When it comes to modding, headers are one of the simplest bolt-on parts you can install to improve your engine’s performance. The primary goal of headers is to make it easier for the engine to push exhaust gases out of the cylinders. Often compared to air pumps, engines that are efficient when it comes to power and economy are the ones that can seamlessly get air in and out of the cylinders. That is why performance mods like cold air intakes, cat-backs, and headers are among the top choices to achieve more power because they work to make the vehicle’s intake and exhaust systems less restrictive. Among those, though, headers seem to be the most difficult to install and many people have a lot of questions about them. In this article, we will go over the job of headers, the different types, and what benefits you can reap from installing them.
Headers and Manifolds
Visually speaking, an exhaust header can look very similar to an exhaust manifold – mainly because they both appear to be a collection of pipes. After the headers do their job and the exhaust gases exit the cylinder, they end up in the exhaust manifold. From the manifold, the exhaust gases flow into one pipe toward the catalytic converter and the muffler. The manifold proves to be a vital source of backpressure because exhaust gases from one cylinder build up pressure that affects the next cylinder that uses the manifold. And we all know that a vehicle’s engine loses power through backpressure.
That being said, headers take the place of your exhaust manifold and work to eliminate the manifold’s backpressure. They are made up of individual tubes (one for each exhaust port) that meet in a larger tube known as a collector. So rather than having a common exhaust manifold that all of the cylinders share, each one gets its own exhaust pipe. The individual pipes are cut and bent so that each one measures the same length as the rest. This guarantees that each cylinder’s exhaust gases arrive in the collector spaced out equally so there is no backpressure generated by the cylinders sharing a collector.
Why Install Headers?
Headers are typically installed because they boost the rate of exhaust flow out of your vehicle’s engine when compared to the stock exhaust manifold, which is designed to take up as little space as possible. It is highly recommended that you make sure the rest of your exhaust system is less restrictive before installing a set of headers. That’s because you will not experience the true benefits of headers if the exhaust flow is only going to be choked further down the line in the system. That means you should look into installing mandrel-bent exhaust pipes and free-flowing mufflers before looking into headers.
Quality headers that are well-designed deliver a “scavenging” effect. When an exhaust gas pulse exits a header tube into the collector, a negative pressure wave is created. That wave then travels back up the header tube to the exhaust port during valve overlap. The negative pressure that arises helps to pull any leftover exhaust gas from the cylinder and draw the incoming intake charge into the cylinder. This process is highly advantageous to a car’s engine performance but the tubes must be long enough for it to be useful during a practical RPM range. With that said, let’s delve into the types of headers: the long-tube and short-tube versions.
Types of Headers
The diameter size of the header tube affects flow and scavenging. Larger tubes are typically better for high RPMs, and smaller tubes are great for maintaining exhaust gas velocity for low-end torque.
The scavenging effect is most pronounced on long-tube header sets; however, this kind of header is usually more expensive, harder to install, and takes up the most space. Long-tube headers require the exhaust pipes to be cut and flanges to be attached where they meet with the collector. The benefit of this type is increased power at the mid- to high RPM range, making it ideal for high-powered, racing applications. Additionally, you will enjoy an awesome, roaring sound that will make it hard to resist putting the pedal to the metal every time you get in the driver’s seat. Apart from not being compatible with turbochargers, long-tube headers are a top choice among enthusiasts with naturally aspirated and supercharged engines that want to max out their RPMs and tear up the track.
- Major performance boosts
- Makes an incredible, loud sound
- Great for high RPM applications
- Can be used with stock or supercharged exhausts
- Not legal in all 50 states
- Not compatible with turbo engines/exhaust
- Sound could be an issue for neighbors
- More difficult to install than the shorty type
Short-tube headers, also called shorty headers, perform the best in the idle to mid-RPM range. This makes them the perfect choice for vehicles that rely on low-RPM power, like daily drivers or work pick-up trucks that do a lot of towing and hauling. They give your exhaust manifold free-flowing piping that will improve performance in naturally aspirated motors; though, shorty headers truly shine when used with a turbocharger. Choose from unequal or equal length headers: the former of which offers a deeper sound and a little more low-end torque, whereas the latter offers greater performance gains consistently.
The pipes on short-tube headers are still a decent length, but they are usually not long enough to deliver the full scavenging effect generated by the long-tube variant. Before you write off short-tube headers altogether, it’s important to note that they do boost power and fit more easily into modern engine compartments – a huge benefit on modern vehicles that lack the long front end and spacious underhood clearance of yesteryear’s cars. What’s more, many shorty headers are designed to connect to existing flanges, making cutting or welding unnecessary.
- Legal in all 50 states
- Fits nicely in the engine bay
- Simple installation process
- Great for turbo applications
- Better sound than the stock exhaust
- Not as loud as long-tube headers
- Not ideal for high RPM ranges
Should you have any further questions or need help choosing a header for your application, feel free to reach out to the experts at Vivid Racing by phone at 1-480-966-3040 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.