You need to consider many things when deciding for the best aftermarket exhaust. They are not a cheap upgrade but can improve your car in many aspects like horsepower, sound and of course – how sexy your car will look with the new exhaust tips. 🙂

After researching through dozens of exhaust systems (both online and in person), I find the Flowmaster Force II Exhaust (Amazon affiliate link) to be the best. Why so? I’ll tell you later down the article. For now, let’s discuss what you should look for when shopping from an exhaust.

image of flowmaster axleback exhaust
Axleback Flowmaster exhaust.

It doesn’t matter if you are looking to get a header-back, cat-back or axle-back exhaust. The things you should evaluate are generally the same.

Piping Diameter

I would say piping diameter is the most crucial aspect when choosing an exhaust. Exhaust pipe that’s too wide or too narrow will hurt engine performance. If the piping is too narrow – exhaust gases cannot flow easily. If the piping is too wide – exhaust gases cannot flow quickly. In general, you want the exhaust piping to be wider than stock, but not too wide. 

As a general rule, the diameter of an exhaust pipe should be proportional to the horsepower your engine has. Exhaust Diameter in inch = Horsepower / 100. For example, if your car has 300 horsepower, you should get an aftermarket exhaust that’s 3”. If your car has 250 horsepower, you should get an exhaust that’s 2.5”. This is just a general rule. You don’t have to follow it strictly.

Note that this rule applies for the main piping diameter. NOT the diameter of the exhaust tip.  Don’t confuse the two. If the sizing is not clearly indicated, please have a chat with the seller to clarify. Extremely important!

Image of header back exhaust
Main piping.
Exhaust tip piping.

Sound Changes

There’s no good or bad here – it’s all about preferences. However, it’s always a good idea to know how loud your car will sound before purchasing the exhaust. After all – the sound should be the most noticeable change after you install an exhaust.

Some online stores indicate how loud the exhaust will be. If this information is not provided to you – then I suggest searching on YouTube. I am pretty sure there are guys who have installed it and recorded a before and after noise. You could also check out forum posts to find out how loud the sound will be after installing that specific exhaust.

Horsepower Gain

Don’t expect to gain 100 horsepower by replacing an exhaust – that’s never going to happen. In fact, horsepower gain from changing an exhaust is minimal. Maybe 20 – 30 horsepower if you are lucky. The horsepower gain is also dependent on the size of your engine – the bigger the engine, the higher horsepower you could gain by replacing the exhaust. 

That said, it won’t hurt to research about the potential gain before purchasing. If the manufacturer does not tell you, then you can look for answers on forums. Though if you can’t find it,  I wouldn’t worry too much about it. Because as I said, the horsepower gain is minimal.

Material

Your aftermarket exhaust should be made of stainless steel and nothing else. Stainless steel is durable and protects your exhaust from rusting. An exhaust system is expensive and it should last a long time. When your car runs through water, the exhaust system will be one of the first components that come in contact with the water. I can’t stress it enough, your exhaust piping must not rust. 

To ensure this, look for an exhaust system that’s made of 304 or 409 stainless steel. Both are durable and protect your exhaust from rusting. 304 is a higher grade stainless steel but 409 is more widely used in exhaust systems.

Customer Review

I always think customers review the best indication when buying any parts. Look for an exhaust system that has a rating above 4/5. Also make sure the product has at least 500 reviews – anything less and it could be faked. Other ways you could get customer reviews is through forums. If you can’t specifically find your exhaust model, at least look for reviews on the company that’s producing them.

Ease Of Installation

Performance exhaust is fun and games until you can’t get it installed. This could lead to hours or days of frustration – custom welding and cutting and it’s still not working! To prevent this, ensure below:

  • Purchase only the exhaust that’s specifically made for your car model and year.
  • Look at the installation instructions – is it straight forward? Can you understand it? 
  • Look at the product reviews. Customers who review typically mention how long it took them to install. 
  • Do they include all the necessary parts? Clamping, hangers, etc.

Headerback Vs. Catback Vs. Axleback

Finally! Decision time – which exhaust should you purchase? 

This depends on your goal and budget. If you are really keen on gaining extra performance and you have the money – then go for a headerback. I usually don’t recommend headerback because it’s harder to install and they can be quite expensive. A headerback replaces your entire exhaust system – including:

  • Catalytic converter
  • Muffler
  • Exhaust piping beginning after exhaust header to tailpipe

 

If you want to increase performance and also sound but don’t have such a big budget, then go for catback. I would recommend you get a catback. You get the best of both worlds. Increased performance with not so expensive price. This is the most popular type of exhaust too. If you are really serious about the performance gain, you should invest in parts like turbo instead. Performance exhaust won’t gain you that much horsepower. A catback replaces parts of your exhaust system:

  • Muffler
  • Exhaust piping beginning after catalytic converter to tailpipe

 

If you don’t have much budget and want to improve the sound of your car, plus have a good looking exhaust tailpipe, then axleback is the way to go. Axleback is the cheapest exhaust system that you could go for. Nothing much to say here. It includes:

  • Muffler
  • Exhaust piping around the muffler to tailpipe

Flowmaster Exhaust System

There are many good and popular exhaust brands out there like Flowmaster, MagnaFlow, Borla and MBRP. Each of them have die hard followers that will straight up oppose one brand over the other. But after researching comparing all these brands, I still go back to Flowmaster Force II Exhaust (Amazon affiliate link). Let’s see why:

 

  • YouTube channel. The folks at Flowmaster have a YouTube channel where they show you how each of their exhaust sounds and also how to install. With this, you can easily research which is best for you before purchasing. Here is their YouTube channel 
  • Lifetime warranty. Flowmaster provides limited lifetime warranty for all their exhaust systems made of stainless steel. Pretty sweet!
  • Good sound. Well this is just my opinion – but you could think the same. Flowmaster provides different models of exhaust with different sounds. I like the sound from the Force II  series – they are not so loud but still very aggressive.
  • Premium quality. Flowmaster exhausts are generally of good quality. I am not saying it’s the best there is or it definitely won’t break. But at least it has a lifetime warranty.
  • Easy to install. They are relatively easy to install. I am not saying they are easy and can be done by anybody. But the folks at Flowmaster include all the necessary clamping and hangers for your exhaust. You also won’t need custom welding – as long as you purchase the exhaust for your car model and year. 

 

Flowmaster exhaust systems come in different series. I will not try to explain this, because the folks at Flowmaster have a video explaining just that.

That being said, my favorite is the Force II series because they are not so loud yet still sound aggressive. And they do provide a good increase in performance.

I don’t really like exhaust systems that are deafening but still want an upgrade for the look and performance 🙂 If you are like me – then definitely check out the Force II. If you are not – well, they also have other series! 

If you want Flowmaster exhausts that are a louder, than I also recommend both of these:

 

I hope this helps you in deciding the best exhaust system for you. Cheers!