Are You Haunted By Loud Exhaust?

Noisy backfiring exhaust
Cure your noisy exhaust or broken muffler. Getty

Any time your car or truck starts to make a sound you aren’t used to, you’re going to notice. The amount of time we spend keeping car seats warm in this country means no change in what our vehicles sound like or act like is going to go unnoticed. A new sound coming from your exhaust system should never be ignored. We tend to laugh when we hear a car or truck going down the street making some hideous exhaust sounds, but in some situations a problem in the exhaust system can mean more than a loud engine, it can mean dangerous exhaust gases are leaking into the passenger compartment.

Carbon monoxide can build up inside a car even when you’re driving if the leak is in the right place. Cold weather means your windows are up, which can turn your car’s interior into a dangerous place for noxious gases to built up. 

Bad exhaust sounds can come in various forms, and each one of these requires a different course of action, or at least a different level of attention. Check out the following symptoms along with some of the more commonly seen causes. 

Symptom: Noisy exhaust 

There is a loud exhaust noise which may be coming from either the front or rear of the vehicle. Determine whether the noise is coming from the front or rear of the exhaust system. Do this by parking the vehicle securely on level ground, with parking brake applied. Lay down on the ground next to the vehicle. Do NOT stick your head underneath a running car or truck! If you have an exhaust leak, you’ll be able to pinpoint its location.

I strongly advise having a helper around to sit in the car with his or her foot on the brake while you are crawling around the vehicle. You don't want to end up on YouTube as the person chasing their running car down the street. Or worse than that, you could be badly hurt by a vehicle that suddenly starts to roll while you are on the ground listening for exhaust notes.

Safety first! 

Exhaust leak at the engine

If you hear exhaust sounds coming from the engine area, your leak could be as simple as a bad gasket or loose flexible pipe connection. You could also have a serious problem like a  cracked exhaust manifold. Closer inspection will be needed. 

Exhaust sounds near center of vehicle

If your leak sounds like it is underneath the vehicle near the center section of the exhaust, you are probably not looking at an expensive repair. It could be a simple hole in your exhaust pipe, which can be welded or replaced in a section. You may also have a loose connection or a bad seal at the catalytic converter or center resonator, another cheap fix. The most expensive repair in the center of the exhaust system would be a catalytic converter replacement. 

Exhaust leak at the rear of the vehicle

If your exhaust sound is at the back of the vehicle, have a shop check for leaks right at the muffler. In some cases, you may have a bad seal at the muffler, or a loose muffler connection. Even a rear muffler replacement due to rust or wear shouldn’t break the bank. 

Backfiring or Sputtering Sounds From Tail Pipe

If your vehicle is complaining loudly at the rear, you likely do not have a problem with your exhaust system, but rather with the engine tuning itself.

Backfiring, sputtering and stuttering is usually a sign of something that needs to be adjusted or repaired under the hood, not in your exhaust tubing or muffler.