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How Much Should An Exhaust System Cost?

Cost has two components – parts and labor. Here are some good rough estimates for both.

Exhaust System Parts Costs

Most after-market exhaust companies offer four types of components:

  1. Cat-back exhaust systems – anywhere from $300 to $1200 – The final cost will depend on steel thickness and type, as well as muffler quality.
  2. Axle-back exhaust systems – same as above
  3. High performance mufflers – $75-$300 – The quality of the muffler’s materials inside, as well as the type of steel and thickness used, impact the final price.
  4. Exhaust system tips – $25-$150 per tip – Almost all cat-back or axle-back systems include a quality exhaust tip. However, if you’re building your own system, you can purchase an exhaust tip to “dress up” your factory pipe.

The schematic below shows where the “cat” (a.k.a. catalytic converter) is in relation to the engine. While many companies sell high-performance catalytic converters, they are fairly expensive and usually don’t restrict exhaust flow too much, so we’re not going to worry about them here.

Exhaust system schematic with notes

This is a stylized schematic of an exhaust system.

On some vehicles, the muffler is mounted behind the rear axle. In this case, exhaust manufacturers sell “axle-back” systems. The only difference between a cat-back and an axle-back exhaust is the length of tubing – both include a new muffler. Therefore, there’s not a lot of cost difference between the two. Both cat-back and axle-back systems include tubing, a muffler(s), and then all the hardware needed to mount the new system in place of the factory system. Most of the time, these systems use the factory exhaust hangers to make install as easy as possible.

Since a high-performance muffler is a part of a cat-back or axle-back exhaust system, buying a muffler by itself is usually the least expensive option in terms of parts cost.┬áKeep in mind, however, that mufflers have higher labor costs. They’re not necessarily less expensive by the time all the labor costs have been accounted for.

Muffler Only vs. Cat-back or Axle-back

The biggest advantage in purchasing a full cat-back or axle-back system is that install is really simple. Many of these systems can be installed at home with basic tools. Conversely, installing a muffler at home may not be so simple – cutting and welding may be required. What’s more, some after market mufflers require significant re-routing of your stock exhaust tubing…and that can get expensive very quickly.

The other advantage in a full cat-back or axle-back system is that they are often tuned to your specific vehicle and the included muffler(s). All things being equal, a cat-back or axle-back system will perform slightly better than a muffler only.

Stainless Steel vs Aluminized or Galvanized Steel

The main difference between a stainless steel exhaust system and an aluminized or galvanized system is durability. Stainless systems will last a lifetime due to their ability to resist corrosion, with 200 300 series stainless systems being more resistant than 300 200 series systems (only the difference is slight). Some manufacturers will try and convince you that one type of stainless system (200, 300, or 400) has better sound quality than another, but there’s no evidence we’re aware of to support these claims. In fact, stainless steel tends to be slightly thinner than aluminizied steel. If anything, an aluminized system may have better sound quality.

Having said that, the muffler itself is the biggest factor in sound. The steel used in the system isn’t as important as some make it out to be (at least in terms of sound quality).

When it comes to choosing between stainless and aluminized systems, it’s important to consider your local environment. If you live in an area where corrosion risks are high (such as cold-weather areas that use salt to de-ice roadways), stainless steel may be a reasonable upgrade because it will resist rust. On the other hand, if your local environment is dry and the corrosion risks are low, the only reason to buy a stainless system is for looks.

Exhaust Tips

There are probably thousands of different exhaust system tips available. Generally speaking, you get what you pay for. Stainless steel tips are very resistant to corrosion, but they don’t shine up as nicely as chrome. Also, stainless steel tips are more likely to “blue”, or change color during use. Titanium is also a material used to make exhaust tips – it’s incredibly corrosion resistant, but just like stainless it’s prone to blue during use. If you like the blue coloring, titanium is probably your best choice. If you want the shiny look, chrome is the way to go. If you want a tip that you can shine up every once in a while – but that’s also resistant to the elements – stainless is a smart choice.

Exhaust System Labor Costs

If you purchase a cat-back or axle-back exhaust system, labor costs are often very low. These systems bolt-on and use the existing factory hangers. In fact, many performance shops will install a cat-back exhaust system free of charge if you purchase it directly from them.

If you decide you want to purchase a muffler only, you’ll want to get an install estimate from your local exhaust shop BEFORE you buy that muffler. Sometimes, installation is very straightforward and the cost is as little as $100. Other times, fabrication is required and the cost can be as high as $300 (or more). If the installation requires a lot of fabrication, you may be better off buying a cat-back or axle-back system instead.

7 Comments Post a comment
  1. Kamil
    Oct 29 2011

    if i have a fx35 and i want to have more sound in my car, what is the best exhaust for me?
    thanks a lot in advance,
    Kamil

    Reply
    • Eric
      Jun 28 2012

      if you just want sound from your car, get something cat back, but dont worry about changing the cat its self, either that or just get a muffler. For my old lancer, to get a sports muffler installed was like $150 including muffler (buying muffler from the one shop and getting them to install in the same moment).
      That was from Midas in Sydney (bankstown).

      Reply
      • Jason
        Jun 28 2012

        Eric – Completely agreed. If you’re just looking for better sound, a muffler from your local muffler shop will work. The only reason to invest in a cat-back system is if you’re looking for power and/or gas mileage. Good comment.

        Reply
  2. flakefrost
    Jan 16 2012

    my new exhaust system is getting fitted as i speak… i hope it lasts longer than the old one :s

    Reply
  3. Ezareth
    Jan 23 2012

    I just want to state that your assertion that 200 series stainless steel has more corrosion resistance than 300 series stainless steel is false. The level of Chromium and Molybdenum content is directly proportional to the level of corrosion resistance and 200 series stainless has less than 300 series stainless of both elements. 200 series Stainless Steel has documented corrosion issues and is much less expensive than 300 series Stainless Steel due to the lower Nickle content. 304 and more so 316 Stainless Steel is the most corrosion resistant stainless certified by the AISI.

    Reply
    • Jason
      Jan 23 2012

      Ezareth – You are correct. Not sure if I mis-read that or if I found some bad info, but either way it was wrong. I fixed it. Thank you.

      Reply
  4. Tom
    Aug 26 2014

    I know that no major aftermarket makes an exhaust system that fits to my car. Well that I know of… I own a 1998 Camry. I’ve been customizing it for years to be a sleeper. Well it’s a custom supercharged with a stock 1mzfe 3.0L. And for those of you not willing to do research that’s the normal v6 for that year of Camry (not the supercharger). I want to replace work that was previously done to install a muffler that turned out not to be as great as it claimed. Well, that’s how it goes with all aftermarket products, but I’m wondering if anyone knows any company that make a half decent exhaust system (not just the muffler, everything including headers) that will fit in my car without having to change its factory mounts under the car. The changes made to make the muffler fit can be fixed very easily I made sure of that when they installed and started welding everything. Ik many cars don’t have to be changed to add an exhaust system. Just a few bolts here and there but finding one that fits is a challenge for me. And if I can’t find one how much is it going to cost to make one fit?

    Reply

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