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Understanding Exhaust Systems: When is Replacement Necessary?

Car muffler

Understanding exhaust systems and how they fit into a car’s ecosystem actually isn’t too difficult. For one, your muffler will give you a very audible clue when it’s time to head to the shop — after all, if this part isn’t doing its job of keeping the car quiet, then it’s definitely time for a replacement.

Not all aspects of your exhaust system are as in-your-face as a broken muffler, however. The following are a few signs that you might want to get your vehicle’s exhaust system inspected:

Muffer and exhaust systemMore Than Mufflers

Part of understanding exhaust systems is learning about the different components, from engine to tailpipe. Up front, your vehicle’s motor makes use of an exhaust manifold (sometimes called a header) to remove combustion gases from the cylinders. The manifold is linked to a catalytic converter that cleans up the chemical mixture before sending it down the line to a resonator and the muffler, both of which quiet down the sound produced when the gases roar through the metal tubing.

The Telltale Tick

Exhaust leaks aren’t always loud, and they aren’t always linked to your car’s muffler. Each of the exhaust system parts listed above are connected through welds and flanges, and with time and corrosion, these connections can start to loosen.

One of the first signs that exhaust gases are escaping prematurely is a tick that gets louder or faster when you hit the gas. A ticking sound can also indicate a crack in an exhaust manifold or a hole in any part of the system. Depending on how serious the leak is, it can often be repaired with a patch or a fresh weld.

Gradually Getting Louder

Mufflers don’t typically deteriorate to the point of falling off without first giving you clues that something’s wrong. Usually, a muffler that’s past its prime will incrementally get louder as the interior chambers and sound-deadening materials break down. It’s not always easy to detect initially, but eventually you’ll notice that your vehicle is significantly louder than it used to be. This generally indicates either a large break in the exhaust system or a muffler that’s on its way out. Either way, this is the opportune time to take your car to the shop and have it checked out.

Check out all the exhaust system parts available on NAPA Online or trust one of our 17,000 NAPA AutoCare locations for routine maintenance and repairs. For more information on understanding exhaust systems, chat with a knowledgeable expert at your local NAPA AUTO PARTS store.

Photo courtesy of Flickr

Benjamin Hunting View All

Having been bitten by the car bug at a young age, I spent my formative years surrounded by Studebakers at car shows across Quebec and the northeastern United States. Over ten years of racing, restoring, and obsessing over automobiles lead me to balance science writing and automotive journalism full time.  I currently contribute as an editor to several online and print automotive publications, and I also write and consult for the pharmaceutical and medical device industry.

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