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When Should I Upgrade My Wrangler's Exhaust

The exhaust is part of the engine’s breathing system, designed to take the exhausted fumes from the engine’s combustion process, filter and expel it out through the tail pipe. An aftermarket system will not only help your Wrangler breathe easier (thereby increasing power), but also gaining you a few MPGs.

Extreme Terrain

The Benefit of an Aftermarket Exhaust

Aftermarket systems often replace the large, bulky factory muffler with a smaller, much less restrictive one. Mandrel bent exhaust piping, allow fumes to flow out smoothly and swiftly. Most systems also feature improved, rust-resistant materials, including stainless steel, aluminized steel, or steel with high-temperature black powder-coat, ensuring more durability in harsher conditions. 


When to Upgrade the Exhaust

There are many different reasons why you should consider upgrading your Wrangler's exhaust. Some of the top reasons include: 

  • Failure of the original exhaust system. Especially on older Wranglers, the exhaust system is often fairly cheaply made and will rust out. Replacing it with a higher quality stainless steel system will ensure more years or reliable use.
  • To help boost torque and horsepower in concert with other mods. Upgrading to an open air intake in conjunction with an aftermarket exhaust will help in combustion and provide a slight gain in power. 
  • Providing longer engine life. Even if an exhaust system doesn't add a ton of horsepower and torque, a good exhaust system with mandrel-bent tubes and a non-restrictive muffler cuts down on backpressure, making the engine strain less as it runs, and vents engine heat rapidly. 
  • Climbing hills and mountains, powering through sand and mud, or other low-end torque applications. Many off-roaders report that upgraded exhaust improves a Jeep's low-end torque, which is great for climbing slopes or negotiating sand and mud smoothly and strongly. As a pleasant side benefit, low-end torque is also useful in town and city driving (though not on the highway). 
  • Off-roading in tough terrain. When you're a dedicated wheeler who uses your Jeep adventurously, this is a great time to upgrade your exhaust system with a high clearance cat-back exhaust. Improved clearance lessens the chance of damage to the exhaust from high centering, while rock crawling, etc. In some cases, it also makes more room under the Jeep for certain other mods to the suspension, gearing, or drivetrain. 

A proper aftermarket Jeep exhaust will allow your Jeep to function the same or, usually, better in every situation – the only real downsides are the cost and the installation time. 

High Clearance Systems vs. Dual Tip Systems

Considering the environment your Jeep will be in most of the times will help in the decision between a high clearance or dual tip system. 

High clearance systems tuck the exhaust up close under the body, often relocating the muffler forward (rather than keeping the stock position just under the rear bumper), providing extra space so that your Jeep's exhaust won't get damaged when rock crawling or driving on heavily rutted trails. Dual tip systems focus on exhaust flow and improved sound, instead, providing slightly more horsepower, torque and fuel mileage.

Weighing the pros and cons of each is the best way to pick the system suited to your Jeep Wrangler. 



High Clearance Exhaust Systems: Pros & Cons

High clearance systems are made for heavy-duty off-road adventures. The exhaust system is moved up higher to avoid damage from rocks, stumps, brush, high centers, or while rock crawling. Magnaflow's Rockcrawler Exhaust line provides good examples of this type. 

Pros: 

  • Muffler moved forward. Many systems relocate the muffler forward (and use a smaller, low-profile muffler) so that it can be tucked up into spaces in the undercarriage. This keeps it out of the way of punctures, denting, or being ripped off entirely on rocks or by high centering. 
  • Pipe curvature near the rear axle increases the vertical range of wheel travel on the trail.
  • Pipes are mounted high. The pipes are also designed to fit close under the body, keeping them well out of the way and less likely to be damaged or torn off.
  • Lifted tailpipe. Many high clearance systems raise the tailpipe above the rear bumper, rather than it projecting below. Since the tailpipe assembly is even more vulnerable than the rest of the system, this puts the full protection of the bumper between it and the ground. 
  • Light weight. High clearance systems usually reduce exhaust system weight, making your Jeep slightly more agile.

Cons:

  • An aftermarket bumper is sometimes necessary. Lifting the tailpipe above the rear bumper, or even closer to it, means a lot of exhaust heat is transferred to the bumper. This will damage or warp the stock plastic bumper. A metal aftermarket bumper can withstand the heat and exhaust byproducts while remaining intact, but is an extra cost and cancels out the weight reduction. 
  • Performance gains are less than dual tip systems. High clearance systems improve exhaust flow and engine aspiration, but not as much as other systems. 
  • Possibly less intense, full-bodied sound. Since the exhaust flow is somewhat less, the exhaust note is somewhat less deep and/or aggressive (but still much better than stock). 

Dual Tip Systems: Pros & Cons

Dual tip systems are designed both to give your Wrangler a more balanced look and boost exhaust flow. They provide a deep, smooth exhaust sound that makes your Jeep sound great, too. These systems are great for street and track performance, though some are also made for moderately improved off-road clearance. 

Pros: 

  • Strong, loud exhaust note. If you're a fan of a powerful, deep exhaust sound for your Wrangler, these systems give your vehicle a “voice” that makes it stand out from the crowd (and in some cases may be extremely loud on the highway). 
  • Improved exhaust flow. With a double exit and a high-flow muffler, a dual tip system keeps the gasses flowing strongly. You are more likely to notice some horsepower, torque, and fuel mileage gains with a dual tip design. 

Cons: 

  • Clearance is sometimes no better than stock. The dual tip system is frequently not a high clearance component, meaning it can be damaged fairly easily while rock crawling or off-roading over rough terrain. 
  • On some models, the muffler is at the rear, making it susceptible to puncturing or scraping off while rock crawling. 
  • Weight. A dual tip system is often nearly as heavy as the factory system.

Exhaust Spacers

Exhaust spacers are frequently needed when you lift your Wrangler, especially if the lift is 3 inches or more. Modifying the suspension changes the geometry of the drivetrain and exhaust relative to each other. If the lift is more than 2.5”, the extremely hot Y-pipe on a JK Wrangler often comes into contact with the driveshaft boot. A melted and exposed boot can lead to loss of grease, introduction of sand/dirt and eventual failure of the driveshaft. 

Exhaust spacers fit between the rear end of the headers and the front end of the crossover pipe, shifting the crossover pipe several inches back. This ensures the pipe won't contact the driveshaft boot, keeping the latter free from damage, while increasing front suspension travel. Spacers furnish a low-cost solution that can save you highly expensive driveshaft repairs or replacement. They are not a permanent addition, meaning it is easy to remove them if you choose to change the lift of your Jeep back to stock at a later date. 


Cat-Backs that Get Rid of the Resonator

Non-resonated Wrangler cat-back exhaust systems, which represent most of the aftermarket cat-backs available today, delete the resonator in order to produce a deep, throaty sound plus freer flow of waste gasses. An alternative consists of a resonator delete, which involves removing the section containing the resonator and replacing it with a straight pipe without the resonating components.

Final Thoughts

Upgrading your Jeep with an axle-back or cat-back exhaust system will help your Jeep run better, avoid exhaust system damage during heavy off-roading, and last a long time without rust or corrosion. Working best as part of an overall upgrade, an aftermarket exhaust is one of the key pieces in building a Wrangler able to take on all the wheeling challenges you're eager for, while improving its sound too. 

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