Your exhaust system plays a vital role in the overall performance of your vehicle. It's composed of tubing intended to expel exhaust gases away from the controlled combustion taking place inside your engine. By speeding up the removal of these waste gases, you streamline your motor's performance for increases in horsepower, gas mileage and overall efficiency. But, like most of the stock components on your vehicle, your exhaust system is not designed for optimum performance, which is why it's important to have a basic understanding of the separate components. Armed with this knowledge, you'll be able to make smarter performance exhaust upgrades.
Cars and trucks differ slightly in the placement of the exhaust system, with truck exhaust components often visible and exposed while automobiles are usually embedded within the undercarriage. But, whatever you're driving, your exhaust system is typically made up of four basic components:
Headers connect to the engine at the exhaust ports and serve to collect exhaust gases from the cylinders. Typically made of cast iron or fabricated tubing, they channel spent gases into a common outlet, which connects to the next component in the exhaust system.
For the most part, exhaust headers are manufactured by aftermarket automotive companies and can be purchased through independent part suppliers. They can also be purchased through the parts department at a car dealership, though usually for a considerable markup. Most performance-enhancing enthusiasts buy aftermarket headers made by companies who specialize in producing reliable, cost-effective headers created specifically for their make, model and year, like those often found in a Flowmaster exhaust system.
A turbocharger is a gas compressor that forces air into an internal combustion engine, increasing the density of air to create more power. The compressor in a turbocharger is powered by a turbine and the engine's own exhaust gases, unlike superchargers that are powered by a direct mechanical drive.
First introduced in the 1950s, a catalytic converter reduces the amount of pollution produced by an internal combustion engine. Hot exhaust gases containing carbon monoxide and oxides of nitrogen and hydrocarbons make their way through the exhaust pipe and are filtered through a coating of precious metals found on the converter's substrate. Similar to the filtration system of a Brita or other water purification device, the substrate is a network of small ceramic passageways that weaken the polluting chemicals and convert them into a more environmentally-friendly byproduct of combustion.
It's the muffler's job to minimize the force and noise created by a running engine. And, despite the old saying, "if it's too loud, you're too old," mufflers are even required by law in some states. A muffler reduces pulsations created by exhaust gases while permitting the spent gases to pass freely through the system. To contain and minimize unwanted exhaust noise, mufflers are lined with wool, fiber mat or fiberglass, providing an insulated sound barrier. All this happens while avoiding excessive backpressure. Backpressure reduces power and performance, acting as an inadvertent brake against the engine.
Your exhaust system plays a vital role in the overall performance of your vehicle. And, whether you're looking for parts like an enhanced muffler, catalytic converter or new headers, streamlining your exhaust system is sure to provide a noticeable power difference you'll feel in the seat of your pants.
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