Choosing a replacement exhaust: what to look for and why to shop around

Choosing a replacement exhaust: what to look for and why it pays to shop around

If your car has ever needed a replacement exhaust you’ll know just how expensive this essential mechanical component can be. As it’s such a pricey part, it pays to know what to look for and it’s important to shop around. That might seem daunting, but the potential price savings alone should convince you research is time well spent.

The exhaust is an essential part of your car. It keeps the engine healthy and ensures the emissions being pumped out do as little harm as possible to the surrounding environment. But over time, the effects of high temperatures, water and grime, the occasional bash from a speed hump and general wear and tear from continuous movement mean it can end up needing replacing.

Here’s the exhaustive low down on repairing or replacing a car’s exhaust.

Signs you need a replacement exhaust

Signs of a worn-out exhaust system

If there are rattles or knocks from beneath the floor of the car, or if the exhaust is ‘blowing’ – making a racket because it’s holed – it may well be on its last legs. Similarly, if it is damaged by coming into contact with the road or an obstacle, or has rusted through, it will need repairing or replacing. Cars that are only used for short trips can also suffer from exhausts rusting from the inside out. This is because moisture formed during the combustion process doesn’t have a chance to dry out.

Start with a free quote

Before committing to buying part of or a full exhaust, have it inspected and get a quote for any repair or replacement work required. Stuart Harrison of Mr Exhaust, which specialises exclusively in repairing, fitting or designing bespoke exhaust systems says: “Diagnosis is everything. Never rely on ‘hope and poke.'”

Companies such as ATS Euromaster, Kwik Fit and Halfords Autocentres offer a free inspection of a car exhaust. A friendly local garage is likely to offer a similar service. Check with any franchised dealer as they may charge for a vehicle health check.

Can the exhaust be repaired?

Replacement parts aren’t always necessary, says Stuart Harrison: “A reputable fitter could make good an exhaust just as a cobbler could repair a nice pair of shoes.”

If your car isn’t worth a great deal of money, or you’d simply prefer to spend your cash on more exciting things than an exhaust, specialist centres can fit either ‘reducer sleeves’ or flexible joints that can be welded into place. With repairs starting from around £30, it can be an economical solution.

You may not have to replace the whole exhaust

A car exhaust can be replaced in sections

More good news. A car’s exhaust is designed to be separated into four or five sections. Any of those parts can be replaced individually. Given that new exhausts can cost between £500 and several thousand pounds, that helps drivers keep repair bills to a minimum.

The main parts of an exhaust

The parts common to a petrol-powered car are the manifold, oxygen sensor, catalytic converter, centre box (or silencer) and rear box. Modern diesel cars also include a diesel particulate filter (DPF), which is the most costly part to replace. You can find out more about troubleshooting DPFs in this advice piece.

Why prices vary so much

Like many products you can buy for your car, replacement exhaust parts can be made from different quality materials. Some will be different grades of steel, others may be stainless steel, yet more use cast iron. Some of the most expensive systems are made from titanium.

Older cars have simpler exhaust systems. That’s because they weren’t designed to meet more recent, stringent European emissions regulations for new vehicles. This makes them comparatively affordable – if not cheap – to replace.

For example, the owner of a 2007, 1.6-litre petrol powered Volkswagen Golf would pay around £575 for a complete system. The driver of a BMW 520d (from 2005 to 2010) would have to pay nearly £2000 for a complete replacement system. That’s partly because it features a DPF which alone costs almost £490.

Reputable brand names to look out for include Bosal, Tenneco and Walker. These firms all manufacture original equipment for car makers and supply after-market components.

Shop around

With franchised dealers, aftermarket specialists and local garages all competing for your business, it pays to shop around. The prices quoted above are complete systems, including fitting, for the VW Golf (£575) and BMW 520d (£2000). These were from an independent exhaust fitter, Mr Exhaust.

A franchised VW dealer said it would charge around £1419, excluding fitting, for a complete system. A BMW dealer quoted £2184, excluding fitting, for a 2007 520d.

One tip for peace of mind is to use a Motor Ombudsman-accredited garage for exhaust replacement. A spokesman for the consumer organisation said: “Using a Motor Ombudsman-accredited business  – listed on our Garage Finder – gives consumers confidence. The garage has committed to operate according to the Chartered Trading Standards Institute-approved Motor Industry Code of Practice for Service and Repair.”

How long is the warranty?

Given the potential cost of a replacement exhaust, you might sleep better knowing that it comes with a lengthy guarantee. These vary from one to three years at specialist exhaust centres. If you can get a longer warranty for the same quality and price of exhaust, it may sway your decision over where to have it fitted.

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