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Why Exhaust Systems Wear Out

Why Exhaust Systems Wear Out  

Determining the Lifespan of the Exhaust System

The life of an exhaust system is extremely difficult to determine. Many factors are involved, including regional climate, the type of driving and whether the system is single or dual. As a rough rule of thumb, however, a typical life expectancy of a premium aftermarket exhaust system should be in the neighborhood of two to three years depending on driving habits and the previously mentioned factors. Read on to learn why the exhaust system can wear out.

Factors Affecting the Exhaust System

While most exhaust system deterioration occurs primarily from the inside out, there are other factors that can affect the lifespan of a vehicle's exhaust system.

Deteriorating From the Inside Out

Most exhaust system deterioration occurs primarily from the inside out. This internal corrosion is a result of acidic moisture that is chemically produced by the combustion of air and gasoline in the engine. Because these acids are in contact with the inside of the exhaust system, these parts break down from the inside out.  
Acid moisture is most destructive when both the engine and the exhaust system parts remain cold. When the engine and exhaust system are fully warmed up, the hot gases coming through the exhaust system evaporate the condensed acid and send it out the tail pipe. As a result, those parts closest to the engine heat up first, stay warmer longer and deteriorate more slowly than the parts farther back in the system. Consequently, exhaust manifolds, pipes and catalytic converters tend to have a much longer life expectancy than exhaust pipes, mufflers or tail pipes. 

The type of system can affect the rate of this inside out deterioration. A dual exhaust system can deteriorate faster than a single exhaust system. Because the pipes don't get warm, moisture can condense in the exhaust and cause it to break down faster. 
Because of the acids produced during combustion, the exhaust system is one of the very few parts on a vehicle that continues to wear even though the engine is not running and the vehicle is stopped. This acid deterioration of exhaust parts, along with driving styles helps explain the extreme variations in exhaust system life even within the same climate zone.

Other Factors

  • Environmental Factors

Uncontrolled environmental factors like weather and road conditions can have a detrimental effect on the exhaust system.

Exhaust systems can fail from external corrosion caused by salt and other chemicals used on the roads in the winter for traffic safety. Taking your vehicle through the car wash on a regular basis during the winter can help cut down on the corrosive effects of salt.

Road conditions can also play a role in the lifespan of the exhaust system. Running over a rock or other debris in the road or bottoming out in a pothole can cause external damage to exhaust system components by creating a hole or jarring hangers and other parts loose.

  • Vehicle Usage

How you drive your vehicle can affect your exhaust system. Do you frequently drive short distances or do you put more highway miles on your vehicle? On cars that make many short trips, the metal parts can corrode because the exhaust system doesn’t get warm enough for water to evaporate.

  • Condition of System Components

The exhaust system is a complex system made up of many parts and if any of the parts are damaged, it can adversely affect the performance of the system. Replace any damaged components promptly to avoid damage to other parts and further system deterioration.

  • Manufacturer Materials

When selecting replacement parts for the exhaust system, be sure to choose quality parts that meet OE specs. These parts are manufactured with high-quality materials that are designed to withstand the stresses of the exhaust system. Using inferior parts can compromise performance.


The content contained in this article is for informational purposes only and should not be used in lieu of seeking professional advice from a certified technician or mechanic. We encourage you to consult with a certified technician or mechanic if you have specific questions or concerns relating to any of the topics covered herein. Under no circumstances will we be liable for any loss or damage caused by your reliance on any content.

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