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The Automotive Exhaust System & Its Components

Educational  ·  July 20, 2020

The Automotive Exhaust System & Its Components

Let's talk about the 'unsung hero' of the combustion-engine automobile: the exhaust system.

For many people, it's easy to overlook the importance of the automotive exhaust system. Most might shrug it off as that part where the car expels all the foul fuel byproducts, including smoke, minute particles, and all those nasty gases that are bad for the planet.

But if you look a little closer, you'll find that this system has a vital role to play. Of course, it provides a way for the car's 'waste' to exit the vehicle. However, it also contributes to the car's performance and your overall driving experience.

By the end of this article, you'll get a basic understanding of the automotive exhaust system and its core components.

The Importance of the Exhaust System

First, let's talk about why the exhaust system is so important.

The combustion process inside your engine produces one byproduct: harmful exhaust fumes. These fumes need to exit the vehicle smoothly, and it does that by moving through the exhaust system. If these fumes aren't able to flow out of the engine efficiently, it could lead to a buildup that deteriorates the engine from inside.

It isn't just a risk to the engine's components, either. With a faulty exhaust system, there's a risk of carbon monoxide buildup inside the cabin. Carbon monoxide is dangerous to humans and could result in seizures and death!

So, you see, having a well-functioning automotive exhaust system not only protects the engine, but it also keeps you and your passengers safe!

Do Electric and Hybrid Cars Have Exhausts?

These days, we see lots of electric and hybrid cars on the road. Do electric and hybrid vehicles have exhaust systems?

Well, since electric vehicles don't burn any fuel, there aren't any exhaust fumes to expel. Therefore, all-electric cars don't need exhaust systems.

Hybrid vehicles, on the other hand, still have an engine inside. So, yes, hybrid cars still require an automotive exhaust system.

Now, let's look at some of the essential components that make up an automotive exhaust system. Depending on your exhaust system setup, the components may differ slightly. But here are a few of the core essentials.

What are the Core Components of a Car Exhaust System?

Exhaust Manifold

The exhaust manifold is attached to the car's engine. To be specific, it's connected to all your engine's cylinders, where it'll collect exhaust gases and channel them into a single exhaust pipe. Usually, the manifold is made of cast iron and is designed to take up the least amount of space possible.

For better performance, it's possible to get an aftermarket header and replace the stock manifold that came with the car. This is often done to increase the car's power output. The basic idea is this: using a header makes it easier for exhaust gases to be removed and there will be less resistance in the engine. This makes it easier for the engine to do its job and produce power.

Catalytic Converter

Further down the exhaust system is the catalytic converter. The reason it's called a 'converter' is that it converts dangerous emissions to water and carbon dioxide. The converted emissions include carbon monoxide, hydrocarbons, and nitrous oxides


The exhaust system's piping isn't just the part that sticks out the back of the car (which is called the tailpipe, by the way). There's actually a fair bit of piping that goes into the car and connects all exhaust components. Not all piping are made the same, especially when it comes to automotive exhaust systems.

For example, piping with a diameter that is too small will cause power to drop at high RPMs. On the other hand, one with a diameter too large will also cause drops in performance, particularly when it comes to torque. On top of that, piping that's too big will have a higher risk of hitting the ground while you drive.


Remember: the exhaust system is connected directly to your engine's cylinders where all the combustion takes place. Aside from gas emissions, an exhaust system will also carry with it lots and lots of noise! As a method of reducing that noise, exhaust systems have mufflers. The name makes its function pretty obvious: it muffles the sound down to a level that is acceptable, not only by law but also by the people around you. Mufflers allow sound waves to bounce off its inside walls, which reduces the overall noise.

Here's some good news if you're looking to customise your vehicle: mufflers come in all shapes and sizes, with plenty of aftermarket options from which to choose.


Some exhaust systems will also have a resonator. This will either be as part of the muffler or as a separate component. Resonators serve the same purpose as a muffler, which is why these two parts complement each other. Where a muffler allows sound waves to bounce off its internal walls, resonators are actually wider sections of piping. Because of that extra width, sound waves bounce around inside the resonator and cancel each other out.

The end result? Less noise, just like with a muffler.

What Are the Most Common Issues with Auto Exhaust Systems?

For most exhaust problems, it's best to let a professional sort it out for you, but you can look out for a few common symptoms.

Believe it or not, the Check Engine light could sometimes indicate a problem with the exhaust system. Unfortunately, that light can also come on for a wide range of other issues, making it a little challenging to identify its cause as an exhaust issue.

Other more obvious symptoms include unusually loud noises and vibrations. You're probably familiar with the sounds that your car makes. However, if there's an exceptionally loud noise coming from the exhaust system, or if there's an unusual vibration that you feel, it's best to take it in for a check-up.

Potential problems with the exhaust system should not be taken lightly. We wouldn't want the problem to become worse than it already is, because it'll end up costing more in repairs. Also, as mentioned above, you wouldn't want to take the risk of having any harmful gases leak into the cabin!

If you're looking to replace or upgrade any part of your exhaust system, check out CarPart's free Auto Parts Finder. Once you submit the details of what you're looking for, your request will go out to over 500 auto parts sellers across Australia! Then, all you'll have to do is sit back, wait for the quotes to come your way, and choose the best-priced offer for the exhaust system component that you need. Ask for a quote now!

By Ray Hasbollah

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