Long Vs Short Tube Headers: Horsepower, Sound, MPG & Tune

Long tubes deliver best when it comes to gaining more power, they are designed to work well on high RPM ranges and they sound meaner, compared to short tube headers.

Short tubes are for those who aim for better fuel efficiency, they are designed to work in the low to mid RPM range, which is the RPM range where you will be driving most.

I’ve tried both of these types of headers on my cars. I was lucky to find a pair of good headers in the junkyard during my college time and installed them on my Chevy 350. Since they were also taken away from a Camaro, I didn’t have much issue fitting into mine.

It definitely gained some obvious horses, however it didn’t go well on gas mileage. My car is doing 19mpg with the stock manifolds, and with the long tube headers I installed, I am getting around 12mpg.

Few weeks ago, I got myself a pair of short tube headers. They looked similar to the stock manifolds, and I feel it is better engineered. I got it installed, and the first difference I noticed is the low-end torque, and fuel efficiency is even better than the stock ones.

In this article, I will dive deeper on this subject and help you choose the right ones for your car with the followings:-

  1. Pros & Cons of Long and Short Tube Headers
  2. Comparing the sound of both headers
  3. Do you need to tune your car after installation?
  4. Legal
  5. Cost of installation
  6. Recommendation of which you should go for

Long Tube Headers Vs Short Tube Headers

Long Tube Headers Short Tube Headers
Horsepower gain High Moderate
Backpressure Low Higher
Performance improvement Higher RPM range Lower RPM range
Sound improvement Big improvement in sound Medium to low
Fuel efficiency (MPG) Low fuel efficiency Good fuel efficiency
Tune required  Recommended Recommended
Legal Not everywhere Legal
Cost Low to medium Medium to high
Installation Harder Easy
Suitable for turbo No Yes
Exhaust Header And Manifold

Aftermarket exhaust headers reduce backpressure by allowing exhaust gases to flow easily

Performance Improvement: Long Vs Short Tube Headers

Both long tube and short tube headers will improve the horsepower ratings, but they both work differently. Long tube headers provide horsepower on higher RPM scale, whereas short tube headers on lower RPM scale.

Long tube headers work the best at the peak of the RPM scale. When the engine reaches the red line of its RPM, this is where long tube headers deliver the most out of it. This is most suitable for drag racing applications where the peak torque is most important.

Short tube headers do their job best in low to mid RPM. They are designed for better efficiency that’ll improve the performance. This installation approach is perfect for cars that rely on lower RPM power (like daily driver) and even better for a turbo boosted engine.

Sound Improvement: Long Vs Short Tube Headers

Long tube headers provide louder and meaner sound than short tube headers. Those awesome roaring might make it hard for you to resist putting the pedal to the metal.

Long tube headers are, of course, longer. They have exhaust gases flow longer inside them, thus delivering more sound in the process. Even at idle they will still sound amazing. 

Fuel Efficiency (MPG): Long Vs Short Tube Headers

Short tube headers are better when it comes to fuel efficiency.  It has to do with its length, having shorter exhaust flow allows the engine to deliver power more efficiently. It works best at lower RPM range, where most of us will be driving the most.

The long tube headers require more air to be sucked into the engine. This process will make the engine consume more fuel, therefore making it less fuel efficient.

RELATED ARTICLE: Exhaust Headers & Fuel Economy: Why Headers Improve Mileage


short tube headers

Short tube headers have shorter gas travel distance

Tune Required: Long Vs Short Tube Headers

A tune is required for installing long or short tube headers in order to deliver the right performance. The ECU needs to be adjusted to the right air/fuel mixture that can work better with the new headers. 

This applies to every modern car that is running on an ECU. You will not need a tune if your car is running a carbureted V8 engine.

Is It Legal?: Long Vs Short Tube Headers

Long tube headers are illegal at all states. In some states, the regulations are stricter and, while some less strict and you may take a corner or two.

If you live in California, you are probably not going to pass the emission test. The readings from your headers will be very different compared to stock manifolds. If these mods are not tested and approved, you will be fined.

If you have a long tube headers installed, they most probably won’t stay within sound ordinances and if you live in a big city, you might face a bigger risk for a hefty fine. Check your state and local laws, because some places have noise restrictions.

Cost: Long Vs Short Tube Headers

Short tube headers will be more expensive to install. This also depends much on the quality of fabrication and the materials, and also on the complexity.

Short tube headers require more fabrication. If you are getting some headers for turbo installation, you will probably pay more than $300 for the cheap ones for a single bank. A pair of quality flow masters will probably cost you more than $900.

Long tube headers are fairly easy to make, and the cost of a pair of long tube headers usually falls in the “affordable” range. You can get decent ones for around $200. Used for maybe less. But good ones will set you back $600-700 or even more. (I got very lucky to find one in a junkyard)

Suitable For Turbo Cars: Long Vs Short Tube Headers

If you want to install headers on a turbo boosted engine, short tube headers are ones that shine! Their size also makes them fairly easy to install. Short tube headers have a more compact design. 

They can be easily fitted nicely alongside your turbo flange and piping.

Long tube headers are not practical for these types of applications. Long tube headers work best with naturally aspirated and supercharged engines. If you really want to do it on turbo cars, you should expect to relocate or remove your catalytic converter, and it will be very tricky to do. You’ll definitely need professional help if you’re not well equipped for this installation. 

Which Should You Install: Long Or Short Tube Headers?

If you have a turbo boosted engine on your car, go for the short tube headers. If your car is running a naturally aspirated or supercharged engine, for the long tube headers. 

Note: Long tube headers are larger and will need a little more work to fit nicely.You will probably need to do some massaging with a hammer in order to make them fit. 

Final Thoughts

In this article, we compared these two types of headers. Both of these types of headers have different purposes and applications.

Depending on your engine and the result you want to get, you can choose the right type for your car. It’s your call now, really. If you really want me to choose, the answer is always go for long tube.

Chai WJ.

Chai WJ.

I am a car enthusiast and a passionate rider who loves to discover new places. Since the pandemic, I can't go to places and I started to blog and share information that I learned. I'm not easily distracted, I just... OMG, do I hear a Supra?

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