Headers Buyer's Guide
- Headers are the most affordable and easiest to install engine performance upgrades in the market. They vary in shapes, coatings, and material. These characteristics enhance the advantages of car headers.
- Exhaust headers work like exhaust manifolds in that they both move exhaust away from engine cylinders and out through the rest of the exhaust system. However, headers are built to address the design problems of exhaust manifolds.
- You’ll know if there’s a problem with your header if you smell and hear unusual things from your engine compartment. Sudden and drastic drops to your vehicle’s engine and exhaust performance are also signs to look out for.
- You can find long-lasting and affordable headers here at CarParts.com. Prices range from $130 to $2,392, depending on your car’s year, make, and model. With the variety available, you’re also free to choose the layout and coating that suits your needs.
Most people will say that having performance upgrades done on their vehicle is a luxury. Headers improve your car’s exhaust performance. What’s more is that they’re quite easy to install and maintain, if you choose the right one for your vehicle. In fact, having car headers might save you dollars in gas money and in repairing your O2 sensors, exhaust valves, and your catalytic converter.
You might have a few other questions about headers--what are they and how are they different from exhaust manifolds. You’ll find the answers to those and more in this helpful guide below.
What are headers and how do they work?
Headers maximize your engine’s performance by providing each cylinder with its own mini-exhaust pipe. That means that the back pressure is reduced, air intake is increased, and the flow of exhaust is maximized.
Exhaust gases build up enough pressure in the manifold to create back pressure. Exhaust headers are built so that each cylinder gets an exhaust pipe of its own. Meanwhile, in the exhaust manifolds of four- or eight-cylinder engines, four cylinders use the same manifold. This makes it especially difficult for exhaust gases to exit and make their way through the catalytic converter and the muffler.
Headers come in different materials, sizes, shapes, and coatings. A car’s year, make, and model, as well as its engine capacity, is taken into account for each header design. Most header designs can either be classified into the 4 into 1 layout (or 3 into 1 if you have a V-6 engine) or the Tri-Y.
All four pipes of the 4 into 1 layout ends together in a single collector. On the other hand, the Tri-Y design pairs opposite cylinders according to their firing order into a short Y-shape structure. The Ys then meet in the collector. The Tri-Y layout maximizes the scavenging effect, or the rush of fresh air and fuel pulled in by exhaust gases rushing out of the cylinder.
Car headers also come in a variety of coatings that enhance their performance. Uncoated or natural headers don’t have protective coatings or finish, but the steel with which they’re made of have some level of rust-proofing. Uncoated headers can be customized with your high-temperature coating of choice. Uncoated headers are the most affordable headers out there.
Headers can also have chrome-plated or painted finishes. Chrome-plated and painted finishes are chosen mainly to match the other components under the hood. You’ll have to replace the chrome plating or repaint your headers once they’re tarnished or rusted. Meanwhile, ceramic-coated headers are good for regulating temperatures under the hood and for resisting corrosion.
A header doesn’t only provide better flow and louder engine sounds. It’s a practical upgrade to your car, especially if you want to get better engine performance. But if headers help draw out exhaust gases from your engine, how is it different from an exhaust manifold?
Exhaust manifolds vs headers
Exhaust manifolds and headers have the same function—to move exhaust away from the cylinder heads and out through the back of the vehicle. Because of the similarities in their function, people say that headers are aftermarket exhaust manifolds. Normally, vehicle manufacturers wouldn’t equip cars with high-performance headers on the get-go, but some do. That’s where most of their similarity ends.
The materials they’re made of, their shapes, and even their coatings determine how exhaust manifolds and headers get the same job done differently.
Exhaust manifolds come in one piece and are made from heavy-duty solid cast iron. They’re attached to your engine and collect the exhaust that comes out of it. In that aspect, it works very much like a funnel that siphons out the exhaust. Because exhaust manifolds are made of cast iron, they’re durable and better adapted to heat. Also, cast iron tends to produce less noise, and that’s a plus factor for many.
The downside to exhaust manifolds is that because of their thick and rough walls, exhaust flow is limited. Not to mention, the unequal length of each cylinder in exhaust manifolds leads to a build-up of back pressure that keeps exhaust gases from being cleared efficiently.
On the other hand, exhaust headers are made from smooth traditional or stainless steel. Because headers have smooth surfaces, they facilitate exhaust to flow more efficiently. In addition, the tubes that make up the headers have the same length. This decreases back pressure and makes them all the more efficient. These design upgrades address the roughness and uneven tubing problem most exhaust manifolds have.
A disadvantage of car headers is that their walls are too thin, which makes them too loud. However, some car owners don’t view that as a disadvantage. In fact, many take it as a welcome feature that enhances their driving experience.
How to spot a bad header
If you already have a header installed, you’ll want to keep it in top shape all the time. Not only because it boosts your car’s performance, but also because it’s your car’s first line of defense against dangerous gases. If theheader breaks down, not only does your engine’s performance decrease but the entire exhaust system will be affected, as well. How do you know if it’s time for an exhaust header repair? These are the signs you have to look out for.
Excessive engine noise
Exhaust may leak out from your header if it comes loose or is damaged. You’ll know there’s an exhaust leak if you hear hissing or tapping noises from your engine. These sounds should clearly be audible when you accelerate or when you do a cold start.
Exhaust smells and unusual noises from the engine compartment
Unusual smells can also come from your engine compartment if exhaust leaks out from your header. The heat from a failing header or even an exhaust manifold can cause nearby wiring and plastic components to melt. These smells can be accompanied by faint smoke which is a serious safety hazard.
Significant decrease in fuel efficiency and power
Engine performance issues can be expected when your header is failing. If your vehicle’s power, acceleration, and fuel efficiency drop suddenly, you’ll need to replace your header. Do this before the issue spreads to the rest of your engine and exhaust system.
If you experience any of these signs as you’re using your exhaust header, you’ll need a better and more durable replacement. Repairing damaged headers may be a tricky business, as it depends on how the components under your hood is positioned. However, with the right tools and a good replacement header, you can definitely solve the problem right away and in the comfort of your own garage.
Tips on buying a replacement header
Not sure if you're going to get headers for your car? Well, we'd like to give you a heads up on headers to help you come up with a decision.
Why you should get new headers
- Get to improve fuel economy. Your engine ceases to run efficiently if its components, such as the exhaust, are busted. With the exhaust manifold damaged, it can clog up the cylinders and kill your miles per gallon.
Tip: Purchase headers with steel construction. This will make your motor running more efficiently. This kind of header will also take off a few pounds from your car's weight.
- Run on amplified exhaust tone. If you're tired of your old exhaust tone, you can definitely alter it just by upgrading your headers. Break the silence on the street and install new performance headers on your exhaust system.
Tip: For sports use, you can get sports headers, which give off a sound perfect for the racetrack. If it's for city use, then you might want to purchase quieter headers to avoid being a nuisance on the road. But, you can always choose to stand out. So, feel free to choose the sound your headers give.
- Reduce the weight of the vehicle. Heavy cars force the engines to work more quickly. However, not only does it slow you down, but it also wastes fuel.
Tip: For lighter weight, purchase headers made of steel.
- Get more horsepower and torque. The spent gases that occur during combustion are pushed out of the cylinder and to the exhaust manifold, which when clogged up can cause your engine to waste energy.
Tip: Horsepower depends on the engine. Usually, you add 5 to 20 percent horsepower with headers. If you buy tubing a size too big or get the incorrect length, your engine can end up losing horsepower.
Dare to stand out
Aside from the aforementioned reasons why you should buy new headers, it also improves the overall look of your vehicle.
- Ceramic: If you want to get a NASCAR look, get one in this finish. This is the usual choice of experts.
- Nickel chrome/stainless steel: If your objective is just to capture attention on the road, then headers made from these materials will give your motor a dramatic look.
- Matching finish: If you want to match your headers and engine compartment, purchase new ones that will complement the color.
How much is an OE header replacement?
CarParts.com has the best selection of OEM replacement headers that are sure to last but won’t go over your budget. Use our vehicle selector tool and enter your vehicle’s correct year, model, so you can go over headers that fit your car perfectly. Headers can cost anywhere from $130 to $2,392, depending on the design, finish, and hardware included.