In this article, I discuss the pipe that routes exhaust gases from the headers to the termination of the exhaust path, as well as pipe sizing, materials, bending methods, pipe clamping, and pipe support.
To select exhaust pipe for a given application, first consider your budget. Expense factors include materials, quantity of pipe (single versus dual system), the application of a specialty coating, and pipe-bending labor. Stainless steel is more expensive than mild steel. The advantages of using stainless steel are longer life, in terms of corrosion resistance, and superior heat transfer. If your budget is tight, if you don’t plan to operate the vehicle in a variety of climates, and you’re not overly concerned with surface corrosion, mild steel is certainly an option. Pipes made of mild steel are available as bare steel, but are also commonly offered with corrosion-resistant aluminized or galvanized surface treatments. If your budget allows, stainless steel is preferred, especially from standpoints of longevity and long-term appearance.
Fit and Clearance Considerations
In terms of fitment to a vehicle, you can cobble a system together by purchasing a selection of pipe shapes (straight sections, pre-bent 45-degree and 90-degree sections, etc.) and trimming to length. Pipe-to-pipe sections must be either welded or clamped together. Another option is to purchase a pre-formed kit that is already shaped to fit your specific vehicle. Many manufacturers offer complete systems for popular vehicles that include pipe and mufflers that generally require only assembly and installation.
Yet another option is to have your entire exhaust pipe system custom-bent for your specific application. The custom approach is often required for unique applications, such as custom street rods, where no pre-designed system may be available. The choice of your pipe system is based on both cost and how much, if any, of the work you prefer to do on your own.
Your selection of pipe diameter should be based on engine size and existing or planned horsepower level. Typically, a performance-oriented V-8 engine application requires pipe diameter in the 2.5- to 3.5-inch range. Keep in mind that for any given application, pipe diameter should be slightly larger for a single exhaust system than for a dual system. However, bigger is not always better. If the pipe is too large in diameter, you lose exhaust flow velocity, which can actually hurt engine performance. Pay attention to the entire undercarriage for clearance issues. Placing pipes too close to the floor can lead to excessive heat transfer to the floor and carpet. Also, if the pipes are close enough to the floor, frame, or subframe they can make contact, resulting in annoying banging or irritating resonance noise. Remember that the exhaust system is connected to the engine and moves in relation to the engine’s movement on its mounts. Unlike some race cars that have a solid-mounted engine, street vehicles feature engine and transmission mounts that provide a bit of compliance.
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Make sure that the pipes clear the transmission and driveshaft properly. If the pipes are too close to the transmission, the transmission fluid temperature could elevate, which could potentially result in transmission damage. Generally speaking, I maintain at least a 1-inch clearance between any exhaust pipe and the transmission or the transmission cooling lines. Pay attention to driveshaft clearance to make sure that the pipes cannot contact the driveshaft. When trial-fitting the pipes, support the vehicle on a lift or stands and allow the rear suspension to hang unloaded. If you plan to use a crossover pipe with a dual-pipe system, make sure that the crossover clears the driveshaft even with the rear suspension unloaded.
Unless you’re using a side-exhaust layout, your pipes route to the rear bumper area. As a result, the pipes need to route over or under the rear axle. If the pipes run over the axle, sufficient clearance between the pipes and the axle housing is critical. With the vehicle’s suspension loaded, compress the suspension by having a helper bounce the rear of the vehicle up and down while observing body-to-axle clearance. If the pipes route under the axle, check clearance with the rear suspension unloaded. Any vehicle’s exhaust system must exit beyond the body to avoid exhaust fumes from entering the vehicle interior. If you plan to run a full-length exhaust system with the pipes exiting the rear, the tips should be flush with or slightly beyond the rear bumper. If the pipe(s) is not long enough, or if you want to enhance appearance, add a stainless steel or chrome exhaust tip to the exit of each pipe. Since the exhaust tips are visible, stainless steel is preferred because of its corrosion resistance.
When planning the exhaust pipe routing locations, always be aware of pipe-hanger requirements. The system must be properly supported to minimize movement and to avoid stresses. If the system is not properly supported, the weight of the mufflers and pipes can easily induce excessive strain at a number of locations, including at the header collector and even all the way to the header flange attachment at the cylinder heads. Avoid solid hangers for street use. All support hangers should provide some degree of compliance to accommodate exhaust system vibration, engine-rocking movement during acceleration and deceleration, and to allow the exhaust pipes to expand and contract under heat and cool-down. If you choose to use attractive billet hangers they should at least feature temperature-resistant bushings.
Exhaust Pipe Sizing
As with carburetors or camshafts, bigger is not necessarily better. The exhaust pipe diameter needs to be matched to the engine displacement and level of horsepower output. Although a larger diameter pipe may look cool, if the diameter is too large for the application, you lose exhaust velocity and low- to mid-range power suffers as a result. In the world of pipe, published diameters always refer to the pipe’s OD. As a result, the ID is slightly smaller, the extent of which is determined by the pipe wall thickness/gauge.
You need to determine engine intake volume and then approximately match this volume for the exhaust. The formula (which is also in Chapter 7) for finding this is:
Engine Intake Volume = RPM x .001 x displacement ÷ 2
For instance, if your target is to obtain optimum performance at, say, 4,000 rpm, and the engine displacement is 350 ci, the volume is 700 cfm (4,000 x .001 x 350 ÷ 2). The exhaust pipes’ total CFM should be in the same range. To determine the ideal exhaust pipe diameter, refer to “Exhaust Pipe Diameter” on page 138. To develop an accurate estimate of pipe flow capacity, refer to “Pipe CFM” on page 139.
Three types of pipe bending approaches are available for automotive exhaust pipe: crush, wrinkle, and mandrel. The bending process may be handled manually or with hydraulic assistance.
Also called press, ram, or compression bending, crush bending refers to tube bending for which only a radius die and backing shoes are employed, with no supporting mandrel placed inside the tube. The result, although functional, is a bend on the inside of the radius. As the pipe is drawn across the radius die, the outside of the tube bend (called the heel) is stretched, while the inside of the bend (called the throat) is contracted, leaving a slight depression along the inside of the bend.
This is one of the most common, and equipment-wise, the most economical type of bending. The typical exhaust shop likely uses this type of bender. While mandrel bending can result in a smooth, consistent surface on both the outside and inside of the bend radius, a crush bender achieves, for lack of a better term, a factory-original appearance. Crush bending results in a non-round, somewhat elliptical, shape that slightly restricts flow.
This bending process, which is also referred to as crinkle bending, does not use a mandrel. Heat is applied to the pipe at the area to be bent until the pipe is red-hot. As the pipe is forced along the die, the inside throat of the bend collapses in a series of accordion-shaped wrinkles. This type of bend is commonly found in many OEM and direct-replacement aftermarket pipes.
Wrinkle bends slightly reduce the inside diameter, along with creating a series of humps that can affect both flow and sound. This type of bending that results in inside-radius wrinkles is typically achieved during a high-production process. Wrinkle bending is not common for do-it-yourself bending or at any custom shop.
Both crush and wrinkle bending distort the pipe diameter at the bend area. Mandrel bending can provide a smoother, virtually uninterrupted final product, free of kinks and creases. Mandrel bending differs from crush bending because of the mandrel that’s placed inside the pipe. The mandrel supports the inner walls of the pipe as the pipe sweeps through the die and backing shoes, resulting in a bend that is virtually free of diameter or profile changes. The mandrel is also lubricated, usually with a lithium grease, to provide a smooth gliding action inside the pipe. However, just because a mandrel is placed inside the pipe doesn’t automatically mean that you won’t have a slight deformation inside the bend radius.
Mandrels are comprised of a series of rounded radius-faced balls that are secured together by a flexible cable. The series of balls (usually made of brass) is able to flex and follow the bend radius while supporting the inside walls of the pipe during the bending process. The width and the number of balls have an effect on the final appearance. In addition, in order to achieve a super-smooth inside bend, a wiper die is used on the bending machine that smooths out any irregularities as the pipe passes through the dies, resulting in a smooth bend that retains the original diameter and enhances appearance at the same time.
Mandrel-bending equipment is expensive and is generally found only in high-performance exhaust manufacturing facilities and high-level custom exhaust shops. If you purchase headers from any of the leading manufacturers, the pipes are mandrel bent, as are exhaust pipes from performance exhaust makers, such as Stainless Works, Corsa, Borla, Flowmaster, etc. Many independent custom shops offer mandrel bending if you need to have custom exhaust components made to order to fit your vehicle and off-the-shelf systems are not available. Compared to crush or wrinkle bending, mandrel bending is the preferred method because it produces smooth consistent bends. In fact, it produces no abrupt changes in volume through the bend area: Optimum engine performance can be achieved. Pre-made mandrel-bent pipe or having custom pipe made with the use of mandrel bending is more costly, but in terms of both performance optimization and appearance, it’s worth it. You get what you pay for.
Manual Bending Machines
A hand-operated kit that features a selection of dies and backing shoes can manually bend exhaust pipe. Sheer brute force via a lever that pulls the pipe across the bending die does the bending. It’s the cheap but labor-intensive route. While manual exhaust pipe benders are adequate for accomplishing the basic function of bending a pipe at a given angle, the results are less than ideal for optimum results. Because there is no internal support for the pipe, manual bending results in kinks and crush areas on the inside of the bend. If you don’t care about pipe diameter uniformity or appearance, manual benders are certainly an option. The machines range widely in both cost and quality. Inexpensive imported tools can be obtained for as little as $200 to $700, but quality can vary widely. Be aware that there is a difference between tubing benders and pipe benders. Inexpensive tubing benders that do an adequate job are generally suited to small-diameter tubes up to around the 1/2-inch-diameter size. Cheap pipe benders available at discount hardware outlets are commonly intended for bending thin-wall pipes up to 2 inches in diameter.
To accommodate exhaust pipes, the bender must be able to handle your planned pipe diameter, which is likely in the 2.5- to 3.5-inch range. The least-expensive tools typically include a bending fixture (often designed to be secured on a bench vise) and a selection of “shoes” that accommodate various tube or pipe diameters. Manual benders are useful for the basic function of creating a bend, but you do not achieve a distortion-free inside radius. The inside of the bend features a crush where the inside of the bend tries to collapse slightly without being able to maintain a consistent diameter throughout the bend area. These relatively inexpensive benders are available from a variety of retail sources, such as discount tool suppliers. Quality varies greatly, and many are made overseas.
Other types of manual bending machines require manual setting of all centerline radius points and pipe angles. They provide hydraulic force to actually perform the bends. In this case, the term “manual” simply refers to the need for the operator to place the pipe in the correct position (lengthwise and angle) for the intended bend. Depending on the size, number of features, and quality this type of bender can range in price from $800 to well over $4,000. Again, without a mandrel to provide internal pipe support, you end up with a slight deformation on the inside radius of the bend. Some owners can accept a slight deformation or wrinkle to the pipes, but many high-performance engine builders and racers find this unacceptable. For manual bending, the radius die is the fixture that provides the bend angle. The backing shoes (sometimes also called wiper dies) provide a contact surface at the outside of the bend, opposite of the radius die. The pipe is captured between the radius die and the backing shoes. The backing shoes are located on adjacent pivots, which allows them to turn while following the bend provided by the radius die. While the operator must manually position the pipe for each bend and for each bend angle, a hydraulic ram provides the bending force.
Bending machines are capable of more than simply bending the pipe. Depending on the available dies, you can perform a number of other tasks, including pipe flaring, expansion, reducing, ball flaring, and more. When using dies and backing shoes without inside supportive mandrels to perform a bend, the inside of the bend distorts somewhat, slightly reducing the diameter along the sweep of the bend, with a slight bulge at each end of the bend. This is where the advantage of a mandrel bend really shines. Since a mandrel (located inside the pipe) supports the pipe walls during the bend, you avoid the slight collapse of the inside of the bend. If you want maximum performance and optimum appearance to maintain a consistent pipe diameter free of kinks, mandrel bending is the only way to go, and you’re simply not going to achieve this with a manual bender. If your goal is to obtain a smooth-flowing and visually appealing exhaust system, you have three choices: Buy an existing pre-made kit from a leading performance exhaust maker that is already designed to fit your vehicle, take the vehicle to a custom pipe bender who has a mandrel bending machine, or if you insist on fabricating your own, purchase pipe sections in a variety of shapes (straight, 45-degree, 90-degree, etc.) so you can piece your system together by trimming and welding. The use of ball-type flange connectors at the header collector exits help to adjust pipe angles.
CNC Bending Machines
A CNC pipe bender is highly prized for accuracy, repeatability, and production speed. Once a software program has been written for a given length of pipe, a straight section of the selected-diameter pipe is placed into the machine. Once the machine is set up, achieving the final pipe shape essentially involves pressing a button. The machine automatically feeds the pipe to a specified distance, performs a bend, turns the pipe in the required direction, makes the next bend, etc. The machine does the work while the technician monitors the job from start to finish.
CNC bending machines are expensive and are primarily used by exhaust system manufacturers. The nice feature of CNC bending is its repeatability. The last pipe in a production run that’s formed according to a specific program is identical to the first pipe that was formed.
There’s no rule that says a pipe must be round. Specialty dies are available that allow an oval profile to be created. Why would you want an oval pipe? This shape is favored primarily when you have clearance issues. While an oval pipe can be made with the same cross-section volume as a round pipe, an oval pipe is narrower on one plane, which provides additional ground clearance for vehicles that have extremely low ground clearance (such as many NASCAR applications). This allows you to flow the same volume while providing a more compact installation (relative to undercarriage and ground). Oval pipes are also used on street rods where either ground clearance or appearance (or both) is an issue.
In terms of appearance, oval pipes provide a more unique look to the exhaust system. If you choose oval pipe, you won’t be able to make your own bends, but as long as you can lay the system out using a combination of straight, 45-degree, and/ or 90-degree pipe, raw sections are available for you to trim to length and weld together.
Pipe Material and Coatings
Common materials include mild steel and various grades of stainless steel. Mild steel is the easiest material to bend, while stainless materials are a bit stiffer but still conform well when formed in a precision bending machine operated by a skilled technician. As you might suspect, material prices vary as well; mild steel is the least expensive and higher grades of stainless steel are the most expensive.
Mild steel pipe requires a coating to resist corrosion. This can include aluminized pipe (where a molten spray of aluminum is applied to the outside of the pipe during manufacturing), galvanized pipe treated during manufacturing, or by the application of specialty coatings. These coatings can include high-temperature paint, high-temperature powdercoat paint, or specialized ceramic coatings. Of the many choices, ceramic coatings are the most durable. However, be aware that most ceramic coatings (or any coatings for that matter) are applied to the outer surfaces only. Although mild steel pipe lasts longer when coated, both in terms of function and appearance, mild steel can still degrade from the inside. All exhaust systems are exposed to moisture on the inside walls, simply because of the thermal changes that result from engine cold starts to warm up to cool-down.
Stainless steel, while still exposed to those same conditions, is much more resistant to both external conditions as well as internal sweating. However, there are varying grades of stainless steel. Many carmakers offer what they call stainless steel exhaust systems, when in fact this may be a very inexpensive “mystery mix” steel formula that features a very small percentage of alloy. As a case in point, in the late 1980s when my road race team ran Ford Mustang GTs in showroom stock endurance road races, the cars came from the factory equipped with shorty tubular exhaust headers that were advertised as being made from stainless steel. After one race, the headers turned brown and had quite a bit of surface rust. Although likely more durable than mild steel, the stainless material certainly didn’t live up to its name.
Aftermarket performance sources tend to use much higher grades of stainless, such as 304 or 321. These have much higher alloy content and do not rust. Some exhaust makers offer a choice of stainless grades, priced accordingly. A higher grade, 321 for example, provides higher fatigue resistance and is better suited for extreme temperature and vibration conditions such as turbocharging. In terms of function, even stainless steel can benefit from aftermarket ceramic coatings. Although stainless steel captures heat with less outward heat radiation than mild steel, applying a ceramic thermal barrier coating improves this even further. The less heat radiation, the more efficient the exhaust system becomes, in terms of thermal management and (at least in theory) engine performance.
Naturally, the highest levels of heat exist at the exhaust headers, with exhaust temperature diminishing as exhaust travels through the rest of the system. For maximum performance, ceramic coating the headers is more beneficial than coating the remainder of the system. If you’re using a high grade of stainless steel in the entire system, you probably don’t need the rest of the system (after the headers) to be coated. If your application is a street toy and you’re using stainless steel headers, pipes, and mufflers the only reason to justify an additional ceramic coating is for the sake of color appearance. If the headers and the remaining system is mild steel, then coating (of any type) is definitely needed. At the very least, a combination of ceramic-coated headers, aluminized pipe, and aluminized or powdercoated mufflers make sense. From the standpoint of function, either mild steel or stainless steel are viable choices for just about any application, including street, drag racing, road racing, and off-road racing. The advantages of stainless steel include increased durability, reduced radiant heat, slightly lighter weight, and appearance.
For a street application where long-term rust prevention is a concern, stainless is a better choice. For very extreme applications where exhaust heat and exhaust pipe stress is incredibly high, such as in Formula 1, Inconel is widely used because of its high-temperature fatigue resistance and resulting ability to withstand extreme heat levels. However, Inconel is very difficult to work with and generally costs about four or five times that of comparable-size stainless steel.
Another exotic metal used in extreme applications is titanium, favored for its light weight and higher corrosion resistance compared to stainless steel. Again, cost is a factor; it is usually as much as ten times the cost of stainless steel.
A crossover exhaust system is used with a V-type engine that has two opposing cylinder banks and a dual-exhaust system. A number of methods can be employed to improve engine exhaust efficiency (and to gain power) that involve connecting each bank of a dual-exhaust system.
An exhaust pipe crossover connects the driver-side and passenger-side pipes at an intersection point between the headers and the mufflers. This connection of the right- and left-bank exhaust can help to even out the engine’s exhaust pulses and can improve exhaust scavenging. During scavenging, the flow of each pipe helps to pull the exhaust through the adjacent pipe, which is much like two branches of a stream that join to form a river, and in this case the current velocity increases.
Bending the two pipes together can form a crossover and an elliptical cutout on each pipe where they mate, merge, and are welded together. This can also be achieved by connecting the two pipes together by means of additional pipes in an H or X pattern. An H-pipe design simply features a horizontal pipe that runs left to right and connects the two pipes. An X-pipe design connects the two sides together with an added X-shaped pipe arrangement. A merged, or X-pipe, design provides a smoother flow than an H-pipe design because it has a higher degree of exhaust flow scavenging.
In some cases, the vehicle’s chassis and clearance issues may dictate the choice of crossover design. Generally speaking, any type of crossover merge (rather than two separate engine bank pipes) should improve horsepower and torque. Depending on the specific engine and the chosen exhaust design, a crossover connection can also have an effect on the exhaust tone.
Converting to Dual Exhaust
Converting a single-exhaust system to a dual system only makes sense when dealing with an engine that features two cylinder banks (a V-style engine). Converting to a dual system provides increased breathing rather than choking both banks into a single exhaust path. This reduces exhaust restriction and greatly enhances bank-to-bank exhaust-pulse balancing. Beyond the performance advantage, switching to a dual system just plain makes the engine sound better. The reality is that, for a street machine, the exhaust sound is an important factor. Switching from a single to a dual can provide a performance advantage, depending on a host of variables including engine displacement and power output. In some cases, let’s say with engines under 300 hp, you may not gain any additional power, but you enhance appearance by having two exhaust tips instead of only one. That aside, you need to consider the following areas before jumping in.
The original single-exhaust system likely features cast-iron exhaust manifolds that cross over to each other via a downpipe, in which case the crossover from one of the manifolds must be capped off. Depending on your make, model, and year, these caps may be available in the aftermarket, or you need to fabricate one. In addition, one manifold’s outlet may be of a different diameter than the other manifold’s outlet. This can be addressed by either having your exhaust shop reduce or enlarge the pipe diameter of either side pipe where it mates to the manifold. On the other hand, you can purchase a pair of exhaust manifolds that feature the same outlet diameter, or you can move to a pair of tubular headers.
In the majority of cases where someone is converting from a single- to a dual-exhaust system, an upgrade from cast exhaust manifolds to tubular headers is common. After all, the reason to switch from single to dual exhaust is to increase performance, so the decision to switch to headers is pretty much a foregone conclusion.
Depending on the particular vehicle and the factory options that were available for that make, model, and year, the installation of a dual system may or may not have been planned by the automaker. This means that you need to determine your own locations for pipe hangers and you need to pay close attention to the space available for muffler installation. This can dictate the shape and size of mufflers that fit without interfering with the driveshaft, fuel lines, fuel tank, rear suspension, and rear axle, in addition to ground clearance considerations.
In terms of muffler shape, an oval profile generally provides more clearance than a round profile. Again, this varies depending on the diameter of pipe that you’re running and the type of sound that you’re after. Another area of possible concern is the transmission crossmember. If the vehicle was originally equipped with a single exhaust, the transmission crossmember may feature only one hump for pipe clearance, in which case you need to install a double-hump crossmember to accommodate the dual system.
Make sure that you have adequate room for dual pipes; they must properly clear the fuel tank. If the fuel tank is slightly offset, you may not have enough pipe clearance on one side. This might require replacing the fuel tank with one that allows left-to-right centered mounting. In general, exhaust pipes should be at least 1.5 inches away from the fuel tank and additional clearance is preferable. If your vehicle model was never offered with a dual-exhaust system, you need to have the pipes custom bent at a competent exhaust shop. Also pay attention to the rear valance. If the rear valance panel features a single cutout for the exhaust tip, converting to a dual system likely requires notching the opposite side in order to achieve a proper fit and a balanced appearance.
If the original single-exhaust system featured a transverse muffler (positioned laterally under the car), you need to carefully select your mufflers to suit the new longitudinal positioning. If you simply do not have enough ground clearance to accommodate two mufflers mounted in-line with the pipes, an alternative might be to consider baffles installed inside straight sections of the twin pipes. The starting point begins with the headers because the termination of the headers at the collectors dictates where the pipes begin. The collector typically features a mounting flange that provides the attachment point for the pipe. Although a fixed mating flange at the front of the pipe may work in many cases, the angle provided by the installed header collector may shoot straight back, or it may angle slightly upward or downward, or left or right.
To provide a degree of angle adjustment, consider the use of a ball-style connector. This provides a pivot point, allowing you to adjust the initial angle of your pipe to best fit your application. Tighten the bolts at the ball-style connector lightly; snug enough to hold position but loose enough to allow movement while you continue routing your pipes rearward. Again, depending on the specific vehicle, you should be able to run straight pipe sections from the collector rearward, keeping them somewhat parallel to the vehicle floor. Locate the best locations for your mufflers, in terms of fit and clearance, between the belly and driveshaft.
In most cases, you locate the mufflers forward of the rear axle and fuel tank. Make sure that the placement provides ample room between the rear of the mufflers and any routing obstacles, such as the rear axle and the fuel tank, to continue most conveniently with any required pipe bends. If at all possible, temporarily suspend the mufflers in the desired locations. This provides an easy target for routing the front pipes from the collectors to the mufflers, so you can determine pipe length and any required bends. At the very least, position each muffler in the desired location and place chalk marks on the belly to create matchmarks for muffler length reference.
Examine the required path from the collector to the muffler inlet. If you get lucky, you’ll be able to run straight pipe between the collectors and mufflers. If the path requires that the pipes angle inboard toward the center of the belly, the front pipes may require a slight bend inboard and a subsequent bend that regains a parallel run back to the mufflers. This is where the use of mufflers that feature offset inlet and outlet necks come in handy, as this can minimize or even eliminate the need to create any bends in the front pipes.
If you’re piecing the system together on your own, keep in mind that ball-style connectors can often aid in achieving desired angles, although they add a bit of bulk along the path. As you put the sections together consider the use of band-style pipe clamps rather than U-bolt-style clamps. The band clamps don’t deform the pipe and provide added wiggle room while adjusting your system. In addition, band-style clamps provide superior joint sealing and make it easier to disassemble the system later.
Connecting each pipe to a muffler requires one of two approaches: welding or clamping. The pipe may slip into the muffler neck, requiring a pipe OD that matches the muffler neck ID. This is known as a slip joint. For instance, if the muffler features a 3-inch ID, the pipe must feature a 3-inch OD. The firm connection can then be made by either welding or with the use of a pipe clamp (again, I prefer band clamps). If the pipe OD and muffler neck OD are equal, a slip joint isn’t practical unless you use a pipe-expander tool to slightly enlarge the muffler neck diameter.
However, there are other ways to accomplish the task. With the two ends butted up against each other, a wide band clamp can be used to secure the connection, or if you prefer, the ends can be welded together. If you’re faced with two different outside diameters, a stepped band clamp can be used that features different diameters at each end.
Exhaust Pipe Bending and Installation
Starting with a length of straight pipe, the installer manually feeds it into the banding machine’s backing shoes. A manually controlled bender that features hydraulic assist is the most common type of manual pipe bender.
After measuring the angle needed for the front pipe, the technician creates a 45-degree bend.
Once the pipe is released from the bending machine, it is test-fitted to the vehicle. This allows the technician to trim excess length at the front bend area to accommodate the distance of the pipe drop from the header, relative to the front crossmember.
The bent and length-trimmed front pipe is checked for fit at the header collector before welding.
A helper holds the front pipe in position while the welder applies a few tack welds to secure the pipe to the header collector outlet.
The weldor completes the full-seam weld at the front pipe to the header collector.
A connector pipe is fully seam welded to the muffler while accessible, before connecting it to the end of the forward pipe.
If your system requires the use of catalytic converters, keep in mind that the converters must be located early in the exhaust stream ahead of the mufflers. Catalytic converters pose high-heat concerns, so make sure that they have adequate clearance with regard to the floor, fuel lines, brakes lines, transmission cooling lines, etc. Essentially, you want to provide as much clearance around the converters as possible. Adding heat-shielding material is always a good idea; for instance, on the underside of the floor adjacent to the converter locations. Quality heat-shielding material is available from firms such as DEI and can be trimmed to fit a desired location. Don’t attach the heat shield directly to the converter; you want to allow heat to radiate away from the converter shell. Depending on location, heat shielding can be mounted using large-headed rivets or screws.
If the converter runs close to any plumbing or wire harness, tubular or wrap-type heat shielding can be secured directly onto the lines or wires that are in close proximity to the converter. Again, sources such as DEI offer a wide range of thermal shielding products specifically designed for performance and racing exhaust-system applications.
Exhaust System Supports
The pipes, mufflers, and/or catalytic converters must be supported in any application in which the exhaust system extends beyond the headers. Properly supporting the system removes strain from the headers, avoids ground contact, and eliminates or reduces system vibrations and harmonics. With any production vehicle, you notice that exhaust hangers involve some type of isolator or dampening device. This might involve a reinforced rubber strap or a rod that’s welded to the pipe or muffler and inserted into a rubber mount at the chassis. The use of such dampening devices is done for several reasons. A compliant connection, as found in rubber or soft-durometer urethane, dampens vibrations that otherwise are transmitted from the exhaust system to the chassis. This compliance also allows the exhaust system to move in relation to the engine in terms of vibration and torque loading, without straining the exhaust system. Isolators also allow the exhaust system to change its length because of thermal conditions.
Consider that the exhaust pipes are made of metal, which tends to contract when cold and expand when hot. A thermal change in pipe length may be small, but by providing compliant support connections, any thermal-caused dimension changes are accommodated by the compliance of the supports. The last thing you want to do is rigidly nail down the entire exhaust system. If you use solid pipe and muffler supports, stresses build up as the engine rocks on its mounts, as the system experiences thermal growth, etc. In addition, by rigidly mounting the exhaust system, engine exhaust resonance is directly transmitted to the chassis, resulting in a range of bothersome noises.
Aftermarket exhaust system hangers constructed of chrome-plated steel or polished stainless steel have been available to the custom market for decades. Many of these hangers look great and serve to finish-off a custom appearance. However, just make sure that there is some type of compliance in the form of rubber or urethane.
A rock-solid support that doesn’t allow the system to move at all simply isn’t a good idea, at least for a street vehicle. If the exhaust pipes and mufflers are supported at the chassis by solid mounts that offer no compliance, you run the risk of imposing stresses that can lead to weld fractures at the header tubes. It can even damage the header flange-to-cylinder head mounts in terms of broken flange bolts or cracks and leaks at the primary tube-to-flange points. In addition to stresses that the exhaust system can experience because of vibration and engine pivoting movement during acceleration and deceleration, as the exhaust system temperatures rise during operation, the pipes may slightly grow in length thanks to thermal expansion, which can impose stresses at each joint. Even if nothing cracks or breaks, a solid-mounted exhaust system results in annoying resonances within the passenger compartment. Exhaust hanger mounting points should protect the system from undue stress and provide a bit of compliance to minimize annoying buzzes and unwanted resonance within the cabin.
I’m not saying that your exhaust system needs to be able to wag around under the car like a wet noodle, but it needs a small degree of isolation between the exhaust system and the chassis. In order to further address the allowance for pipe movement during thermal changes and vibration, some OEM and even custom designers may employ a flexible coupling, which consists of a short section of flex pipe that features a stainless steel braided shield. This provides a small degree of pipe position angle and, in some cases, can reduce vibration.
When connecting pipes to pipes or pipes to mufflers, several attachment methods are available. A common practice is to use a lap joint (also called a slip joint), where one pipe slips into another pipe (or pipe to muffler), or a butt joint, where the two pipes have the same OD.
With a lap joint, the OD of one side slips into the ID of the mating side. With this type of fitment, a saddle clamp, welding, or a band clamp secures the connection. A saddle clamp, often called a U-clamp, has a radiused inside saddle mated to a U-bolt. This type of clamp, when tightened, crimps the two pipes together. This is a common-style clamp and has been used for decades. The drawback is the crimping action. This can make it difficult to separate the two pipes in the future. Welding the joint together with a continuous bead provides an excellent seal but it has drawbacks. Welding is not always a practical option for the do-it-yourselfer. In addition, because a welded connection is permanent, future disassembly requires cutting the pipe(s). In addition, the process of welding discolors the pipes and ruins any protective coating that was applied to the pipes.
A stepped-band clamp provides an alternative. This stainless steel tubular clamp features a different diameter at each end, with each end sized to accommodate the two different pipe diameters. A band clamp features a split seam that has a stop block. Once the band clamp is placed in position, a pair of bolts is tightened to squeeze the band tightly onto the pipes. Because of the broad contact area of the band, the pipes are not crimped. This provides an easy method of securing the pipes, provides an enhanced appearance, and makes future disassembly easy.
When using a butt joint, the two mating pipes have the same OD, so you have three choices for making the connection. You can weld the pipes together. You can use a band clamp for the particular pipe diameter. (This style of band clamp features the same diameter from end to end.) On the other hand, you can use a pipe expander to slightly enlarge one of the pipes to create your own lap joint. Unless a continuous bead of weld is applied to the joint, any style of clamp has the potential for a very slight exhaust leak. I rarely use saddle clamps unless I’m performing a restoration in which I need to replicate the OEM design. Whenever I use a saddle or band clamp, I first apply a thin bead of high-temperature RTV, such as Permatex Ultra Copper, to the outer surface of the pipes where contact occurs. This acts as a lubricant when fitting the pipes together and serves to fill any small voids that might otherwise provide a leak path.
Ultra-wide band clamps are extremely handy for pipe-to-pipe and pipe-to-muffler connections. Because of the non-crimping design, band clamps may also allow a small degree of thermal expansion in terms of pipe length. Yes, band clamps are more costly than saddle clamps, but the benefits far outweigh the cost difference.
Pipe-to-pipe or header collectorto-pipe mating can involve one of a number of mating styles. A slip-on connection involves one pipe fitting into another pipe, secured as described earlier by welding or a selected style of clamp. A flared or ball-socket style of mating involves a pair of flanges that bolt together, capturing the two ends.
A flat-flared pipe features an expanded female flare with a flat face on each pipe. Each mating pipe features a two-bolt or three-bolt flange captured on each pipe. The seal is created by a flat high-temperature gasket placed between the two flanges. A ball-socket flare, often found on some header collector connections and some catalytic converters, features a male radiused/ball-style flare on the collector, mated to a female radius flare on the attaching pipe. Flanges on each side of the connection secure the collector to the pipe using two or three bolts, depending on the style.
The advantage of a ball-socket attachment is that it allows easy angle adjustment of the pipe. The female socket flare on the pipe can pivot on the male ball flare, allowing added fine-tuning in terms of pipe angle. This style does not require a flat gasket to be placed between the flanges. A V-band clamp is often favored for applications where the exhaust system is subject to frequent disassembly/reassembly. A V-band clamp is similar to a T-bolt clamp, in that a flat band is tightened via a bolt that engages into a female thread. Unlike a T-bolt clamp with a smooth, flat inner surface, a V-band clamp features a groove on the inside surface. With each mating pipe end featuring a flat flare, the pipe flare edges fit into the clamp’s groove and provide a butt-to-butt mating of the two pipes. The adjustment bolt is tightened to hold the pipes together. With this type of clamp, it’s easy to connect and disconnect one pipe from another.
A variant of the V-band clamp is intended for straight-end pipes that do not have flares. This style of clamp includes a pair of flares that slip onto the pipes and are welded to the pipes. The flares are machined pieces that weld to the pipes, which eliminates the need to flare the pipe ends. The welded-on flares also provide added mass and strength for a more durable connection. Both types of V-band clamp operate the same. The only difference is that one requires flared pipe ends, while the other is more substantial and requires that the male rings be welded to the pipes. In each variant, a groove in the inside wall of the clamp captures the two male ribbed flares together.
Sample Exhaust System Installations
I have covered the installation of each essential component of the exhaust. Now, I am going to show you the installation of a complete system and an X-pipe in a step-by-step format so you can complete the same task with your particular project vehicle.
2014 Chevy/GMC 1500 Cat-Back Installation
This project is a complete installation of a Flowmaster performance exhaust system on a 2014 Chevrolet/GMC 1500 truck so you can see how an entire system is installed. You can follow this same basic process for installing any exhaust system on an American rear-wheel-drive V-8– powered vehicle. Raise the vehicle on a hoist or rack to working height. If you don’t have access to a hoist, raise the vehicle and support it securely with sturdy jackstands. Support the original muffler with a stand. Using a hacksaw or reciprocating saw, cut off the tailpipe just behind the muffler. Separate the wire hangers on the tailpipe from the rubber mounts on the vehicle and remove the tailpipe. This step may not be mandatory, but it makes removal easier.
Using a 15-mm wrench, loosen the bolt on the clamped ball connection behind the catalytic converter. Separate the wire hangers from the rubber mounts and lower the inlet pipe and muffler from the vehicle. A lubricant, such as WD-40, makes removal easier. You need to remove the ball clamp from the stock system and save it, as it will be used during installation of the new system. (Photo Courtesy Flowmaster)
Place the inlet pipe assembly into position onto the ball connection and tighten it enough to hold, but still allow for a small amount of adjustment. Connect the hanger on the pipe to the rubber mount on the vehicle. (Photo Courtesy Flowmaster)
If you are installing the system on a Crew Cab truck with a 6.5-foot bed, place the extension pipe (PN TB700S) onto the back of the inlet pipe (PN 26401S). Place a clamp from the kit onto the slip-fit and tighten enough to hold in position. This extension pipe is not used on Double Cab or Crew Cab models with a 5.5-foot bed. (Photo Courtesy Flowmaster)
Place a supplied 3-inch clamp over the inlet of the new muffler, then slide the inlet onto the rear of the inlet pipe. Be sure to use a stand to support the muffler. Tighten the clamp just enough to hold the muffler in position. (Photo Courtesy Flowmaster)
Slide the rubber hanger (PN HA168) onto the end of the driver-side frame hanger (PN 226HA). Using the supplied bolts, washers, nuts, and backing plates (PN HA566), mount the assembly to the frame on the driver’s side of the vehicle, using the existing angled oblong hole in the frame rail. Note: The backing plates are installed on both sides of the frame, between the hanger, washers, and bolts to cover the oblong holes. This prevents the frame hangers from bending into the oblong holes. Place two of the supplied 2.5-inch clamps over the passenger-side and driver-side outlets of the muffler. Place the passenger-side tailpipe (PN 86095S) into position over the rear axle, and slide this tailpipe into the passenger-side muffler outlet. Connect the two hangers on the pipe to the vehicle’s rubber mounts. The pipe should be approximately 3/4 inch away from the shock absorber when the pipe is adjusted. (Photo Courtesy Flowmaster)
Place the driver-side front tailpipe section (PN 86094S) into position over the rear axle, and slide this tailpipe into the driver-side muffler outlet. Place a supplied 2.5-inch clamp onto the rear of the pipe. The driver-side rear tailpipe section (PN 86096S) attaches to the front section. Connect the hanger that’s welded to the rear of the pipe to the rubber hanger that was installed in Step 5. The pipe should be centered between the shock absorber and the spare tire when adjusted. Tighten the clamps just enough to hold position. (Photo Courtesy Flowmaster)
Slide the side exit pipes (PN 86097S) or the rear exit pipes (PN 86098S) onto the ends of both over-axle pipes and place a supplied 2.5-inch clamp onto each of these slip-fit connections. Tighten the clamps just enough to hold position. Place the two stainless steel tips (PN ST461) onto the exit pipes and tighten them enough to hold position. Rotate the exit pipes and tips to the desired distance from the body or bumper, so that the angle-cut on the tips are in the desired locations. (Photo Courtesy Flowmaster)
Adjust the position of all pipes and muffler to provide a satisfactory fit. A minimum 3/4-inch clearance around all parts must be maintained; remember to keep suspension travel in mind. Tighten all clamped connections securely. Place the supplied 1/2-inch hanger keepers onto the end of each inlet pipe and tailpipe hangers. Slide the 7/16-inch hanger keeper onto the driver-side rear frame hanger up to the rubber mounts, to firmly hold the system in place. To prevent the rear axle breather tube from contacting the driver-side tailpipe and possibly being damaged, use a supplied zip tie to fasten the breather tube to the brake line bracket located on the rear axle housing. Be sure to allow enough slack in the hose for the suspension to fully compress and extend. For a more secure installation, Flowmaster recommends welding all slip-fit joints. (Photo Courtesy Flowmaster).
2011 Ford Mustang GT XO-Pipe Installation
This project shows you how to install an X-pipe on a 2011 Ford Mustang GT. An X-pipe balances exhaust gas pressure and pulses and, therefore, is a common exhaust system component to install for high-performance V-8 muscle cars. The X-pipe installation is common for a complete exhaust system on a particular car, which typically includes headers, cat-back mufflers, and a stainless steel exhaust pipe.
Using a 13-mm socket wrench, loosen the spherical clamps at the inlet of the H-pipe on the passenger’s side and driver’s side. Note that some Mustangs were shipped with the bolt head facing away from the ground. Use an open-end 13-mm wrench to loosen the threaded end and then turn it by hand to remove the clamp. (Photo Courtesy Corsa Performance)
Using a 15-mm wrench, loosen the clamps after the H-pipe assembly. (Photo Courtesy Corsa Performance)
On the driver’s side, use a flat-blade screwdriver to pry the clamp spring clip from the retainer pin on the H-pipe. Repeat this on the passenger’s side. (Photo Courtesy Corsa Performance)
Slide both clamps toward the rear of the vehicle to the free end of the H-pipes. Slide both clamps rearward to remove the stock H-pipe. (Photo Courtesy Corsa Performance)
Pull the front of the H-pipe from the clamp joint on both sides and slide the outlet ends from the clamps to complete removal. (Photo Courtesy Corsa Performance)
The clamps on the outlet ends will be reused. Remove them from the H-pipe assembly and install them onto the axle pipes. (Photo Courtesy Corsa Performance)
The Corsa XO-pipe kit includes two 70-mm spherical clamps and one 2.75-inch clamp. Apply the supplied anti-seize lubricant to the threads of all clamps. (This is necessary to avoid galling of the nuts.) Align all clamps so that the center of each clamp bolt is 90 degrees from the notch in the pipe. All clamps should be tightened using a quality torque wrench. (Using an air impact gun damages the clamp and could cause the joint to separate.) Pre-assemble the XO-pipe assembly with the separate pipe on the driver’s side, the flat 2.75-inch clamp over the expansion, and one 70-mm spherical clamp on each end. Align the clamps so that they are accessible when installed. (Photo Courtesy Corsa Performance)
Slide the outlet of the XO-pipe into the clamps at the inlet of the axle pipes. (Photo Courtesy Corsa Performance)
With clamps in place, hold the XO-pipe assembly parallel to the ground and tighten the front spherical clamps to 21 ft-lbs. (Photo Courtesy Corsa Performance)
Seat the front flare of the XO-pipe on the passenger’s side to the stock mating pipe and repeat this on the driver’s side. Hold the XO-pipe parallel to the ground while tightening the front spherical clamps. (Photo Courtesy Corsa Performance)
Slide the rear clamps forward so that the rear edge is approximately centered between the two holes in the axle pipe bracket. Using a 15-mm wrench, tighten the four bolts on the rear clamps and the 2.75-inch clamp on the driver’s side of the XO-pipe to 45 ft-lbs. (Photo Courtesy Corsa Performance)
It is strongly recommended that all clamps are checked and retightened to the recommended torque after initial road testing of the vehicle, as thermal cycling may cause slight loosening. Be sure to wait until the exhaust system has fully cooled before checking for tightness. Tighten all clamp bolts to 45 ft-lbs. (Photo Courtesy Corsa Performance)
Written by Mike Mavrigian and Posted with Permission of CarTechBooks
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