Do Headers Make Your Car Sound Louder?

By July 28, 2020June 29th, 2021Common Questions, Exhaust

Exhaust headers aim to increase performance and they are sexy as hell when you open up your hood. But will it improve the sound of your car?!

To put it simply – yes, an exhaust header will slightly improve the sound of your car. Exhaust headers are wider and thinner when compared the stock system. These characteristics allow the sound vibrations to flow better and exit the car – allowing for a louder sound. But if all you look for is sound improvement, then exhaust header is not the right purchase.

Let’s go into details on exhaust header and discuss the best ways to improve your car sound.

Where Do Car Sound Come From?

Your car needs to ignite fuel in the combustion chamber to deliver power for your car. This combustion is an explosion that generates lots of exhaust gases and sound vibrations – which exits the car by flowing through the exhaust system.

An exhaust system is usually equipped with a muffler that will significantly reduce the noise of a car. Simple right? 🙂 . Now let’s see how exhaust headers could be related to the sound of your car.

anatomy of combustion chamber
Combustion happens here.
Exhaust gases and sound vibrations exit to the exhaust system from here.

What’s The Function Of Exhaust Header?

Exhaust header is an aftermarket component that you install for extra performance. Exhaust header replaces the exhaust manifold that comes pre-installed in your car. A combustion chamber has multiple cylinders (usually 4) – which means the exhaust gases are exiting from multiple points.

Exhaust header and exhaust manifold do the same thing – they collect hot exhaust gases from these cylinders and merge the gases into a single flow in the exhaust system.

Exhaust manifold is typically made from cast iron because it’s cheaper, durable and highly resistant to heat. However, the exhaust manifold is thick and has uneven lengths to the merging point (collector). Which means the exhaust gases cannot flow as smoothly into the exhaust system, creating back pressure and reducing performance.

As a refresher, back pressure is when there is a high pressure built up on the exhaust system – making it difficult for the exhaust gases to exit the combustion chamber into the exhaust system. This means the exhaust gases will stay inside the combustion chamber leaving no room for fresh air. Without fresh air and oxygen, your engine cannot produce optimal combustion and thus, reducing performance.

This is where an exhaust header comes in. Simply put – exhaust header is basically an exhaust manifold that is designed solely to improve the airflow of the exhaust gases by having the following attributes: 

  • Thinner – increasing the speed which exhaust gases flow
  • Even lengths – exhaust gases coming out from each cylinder will travel an equal distance to the collector. Allowing all the gases spread out evenly when they arrive – reducing back pressure 
Exhaust Header And Manifold
Exhaust Header
Exhaust Manifold

Will An Exhaust Header Change The Sound Of My Car?

Yes. Installing an exhaust header can improve the sound of your car – but not so much. The engine could sound louder because an exhaust header is thinner. Thus, allowing more of the sound vibrations to travel through the exhaust system. Also, a standard exhaust manifold made of cast iron is better at keeping the sound vibrations in. 

Here is a video of the sound changes before and after an exhaust header installation. 

If all you look for is to improve sound, then exhaust header is not the right thing to do. Yes, it will slightly improve the sound. However, an exhaust header is designed to increase performance and not to increase the sound of your car! Check out the list of alternatives below to improve the sound of your car.

Alternatives To Improve Car Sound

Cold Air Intake

A cold air intake aims to increase performance by rerouting your car’s air intake to a different location where more cold air is available. Cold air can provide improved performance because it contains more oxygen that could result in a bigger combustion. 

A cold air intake is usually wider and sucks more air than a regular stock intake. This means when you accelerate, you can hear an improved growling sound as the cold air intake sucks in the much needed air.

A cold air intake is cheap and is much easier to install than exhaust headers. The sound improvement is also more – which makes it more suitable, if all you look for is an improved sound. I cover cold air intake in this article if you are interested to know more. In the meantime, below is a YouTube video showing the before and after sound of cold air intake.

Muffler Delete

A muffler delete is where you uninstall the muffler from your exhaust system. Without a muffler, sound vibrations created by the combustion will not be silenced. Thus, significantly increasing the engine sound. 

Though, you have to be careful on this one – because most states require you to have at least one sound-suppression device installed. Luckily for us, cars typically come with a resonator and a muffler pre-installed. Which means you technically could do a muffler delete while still being legal. 🙂

Don’t just take my word for it though – I suggest you check with your local state on the rules and regulation before performing a muffler delete. Also, the sound generated from a muffler delete is significantly louder and can sometimes be deafening. So you might want to check a before and after comparison too. Here’s a video for you.

Resonator Exhaust Tip

Resonator exhaust tip works directly opposite from a muffler. It is a hollow chamber that will cause sound waves to vibrate in a certain way to produce more sound. It is usually easy to install – where you just have to screw them on your exhaust tail pipe. Resonator exhaust tips are Legal in most states and are easy to install.

Image of resonator exhaust tip
Resonator exhaust tip

Drilling Holes On Exhaust

Drilling holes on an exhaust could improve engine sound. They surprisingly work well and are super easy to do – all you need is a drill and a ⅜ drill bit. You need to ensure the holes are drilled right before the muffler (important!). 

This works because sound vibrations generated by the combustion could escape into the atmosphere before they are silenced by the muffler. Thus, improving the sound of the car. I Cover this topic in this article If you’re interested.

illustration of a car exhaust system
Drill 6 holes with 3/8 drill bit in this area.

Conclusion

I hope this article has been useful to you. If all you look for is to improve sound, then pick one of the alternatives I just mentioned. Exhaust headers are meant for performance improvement – not sound. If I have to choose, I would personally go for cold air intake. The sound improvement is amazing and it gives a little bit of horsepower!

If you like what you read, then feel free to read more of my articles and understand more of your car 🙂

Ifandi S.

Ifandi S.

Passionate about everything mechanical. Ifandi has been involved with motorcycles and cars since the old days - in his family's auto parts shop. Want to keep in touch? Scream "STRAIGHT PIPEEEEE" at the top of your lungs and Ifandi will show up.

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