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Exhaust Headers vs. Manifolds: What’s better?

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Headers and manifolds essentially serve the same purpose, but they do so in different ways.

Headers are typically used in high-performance after-market applications, while manifolds are more commonly found in stock or OEM vehicles.

We’ll take a closer look at headers and manifolds to help you understand the difference between the two, and help you determine which is better for your car.

Differences Between Headers Vs Manifolds

Headers and manifolds are both used to funnel exhaust gasses from the engine out of the car.

However, headers are typically made from metal tubing that is bent into a specific shape, while manifolds are usually made from cast iron.

Headers often provide better flow and performance than manifolds, but they can be more expensive and difficult to install.

Headers: Design, Function, and Purpose

Headers are tubes that run from the exhaust ports on the cylinder head to the exhaust pipe.

They are designed to improve the flow of exhaust gasses from the engine. This improved flow allows for more power and better performance.

Headers are typically made of tubing that is larger in diameter than the tubing used for manifolds.

This larger diameter allows for a more unrestricted flow of exhaust gasses.

The improved flow of exhaust gasses can result in more power and better performance.

Headers also have less bends and curves than manifolds, which further helps to improve the flow of exhaust gas.

Headers are attached to the engine with bolts, while manifolds are attached with studs and nuts.

While headers are not as common as manifolds, they offer certain advantages over manifolds in certain applications.

They also allow for the use of after-market exhaust systems, which can also improve the sound and performance of your car even further.

Manifolds: Design, Function, and Purpose

Manifolds are used to funnel exhaust gasses from the engine out of the car. They are usually made from cast iron, and are less expensive and easier to install than headers.

Manifolds typically have more bends and curves than headers, which, along with the thicker walls,  can restrict the flow of exhaust gasses. 

Despite these disadvantages, manifolds are still used on many stock and OEM vehicles.

This is because they are less expensive and easier to install.

Manifolds can also provide good performance if they are properly designed and installed.

Are Headers or Manifolds Better?

The answer to this question depends on what type of car you have.

Most cars will do just fine with standard manifolds, while headers may be a better option for enthusiasts with high-performance cars. 

Let’s see how headers and manifolds compare in specific categories.

Sound Difference

When it comes to headers versus manifolds, there is a clear difference in sound.

Headers produce a deeper, throatier sound than manifolds. This is because headers allow for more exhaust gas flow, which creates a stronger exhaust note.

If you are looking for a performance-oriented sound for your car, headers are the way to go.

They provide a louder, more aggressive exhaust note that is sure to turn heads.

Manifolds produce a more subtle sound, which may not be as appealing to some enthusiasts.


Headers can provide a small increase in horsepower and torque over manifolds.

Again, this is because headers offer better exhaust gas flow, which allows the engine to breathe better and make more power. 

The difference in power will be most noticeable at higher engine speeds, such as when you are accelerating on the highway.

However, the gain in power will be small, and is unlikely to be noticeable in everyday driving.

Gas Mileage

In general, headers offer better fuel economy because they are lighter than manifolds and allow for better exhaust flow. However, the effect, in most cases, is minimal. 

Will using headers increase performance in your car?

Headers can offer a small increase in performance, but they are not a magic bullet that will transform your car into a race car.

The gains in horsepower and torque will be small, and may not even be noticeable in everyday driving. 

If you are looking for a significant increase in performance, headers are not the way to go. You would be better off upgrading your engine.