10 Tips for Installing an Exhaust Upgrade

Exhaust Ram 1500 II

One of the easiest upgrades you can make to your pickup truck can also help deliver better power and improved fuel economy. In fact, if your truck is tall enough, you won't even have to put it up on jack stands to make the swap. What are we talking about? Upgrading the exhaust system.

Installing a new exhaust system on your pickup, depending on how complicated your truck is, can be done with simple tools in your driveway in as little as an hour. There are many companies that make better-sounding and better-looking pipes specifically for your pickup setup; however, there are several important things to keep in mind when making the upgrade.

To save you a little bit of time and money, we talked to a few of the companies that specialize in exhaust upgrades for pickups. Generally speaking, there are some great deals out there if you do the research, but more often the age-old adage "you get what you pay for" is applicable in this arena.

Here are several points to keep in mind when choosing the right exhaust system for your pickup.

1. Know the Law

Make sure you know the sound-level laws in your state and local area. Exhaust companies will let you know whether the product they've sold you is 50-state legal or only for special "off-road" use. In many cases, an exhaust company can tell you exactly how loud a particular replacement system will be in a new truck. Although you never know exactly what your pickup will sound like with a new system mounted, many companies offer sound clips on their websites to give you an idea.

2. Get a Full Kit With Instructions

All aftermarket exhaust system should include appropriately mandrel-bent tubing, connectors, hardware and instructions. Be sure to check that the company you're purchasing from has a customer-service phone number you can call with any questions if you're installing the kit yourself.

3. Know Your Engine

When making your decision, factor in the special technology your engine might have, like cylinder deactivation or turbocharging, and whether the company you're choosing understands those complexities to the extent that it has incorporated the features necessary to deal with it. These types of sophisticated multistage engines — typically designed to save fuel in different situations — make it difficult for most exhaust kits to make the exhaust notes throaty in all situations.

4. Cat-Back Systems

Most exhaust systems sold will be "cat-back" systems, meaning they will leave the factory catalytic convertor intact (usually required by law) and only change the exhaust tubing and muffler behind the catalytic convertor to improve flow and sound. Be careful when deciding to upgrade exhaust manifolds with headers or a freer-flowing catalytic convertor because your state emissions laws may have specific requirements.

5. Expect More Power

You can typically expect a small amount of extra performance from an upgraded exhaust system. Each kit is likely to tell you how much more horsepower and torque the new system provided during in-house testing. If you want to know for sure, find a reputable chassis dyno shop and run your truck before and after the installation. But be warned: Your butt is not likely to notice any performance difference. Depending on the application, a new system might provide anywhere from 1 to 5 percent gains.

Exhaust TE tubes II

6. Go Slowly

Most of the aftermarket exhaust upgrade kits will be in the form of a do-it-yourself kit that can be shipped anywhere in the country. Depending on how experienced you are with tools and working underneath a vehicle, give yourself a few hours to get it all done. And be sure to allow your vehicle to cool for at least a few hours before grabbing pipes and clamps. No driving straight from the auto parts store expecting to pull off the old unit right away.

7. A Word About Diesels

But what if you have a heavy-duty diesel pickup? When considering an exhaust upgrade for HD pickups with a turbo-diesel engine, your options are going to be limited. Older systems, ones that pre-date the stricter EPA emissions requirements, have some good options from several big-truck companies. But any diesel pickup built in the last few years will include large diesel particulate filters and sophisticated urea injection systems that are specifically designed to meet all federally mandated emissions levels. These systems also have to be able to deal with the diesel re-gen modes, sometimes sending emission temperatures above 1,000 degrees. Messing with any part of that factory system would make your pickup illegal to drive on public roads.

8. Check the Kit's Warranty

Most of the better exhaust systems will offer some kind of limited or lifetime warranties. Often those warranties will be specific about how you plan to use your vehicle, so read the fine print. Additionally, there could be a big difference in coverage depending on whether your system is 49-state or 50-state legal so, again, be sure to know your local laws. It also wouldn't hurt to know the laws in the states where you might be driving during your next vacation.

9. Do Routine Checks

Whether you're replacing a stock system with something with a little more growl or you want twin side pipes coming out behind each rear tire, understand that the undercarriage of your truck is tight on space and small details can become a big deal if issues like heat shields, wire routing and exposure to damage aren't dealt with and occasionally checked. Clamps can come lose, tubes can get pinched and rust can do terrible unseen damage.

Exhaust TE muffler II

10. Take Your Time

Our last piece of advice is to take your time when choosing an exhaust kit. Search out a few chat rooms or YouTube videos and see what's been working for other drivers who have a truck like yours. Reach out to your local auto parts store or take a good look at exhaust company websites. For the most part, they've spent a lot of money to make it easy and simple to let you hear, watch and find the system with the right sound and look you're going for-some will even let you choose from several levels of performance, so you need to know what you want.

Need a place to start? Check out these exhaust system suppliers:

Banks Engineering: 800-601-8072

Borla Exhaust Systems: 877-462-6752

Corsa Performance: 800-486-0999

Flowmaster: 707-544-4761

Magnaflow Exhaust Products: 800-824-8664


Manufacturer photos; Cars.com photos by Tim Esterdahl


Exhaust TE-600x399 II



I appreciate the tips on installing a new exhaust in your car. I agree that it is important to go slowly and to take your time because this can really save your hands and arms and will allow you to slow down and think about it. My brother is looking to get some work done on his car, I will be sure to share this information with him.

This was an awesome read thanks for sharing! All of these upgrades were very interesting and informative to read on. Keep sharing more blogs with more updated information.

A simple filter change to a more free-flowing type has consistently given me 10% to 20% better fuel economy with a little more bottom-end torque.


I had forgotten how stupid that sounded. Thanks to KMD's recent comment I'm reminded. Changing air filters has NEVER resulted in the figures you suggest.

We suppose that a really dirty filter would subtract from fuel economy in a big way but proposing the 10 to 20 percent number you quote is ridiculous.

So from what I'm reading and understanding is skip the magna flow exhaust and just stay with the K&N cold air intake and a programmer. This is on a 2017 2500HD Silverado 6.0 L. Looking for better performances, mpg when towing trailer with 1900 lb rack and UTV in the bed. Traveling over mountain passes.

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