As you first dive into the world of car modification, you’re tossed into a massive word salad with all sorts of words, terms, and acronyms that you’re supposed to know, but no one really ever takes the time to explain them. When exploring the world of bolt-on modifications, you’ll see these three things thrown around a ton, but what exactly is the deal with them, and how do they interact with each other to give you more power? if you’re looking for the first things to do for performance improvements and power gains, there are some parts that deliver better results than others. Before you rush off to a complete overhaul, though, it’s important to know just how these parts work in order to decide what will deliver the best results. Here, we compare headers vs. manifolds to explain just how they work to improve your ride’s performance.
The benefits of exhaust headers:
So what’s the difference between exhaust headers and an exhaust manifold? They essentially do the same job, the distinction comes down to how they are made. The difference between them is that an exhaust manifold is a solid cast iron structure across all cylinders while an exhaust header is made up of a series of individual steel tubes for each exhaust port, welded to meet at a collector to bring the exhaust gases down to a single pipe.
Your vehicle’s engine produces all its power during the power stroke. During this stroke, the gasoline in the cylinder burns and expands to generate power. Once the exhaust gases vacate the cylinder, they end up in the exhaust manifold and then flow into one pipe toward the catalytic converter. The exhaust header helps eliminate the manifold’s back pressure. So, instead of a common manifold shared by all the cylinders, each cylinder gets its own exhaust pipe, and then they come together in a larger pipe called the collector.
The benefits of exhaust manifolds:
Exhaust manifolds perform the same role in funneling spent exhaust gas from the engine. Purely utilitarian, these heavy chunks of cast-iron do their job adequately, but don’t exactly inspire performance. Horsepower and torque are sacrificed in the name of lower manufacturing costs and increased emissions, sapping acceleration from your ride. Even worse, some factory manifolds are prone to cracking, putting even the toughest trucks out of commission.
A performance exhaust manifold, like the aFe BladeRunner Exhaust Manifold, wakes up your street machine with high-flow ductile iron or 304 stainless steel castings. This boosts your low-end grunt for towing and increases mileage when you’re just cruising. Performance exhaust manifolds are a great bolt-n-go part with very little maintenance needed, unlike headers that require re-tightening periodically.
The majority of exhaust manifolds are more akin to tubular exhaust headers with attached catalytic converters. That means that if one fails, both need to be replaced regardless of the issue. Adding insult to injury, many drivers experience sticker-shock when the time comes to replace a cracked or failing factory manifold. Thankfully, something like the PaceSetter Exhaust Manifold Catalytic Converter gives you an affordable option to replace a damaged manifold. With 16-gauge stainless steel construction, these American-made manifold/catalytic assemblies outlast the best OEM has to offer. On top of that, they’re designed to optimize exhaust flow, giving your ride better fuel economy and power. For a balance of leak-free reliability and a boost in power, a performance exhaust manifold can’t be beat.
The benefits installing performance headers & intake manifolds:
Replacing your intake manifold isn’t as popular as it once was, as these days it’s generally more beneficial and easier to replace the intake box and tube assembly than the manifold itself, which is now much more tightly integrated with other systems and emission equipment. Intake manifolds play an important role in providing the structural base for your vehicle’s fuel injection system. When you feed your engine more air and fuel, it’s able to produce more power. A high flowing intake manifold is essential if you’re looking to make big power and torque numbers.
No matter how many go-fast goodies you bolt on, a restrictive factory exhaust manifold creates a performance bottleneck. All internal combustion engines obey this one rule — fresh air can’t come in if spent exhaust can’t get out. The solution is to replace those clunky chunks of metal with a performance manifold, or a custom set of headers, which let your ride breathe freely. These high-flow gems crank out more juice than your stock manifolds and are built to last.
Good brands to look out for:
As with anything in this industry, there is a seemingly never ending supply of good companies out there making great performance parts, but many of these companies focus on specific categories of car, or brands, so it’s difficult to recommend one and be sure that they will have options for the general reader. That’s why I’ll just be focused on the major brands in the space that are most likely to have something for your car, and can be trusted to do good work.
Edelbrock has been legendary in the world of performance parts since the 1930s. You can build entire engines from their extensive catalogs, or just give your existing engine a boost (literally) with their supercharger kits, headers, intake manifolds, cams, you name it. They certainly don’t offer the cheapest parts, but they usually aren’t the most expensive either. What you’re getting is performance parts you can trust without completely emptying the bank to do so.
With one of the widest application coverage, and a quite a few options available for many makes within that range, you’re bound to come across PaceSetter in your hunt for performance headers. Especially with their line with built-in catalytic converters. Their headers are built in the USA, and offer competitive warranties as well. Hard to go wrong here.
Not too many companies can sell you an intake and complete exhaust kit, but Corsa has excelled in the industry for over 20 years. With solid vehicle coverage, solid warranties, bolt on installation, and surprisingly low pricing given the quality, these guys are a no-brainer.
Especially known for their Cat4ward series headers, JBA is a great option for quality headers at a range of price points to fit your budget. They offer a range of finish options from Nickel-chrome plating, to stainless steel, so ceramic coating, and even titanium ceramic coating to give you options to fit your needs as well as your budget.
You can’t talk exhaust without Flowmaster coming up. They’re known mostly for their mufflers and cat-back kits, but Flowmaster doesn’t seem to do anything poorly, and if anyone knows exhaust, it’s these guys. Their Scavenger series is a prime example of equal length headers done right, even in short-tube form.
Doug Thorley Headers:
For over 60 years now Doug Thorley has been setting the standard for high performance headers. Now with an emphasis on compatibility, all of their headers are built to meet 50 state emissions standards, are compatible factory O2 sensors, made in the USA, and every one of their headers carries a lifetime warranty.