers to the tail pipe. Back pressure restricts exhaust flow robbing performance. It works against spent exhaust gas’ ability to move into the exhaust system which begins at the header or exhaust manifold. As long as exhaust gases remain in the combustion chamber, the next combustion cycle can’t happen – this is what hampers engine performance.
Headers = Improved Performance
Headers alone won’t give you the type of increase in horsepower numbers that installing a turbo or supercharger will.
Instead, think of adding performance headers as part of a larger maximum build effort. At that point you can expect about a 10 horsepower increase on the high end. A short tube header will give you a boost in horsepower and torque in the mid RPM range. Long tube headers will begin to show their increase in the mid-low to mid-high RPM ranges.
Do Performance Headers Require a Tune?
Shorties are about the same size as your stock manifold and typically won’t require a tune since you’re not changing much about how exhaust moves. That’s why they typically make the best choice if you want more performance out of your car but still want it to be daily drivable.
Aftermarket Performance Exhaust
Headers are more useful for improving performance than increasing sound. The most effective way to change the sound of your car and make it louder is to upgrade your exhaust system: more specifically you’ll want to invest in a performance muffler. But if all you want to do is make slight improvements to the sound of your car. There are some relatively low-cost ways to achieve that without going broke.
Resonator Exhaust Tips
This was one of the first modifications my brother made to his Honda Civic when he was in high school. Resonator exhaust tips have specially designed cavities that can increase or decrease the sound of your exhaust note as exhaust gases pass through.
But don’t confuse this with regular exhaust tips which mainly function to dress up the look of your car. While resonator tips don’t change sound volume so much, they do improve exhaust frequency characteristics. If that’s what you’re looking for, then I highly recommend resonator exhaust tips.
Cold Air Intake System
Don’t underestimate what a difference a simple install like a cold air intake can make to the total driving experience of your ride. The primary purpose of a cold air intake is to draw in cold air into the engine in an otherwise brutally hot environment. But the induction noise it makes when you hit the gas pedal will make you smile if all you’re looking for is subtle improvements to the sound of your vehicle.