Cars typically sound pretty muted out of the factory. Partly because they need to meet noise and emissions regulations, and partly most people don’t want a car that makes a droning noise when they drive. Even a lot of performance cars sound pretty dull with their standard exhaust. But worry not, wondering how to make your car louder?
We’re listing down five different ways you can do that, as well as tips on which method you should go for. Follow one of these methods and your car will sound better so you can announce your presence everywhere you go.
How To Make Your Car Louder: Legal Concerns
Before we proceed, we need to remind you that there are laws about how loud a car can be. This law will vary by state, some are more lenient allowing you to fit very loud exhausts. Others are very strict, limiting your option for modifications. Again, there’s no national law, so you’ll have to check the law in your state.
For example, in New York drivers can get a ticket if their car is “plainly audible” (whatever that means) from 150 feet away. Meanwhile, California is slightly more lenient: it allows vehicles to get as loud as 95 decibels when measured next to the vehicle. Another example is Kansas, which limits noise to 90 decibels but this applies when measured 50 feet away. Since the noise will slightly fade at that distance, Kansas car owners can fit a slightly louder system.
Also, keep in mind that some cities have quiet rules that prohibit loud exhaust systems between 11 pm and 6 am. If this is the case, drive your loud car out of these hours. Anyway, the bottom line is that state laws will vary, so you’ll need to check that yourself. If you do get a ticket because of a loud exhaust, you may be able to challenge in court if the officer didn’t use a calibrated decibel meter.
How To Make Your Car Louder: Understanding What Affects Car Noise
With that out of the way, let’s understand what affects the noise your car makes. The two components that affect your car’s noise are the engine and the exhaust system. The internal combustion engine is basically powered by a series of controlled explosions, so of course, it’s going to be one of the primary sources of noise in your car.
The noise coming from your engine will vary depending on how many cylinders you have, the cylinder layout, and the engine design amongst other things. Each type of engine has its advantages and caveats, as well as noise characteristics. For example, a straight-six cylinder engine is inherently smooth since the cylinders and their layout balance themselves. This results in a smooth, and sometimes high-pitched noise coming from the engine.
Meanwhile, a V8 engine typically has a more growly-noise down low and tends to be less smooth due to its design. But even V8 engines can be different from one another, thanks to different crankshaft types. A crossplane V8 engine, such as the ones in most American muscle cars, is less smooth and has that growly noise unique to V8s that we all love. However, a flat-plane V8, such as the ones in the Ferrari 458, alternates cylinder fire between banks. This results in a smoother engine and sound.
However, modifying engine noise is typically impractical and expensive to improve, as most of it has to do with the engine’s design. One of the things you can do to improve engine noise is by fitting a turbocharger, which makes a wonderful spooling noise that makes us petrolheads giggle whenever the boost comes on. But of course, this isn’t cheap, so we’ll focus on exhaust noise instead.
What Affects Exhaust Noise?
After your engine combusts the fuel inside it, the exhaust gases along with the noise the engine makes will escape through the exhaust system. The exhaust system comprises many components. There’s the header, the pipes, the catalytic converter, and what affects the noise the most is the muffler.
The muffler is a device that muffles the sound of your car’s exhaust, hence why it’s called a muffler. It dampens the sound by using sound-canceling plates to create a chamber and bounce the exhaust sound waves to dampen them. And by the time the exhaust gas reaches the tailpipe, the exhaust noise will be far quieter.
That is why one of the primary ways to improve car noise is by replacing the muffler. Since OEM mufflers are designed to reduce noise, you can fit in an aftermarket muffler to amplify the noise instead. These aftermarket mufflers will often sound louder and have a different characteristic to the OEM muffler.
How To Make Your Car Louder
So, to summarize, the engine and the exhaust system are what affect car noise the most. But since engine modifications are often impractical for most people – not to mention expensive – we’ll focus on the things you can do to your exhaust system to make your car louder. Here’s how to make your car louder:
The first method is to straight-pipe your exhaust system. Straight-piping entails removing every component from the header of the exhaust system and back, and replacing it with, well, a straight pipe. This means your exhaust system won’t have a catalytic converter nor a muffler. Since there’s no resistance to the exhaust gases, your car will sound much, much louder.
However, we must mention that it’s illegal to straight-pipe your car. That’s because it’s illegal to drive a car without a catalytic converter. In case you didn’t know, the catalytic converter is a device that filters the toxic exhaust gases from your engine. It filters the toxins and makes the exhaust gases less harmful to the environment.
Every car is required by law to have this, as without it cars can be incredibly harmful to the environment, especially to air quality. So, no, don’t straight-pipe your car. We like to advise our readers to stay on the good side of the law.
2. Exhaust Systems: “Cat-Back”
Since driving a car without a catalytic converter is illegal, let’s now take a look at a legal method. The term “cat-back” means you’re replacing all the exhaust components from behind the catalytic converter. So, the catalytic converter and header are untouched. But you’ll be replacing the pipes after the cat-converter, the mufflers, and the exhaust tips. But sometimes, cat-back may also refer to just replacing the mufflers.
This is probably the most popular method to make your car louder. That’s because it changes significant components, which results in a significant change in the way your car sounds. But it’s not so much that it’ll cost you a fortune and is too complicated to do.
The cost to install a cat-back exhaust system ranges from $300 – $1,200, depending on your car’s make and model. Additionally, there are different systems made from different materials, with different technologies and complexity which also affects the price.
For example, titanium exhaust system cat-backs are usually very expensive. Not only do they sound great, but the exhaust tips also turn blue over time due to the heat and it looks absolutely amazing. You can’t put a price on that. Well, you can, usually around $1,100.
There are also cat-back systems with valves, which when opened can amplify your car’s sound. And you can close it as well to mute the sound, which your neighbors will surely appreciate when you leave early on a cold morning.
Headers – or sometimes called exhaust manifolds – are the tubes that come out of the engine block, this is the front part of the exhaust system. If your car has a V-layout, then you will have two series of pipes coming out of each block. The headers then connect to an exhaust pipe, which then connects to the catalytic converter.
Since the headers are a part of the car’s exhaust system, changing it will also change the sound your exhaust system makes. An aftermarket header will usually have a larger diameter than a stock header. This allows for better flow of the exhaust gases, which can improve the noise your car makes.
Additionally, the better flow means there’s lower back pressure in the system. Lower backpressure means even better airflow, and it will allow for more oxygen to enter your engine to burn. This not only results in a better noise but better performance in your car.
However, if all you’re looking to do is to improve the sound of your car, then an aftermarket header isn’t recommended. Not only it’s expensive and the process of replacing the headers is labor-intensive, it actually won’t affect the sound of your car as much as a muffler change or a cat-back would. For that reason, we don’t recommend this being your first step in improving your car’s noise. But if you’re looking to improve sound and performance, aftermarket performance headers might just be what you need.
4. Drill A Hole
If you’re on a budget and you want to make your car louder, then you could drill a hole in your exhaust pipes. No, we’re not kidding. It’s fine since you’re not removing the catalytic converter like you would in a straight-pipe method. And if you’re lucky, the hole won’t be too loud that it breaks noise laws in your state.
All you have to do is grab your favorite drill, and drill a hole in the exhaust pipe, and voila! Your car is now louder. How does this happen, you ask? Well, as mentioned, your car’s exhaust system uses the muffler to muffle the sound coming from the engine. When you drill a hole, you’re letting some of these exhaust gases escape before it gets to the muffler.
This essentially creates an extra exhaust tip before the muffler, and the noise wouldn’t have had a chance to be muffled. Of course, there are major downsides. First, you can’t tell how it will sound. But chances are, your car is just going to make a very loud, and possibly unpleasant noise.
For example, I used to have a classic Mini Cooper which has an inline-4 cylinder engine. I had damage to the exhaust pipe, which causes a hole, and the car sounded like a V8 muscle car afterward. I was pretty happy with the sound, but my neighbors didn’t appreciate it.
The second problem is that if you don’t like the sound or the sound turns out to be too loud, then you’ll have to either weld a patch or replace the pipes altogether. Not exactly practical.
5. Exhaust Tips
The exhaust tips won’t really affect your car’s exhaust noise. That’s because they’re mostly just there for aesthetic purposes and to let the exhaust gas out. As mentioned, your muffler plays the largest role in how your car sounds. However, certain exhaust tips may still affect your car’s noise, albeit slightly.
The most you’ll get from an aftermarket exhaust tip is a high-pitched whistling sound, and possibly a slight increase in volume overall. But your car won’t sound much louder, nor will it change the sound characteristic, and most people around you probably won’t notice. That being said, exhaust tips aren’t expensive. They’re around $300 at most, so it’s a good starting point if you’re on a budget. Additionally, they can improve the look of your car.
Should I Change The Catalytic Converter?
Unless it’s damaged, then no. Here’s the thing: catalytic converters don’t affect the way the car sounds. And while there are high-flow catalytic converters that can increase performance, you don’t need them. Not unless you have at least around 20% more power than stock.
For example, if your car originally has 300 horsepower and you’ve made upgrades and now it makes 320 horsepower, then you won’t benefit from a high-flow cat-converter. But if for example now your car makes 360 horsepower (that’s a 20% increase) you can benefit from it. A performance catalytic converter will help for better airflow in the system, which reduces backpressure and increases horsepower.
So, unless you have significant performance upgrades, there’s no need to upgrade your catalytic converter. Not to mention catalytic converters are incredibly expensive. Change the catalytic converter when it goes bad, but even then just buy OEM ones that fit your car. Learn more about the symptoms of a bad catalytic converter here.
How To Make Your Car Louder: What’s The Best Way?
So, what exactly is the best way? Well, as weird as it may sound, if you’re on a budget then drilling a hole in the exhaust pipe is probably your best choice. Drilling a hole is essentially free if you have a drill and do it yourself. Again, keep in mind that your car will probably make a really loud rumbling noise, and you might not like the result. Your neighbors are likely to despise you.
The best choice, if you have the cash, is to install a cat-back exhaust system. They usually start at around $300 which is still relatively affordable, and it will make a significant change in the way your car sounds. If cat-back systems are too expensive, consider just changing the muffler.
As mentioned, the muffler is what affects the car’s exhaust noise the most. By replacing the stock muffler with an aftermarket one, you can get a much better noise from your car’s exhaust system. And since you’re not changing as many parts as a cat-back system, it’s cheaper as well. Borla mufflers for example start at around $90, and most are around $160.
Consider getting a straight-through muffler if you’re after the loudest sound possible from a muffler replacement. They have a tubular shape and are a lot less restrictive than other types of mufflers. This means better performance and a much louder sound.
How To Make Your Car Louder: Best Exhaust System Brands
So far we’ve established that the most common and the best way to make your car louder is to change the exhaust system. Specifically, with a cat-back system or a muffler change. But the question is, which exhaust system brand should you go for? Here are three well-known exhaust system brands you can consider:
MagnaFlow is a well-known aftermarket exhaust manufacturer that can give your car a smooth and deep-tone noise. They primarily focused on making exhaust systems for muscle cars and hotrods, but they have plenty of options available for other cars as well. You can simply Google MagnaFlow with the car you have and chances are they have something for you.
They have stainless steel cat-back systems available for many cars. Additionally, their systems are also available with premium mufflers which they claim can absorb sound waves from the exhaust gases, without disturbing power waves. This results in a low restriction and backpressure in the system, allowing more power.
You can search the available exhaust systems on their website by inputting your car’s make and model. They usually have more than one option, and they have a helpful icon indicating the noise characteristics of each system. Their cat-backs can start as low as $400, but it’s typically around $650 for most cars. If that’s a bit much, their mufflers can start as low as $110.
And finally, if you can’t find an exhaust system for your car, MagnaFlow can assist you in creating your own exhaust system with custom exhaust options. Keep in mind that these are not cheap, and start at around $700.
Another well-known manufacturer is Borla, founded by Alex Borla in the 1970s. Borla exhausts contain high levels of nickel and chromium, which helps to resist corrosion. This is why many of their products come with a Million-Mile Warranty since they’re confident it will last, if not outlast the car’s lifespan.
Their stainless steel cat-back systems are usually somewhere around $500 for most cars. They also have unique X-pipes available, which is a crossover junction of pipes behind the catalytic converter. The X-pipe helps to reduce backpressure, and they claim can improve the low and mid-range torque of your car.
3. MBRP Exhaust Systems
If you’re on a budget, consider MBRP exhausts. They have a wide range of products available for gas and diesel vehicles alike. From Mustangs to Cummins trucks, and even Kia Stingers, they have something for you. Their XP series and Installer series are around $316 and $220 respectively.
Keep in mind that these prices may be much higher depending on your car’s make and model. They also have the PLM series which is available without a muffler, which means your car will be heard everywhere you go. Beware of complaining neighbors.
Of course, if you like MBRP and want something more high-end, they can deliver as well. They have plenty of cat-back systems that go as high as $1,100, but they claim will deliver a significant performance increase. There’s something for everyone with MBRP exhaust.
Other Exhaust Manufacturers
Those are three of some of the most well-known exhaust system brands available in the United States. Of course, there are many more options for you to choose from. If the three we mentioned above don’t meet your needs, try researching Flowmaster, Corsa Performance, Gibson, and aFe exhaust systems. They’re all reputable brands worthy of your consideration.
If you drive import, consider Fujitsubo, 5Zigen, GReddy, and HKS. These are the exhaust brands of choice for import cars enthusiasts. The HKS Legamax sounds particularly good.
And finally, if you want your car to be loud when you’re taking a, ahem, “spirited drive” and quiet when you pull up into your driveway at 2 a.m., consider getting Valvetronic exhaust systems. Valvetronic is an exhaust brand, but the term also refers to exhaust systems with valves that can control the sound of your car depending on the valve’s position.
Some well-known brands include Armytrix, FI-Exhaust, Valvetronic Exhaust, and STONE Exhaust Systems.
How To Make Your Car Louder: Wrap Up
Those are the five ways you can make your car sound louder. The best and ideal way to do it is of course with a cat-back exhaust system installation. This changes significant component’s in your car’s exhaust system, which results in a significant sound change and a slight increase in performance.
If cat-back systems are too expensive, changing the muffler is the next best option. As mentioned, the muffler is what muffles your car’s sound, and replacing them with a performance muffler can improve the noise your car makes. They usually start at around $90 for most cars.
Before you buy an exhaust system, be sure to do your research. Make sure that the system will fit your car, and you can research owner’s forums to see if they have any complaints or concerns. And finally, see if you can find videos of your car’s make and model with the exhaust system you want to purchase. It’ll be good to know first if you will actually like the sound that the exhaust system makes. Good luck!
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