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Straight Pipes: Obnoxious or Awesome?

Is straight piping your exhaust the right move to free some ponies, give you more power, and make your car sound better? Maybe…

Looking at a Loud Car Mod

Turbocharged engine
Turbocharged engine

Car modifications are so common that it’s hard to fathom just how many different things one can do to customize their vehicle. As the movement to respect all builds grows, we’ve seen more folks embrace small mods like stick-on vents or interior lighting modifications. Of course, the car community in general respects anyone who goes as far as to add big power with turbos, superchargers, or nitrous oxide.

Still, those modifications are incredibly expensive and can damage your car when not completed properly. With that in mind, it’s easy to see why someone might straight pipe their car. It can add power, it always adds a bit of drama, and it typically costs very little. So today we dive into the practice of straight piping to determine if it’s the right mod for you and your ride.

What the Heck Is Straight Piping?

Straight piping a car is the act of cutting out the catalytic converter, the resonator, and the muffler from a vehicle and replacing them with nothing but a straight-through exhaust pipe. Some cars have multiple catalytic converters, resonators, or mufflers, so to be truly straight piped, all of those parts need to be replaced with the straight-through exhaust pipe. Some folks will remove just one or two of these pieces. That’s certainly a kind of straight piping, but it’s not really what we’re focused on here. What we’re talking about is a final product with none of those features in the exhaust path.

Why Would Anyone Straight Pipe Their Car?

Simply put, it makes the car louder. That’s the reason most people do straight pipe their vehicle. They also might like the attention that a loud car can gather. In some cars, it has a more practical application and can add a little bit of power by making it easier for the car’s engine to breathe. Since exhaust gas can get out from the engine more easily, air can also get in more easily, which typically produces more power. Those gains though are almost always very minimal.

There are a host of reasons for that small gain, but a large majority of cars have their exhaust tuned from the factory. That means that it’s designed for maximum horsepower with mufflers, catalytic converters, and resonators in mind. Remove those pieces and sometimes flow can actually be disrupted.

Is All This Legal?

Checking emissions
Checking emissions

Yes and no. In some states, like Arkansas or Kentucky, you’re free to do what you’d like to your vehicle, so long as it doesn’t cause excessive smoke or noise. In other states, like Colorado, annual safety and emission checks are required. During those checks, a catalytic converter is almost always required. Sometimes mufflers and resonators are also required, meaning that if you straight pipe your car, you’ll need to return it to factory exhaust every time you have to renew your vehicle.

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In other states like New York, an exhaust that’s modified to be louder can get you a fine of $1,000. While that’s the most expensive fine in the USA, there are a number of states that will fine drivers or even impound cars. Colorado for instance will fine drivers up to $500 if a car is found without a muffler. The best advice is to check out the rules in your home state and then abide by them.

Any Other Concerns With Straight Pipes?

Check engine light
Check engine light

Let’s talk about some of the other cons of straight piping your ride. Having a louder exhaust can work great in the right application. For example, many V8s and V12s sound utterly fantastic when straight piped. Sadly, very few of us get to drive performance vehicles that benefit from straight piping. The downside of straight piping a car that doesn’t have a performance motor is that they tend to drone as they go down the road. That drone can become obnoxious very, very quickly. In addition, without the catalytic converter to clean the exhaust gas, far more pollutants are released into the environment. For those that don’t care so much about that… there’s still the issue of the scent. Without the original exhaust parts installed, engines tend to output somewhat noxious fumes that can be annoying to breathe.

Then there are the even more practical concerns. Aside from the sincere concerns about the legality of the situation and whether or not your vehicle needs to pass emissions, there are other issues. If your car relies on oxygen sensor data, oftentimes those are installed in the catalytic converter. When you remove that to go the straight pipe route, then you’re usually stuck having to find a workaround for the oxygen sensor placement. Many cars will throw a check engine light even if you put the oxygen sensor back into the exhaust system because it’s getting a different flow than it’s designed for. It’s also possible to lose a few MPGs. Plus, we haven’t even talked about how a louder car affects those that have to live around it. All of these factors matter to one degree or another.

Is the Straight Pipe Lifestyle for You?

Exhaust pipes
Exhaust pipes

Straight piping a car can lead to a small boost in power and will assuredly increase noise output. At the same time, it could lower power, efficiency, and make your vehicle considered illegal. Straight pipe exhausts also add more pollutants to the environment. That’s not to say that it should never be done, but it’s best for everyone to consider their reasoning before taking a grinder to their exhaust.

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Stephen Rivers

Stephen Rivers is a car enthusiast who loves all things built with passion, extending to nearly all car cultures. After obtaining an occupational studies degree in sports medicine, Stephen turned his attention to sports cars. He was employed as an auto shop manager, spent time in auto sales, and worked as a software developer for a racing company, but Stephen began writing about cars over 10 years ago. When he's not in front of a computer screen, he's racing his own Bugeye Subaru WRX in as many autocross and rallycross competitions as he can.

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