Headers Vs Manifold – What Are The Benefits Of Installing Headers?

by Conner Mckay

Are you planning on installing performance headers on your vehicle and you are still thinking between headers vs manifold? Which are the ups and downs of both of these components and which one of them is better? If that is the case, then you shouldn’t worry because we are going to cover everything you need to know when it comes to this upgrade.

Adding performance upgrades to your car is cool but every performance upgrade has downsides that you should know before you install it on your car. Not knowing what are the possible outcomes of a certain mod will make you regret that you installed that mod in the first place and can cost you thousands of dollars to bring your car back to stock settings.

Stock settings are also boring for some people, as they are the settings that were meant for your car from the factory. These are the settings on which the car works and performs the best. So, when you are messing around with it like in this example with installing headers. The car will not perform as it used to. It will benefit in some aspects and will set back in other aspects. That’s why you need to make sure that you learn these downsides and we are going to help you out.

In this article, first, we are going to learn what are headers and what are manifolds. Then we will compare headers vs manifold in many aspects and we will draw our conclusion when it comes to these mods. Lastly, we will answer some common questions when it comes to performance headers. So, let’s begin.

What Are Manifolds? – Headers Vs Manifold

Before we dive into what are headers. It is a good idea to discuss what are manifolds first. Since this is the component that you plan to replace if you install aftermarket performance headers on your vehicle.

Engine manifolds are usually cast iron components that allow the flow of exhaust gases from the engine. They are specifically designed to get the best flow possible in order to make the vehicle the most fuel-efficient. They are doing this by increasing the back pressure and making your car slow down in the process.

Headers VS Manifold

This means that with factory manifolds, you will never going to experience the true power of your engine. That’s how these manifolds are designed. They are made to be fuel-efficient and not deliver immense power from the engine.

Also, they are keeping the health of the engine in check by doing this. Increased performance is damaging to the internals of the engine. Especially if the engine is not a performance application. If there are no factory manifolds, the engine will wear off prematurely and you will have to get a new engine. That’s are one of the cons of running headers. But more on that later.

The important thing when we talk about manifolds is that you should not mess with them if you don’t plan to reinforce other components inside of the engine like pistons, rods, and other components that will make the engine better at handling increased power.

The important thing to know is that if you are running a V8 or a V6 you have two exhaust manifolds. If you run a straight-4 or straight-6, you have only one manifold. But, enough on manifolds, let’s move on to headers before we compare headers vs manifold.

What Are Headers? – Headers Vs Manifold

Now let’s discuss headers. Headers are components that replace the factory manifolds. Engine headers offer a more natural flow of gases.

Every race car engine has headers. So, you can see why headers are so desired. By installing headers, you are basically unlocking the power of your engine.

After installing the engine comes to life and starts to breathe better. The engine’s performance with headers is 30% better than running manifolds on average. This is quite good and if you want to unlock more power from your engine this should be the first mod that you should try.

Just make sure that you have an engine that likes these upgrades. Because not all engines came well prepared for these mods from the factory. In the end, you might end up with a cracked block or an engine that has a ton of blowby and cries for a rebuild.

That’s why before installing these mods you should open your eyes and learn the possible downsides of running this mod to your car. Knowing this will save you thousands of dollars on possible repairs that you probably don’t want to happen.

When it comes to the design of the headers. We can say that it is quite simple and the core of the header is a thick steel plate that has holes. And each of these holes goes to a single exhaust port. This means 8 on each side if you have a V8 engine.

Then there are pipes that are welded and specifically designed to allow the flow of gases to be interrupted. Then they go into one big exhaust pipe that ends at the rear. In the following chapters, we will cover the pros and cons of headers vs manifold in detail.

We discussed what are manifolds and we also covered what are headers. So, you know the basics of both of these components. Now it’s time to compare headers vs manifold, since you have to know the pros and cons of each of them before you make the right decision and make the final call if installing headers is a good idea or not.

That’s why first we are going to cover the pros and cons of running headers and then we will discuss the pros and cons of running the stock manifolds. So, without further ado, let’s get into it.

Headers Pros – Headers Vs Manifold

In this chapter, we will cover the pros of having headers on your car. There are many pros but we are going to focus on the ones that will highly likely make you choose this mod for your car.

1. Reduced Backpressure & Increase Horsepower

The number one benefit of having headers instead of stock manifolds is that the headers are reducing the backpressure. This means that the exhaust gases flow freely without any interruptions.

You will feel the real power coming out from your engine after you install the aftermarket headers. And trust me, there will be a huge difference in terms of power before and after the headers. A great set of headers can get you more than 50 horsepower if you are running an engine that is performance-oriented.

This power will be noticeable when you apply the throttle and see how much more torque and horsepower the engine is producing.

Even better if you are doing track days. Because these headers will place you on top of the leaderboard every lap.

2. Headers Look Cool & Sound Cool

Another benefit of having headers is that they look cool and they also sound really nice. They are often fabricated out of stainless steel which makes them look extra appealing.

Another thing that makes them look extra appealing is the craftsmanship of the welder that was involved in making them. Welding is mastery by itself and good quality custom headers that are welded to perfection are an instant eye-catcher when you open up your hood.

Every car guy around would like to take picture of your engine bay and also give you some compliments on this mod. So, having custom headers is a no-brainer if you want to increase the looks of your car to the next level.

But what is also good about them is that they sound good as well. A V8 with headers is a whole different beast than with manifolds. So, headers vs manifold when it comes to sound is definitely a win for the headers.

The headers are increasing the flow of gases that will allow a better sound to be produced. That V8 rumble will be something that you will enjoy each day with your new headers.

3. Headers Are Lightweight & Durable

Compared to classic exhaust manifolds. Headers are quite lightweight. They are thinner and fabricated out of stainless steel. Unlike the exhaust manifolds that are manufactured with the process of casting.

This means that steel was poured into a mold that formed these manifolds. And they are quite thick. Also, headers are much more hardcore when it comes to longevity. If they are properly welded by an experienced welder, they can last forever. Unlike cast iron manifolds that tend to crack if the casting process was bad.

That’s why many people that run manifolds have problems with cracking and exhaust leaks developing. So, when it comes to headers vs manifold, the win of this duel goes to the headers. But, headers also have downsides also known as cons. And we are going to cover them in the following chapters.

Headers Cons – Headers Vs Manifold

Now it’s time to cover the cons of running headers. Since everything has positives and also negatives. Knowing this will help you to understand the risks of running headers on your car.

1. They Are Expensive

The biggest negative is the cost, if you want someone to fabricate headers for your car, you could end up paying thousands of dollars. Since this fabrication process isn’t simple and takes a lot of time to do. The welder has to take measurements and then he needs to fabricate the headers bit by bit. You can easily end up $2,000 to $5,000 depending on the welder’s skill and requirements.

The cheaper way is to go on the market and look for bolt-on headers. But these do not always fit. This means that you will need to do some persuasion work with a hammer in order to make them fit. This will ruin the looks, unfortunately. But it is what it is.

There are also some headers that are made for certain vehicles. So, when buying, getting specific ones for your car would be your best bet. These will cost you between $350 to $1,500 depending on the quality. So, when comparing headers vs manifold in terms of cost, the manifold wins.

2. Reduced Fuel Economy & Bad Emissions Caused By Headers

Another drawback of running headers will be the increased emissions. As you know, increased power means more fuel burned. More fuel burned means more gases and bad emissions.

The fuel economy will also suffer from this to a big extent. If you install headers, you can expect the fuel economy to worsen considerably and you will be a more frequent visitor at the gas station.

Not to mention that you could also fail the emissions testing. If you live in a state that is strict when it comes to emissions. Then the best thing is to reinstall your manifolds. Since passing the emissions test would be almost impossible to do. So, when it comes to headers vs manifold, this one also goes to the manifolds.

3. Engine Damage Caused By Headers

Engine damage is also possible, especially if you push your engine over its limits with the new headers. A lot of power puts a lot of stress on components. This stress will greatly reduce the life of these components and your engine could fail.

Pistons and piston rings are the first components that will suffer this power increase. So, if these components are not beefed up, there is a high chance that some of your pistons will want to escape from the block and create a giant hole in the process. Scrapping your engine and forcing you to go on the market and spend thousands of dollars for a new engine.

That’s why before upgrading the headers, you should consider doing a piston upgrade as well. Because you never know what could happen, since the engine was not designed to run on such power from the factory. That was made for a reason. There are some engines that love a power boost. And you should look after some of them, and avoid upgrading commuter cars that have weak engines. So, when it comes to headers vs manifold, this goes to the manifolds.

Manifold Pros – Headers Vs Manifold

Now it’s time to discuss the pros and cons of running the stock manifolds. Still, we need to see both sides of the story before we decide between headers vs manifold. In the following chapters, we are going to discuss precisely that and then we will find out which is the best option when it comes to headers vs manifold.

1. Stock Manifold Delivers Better Fuel Economy

The first benefit of running a factory manifold is the increased fuel economy. Remember that the design of these manifolds is created for fuel economy. This means that they have certain rules to follow in order to allow less fuel to be spent and also less money wasted by the customers. You just can’t sell cars that have poor fuel efficiency anymore like back in the day.

That’s why running your factory manifolds if you want a better fuel economy is key.

2. Stock Manifold Gets You Better Emissions

The second benefit is better emissions. With the stock manifolds, the engine doesn’t waste too much fuel and thus no increase in emissions occurs. Making your stock manifold is the way to go if you don’t want to have problems registering your vehicle. So, when it comes to headers vs manifold, the win goes to the manifold.

3. With Stock Manifold, The Engine Is Quieter

Running the engine with a stock manifold will also going to make it considerably quieter than running the aftermarket headers.

Remember that when running aftermarket headers, you will start to turn heads. And some unwanted attention as well. There is a high chance that police will stop you and fine you for this mod. So, when modifying the car, be tasteful in order not to gain a lot of unwanted attention.

Manifold Cons – Headers Vs Manifold

Now let’s discuss the cons of running manifolds on your car. These are the things that will make you pick the headers when it comes to headers vs manifold.

1. Low Power Output

The low power output is probably the first reason why you should go for headers on your car. Manifolds simply do not deliver enough power to the table as headers do.

2. Too Quiet

Another drawback is that they are too quiet when compared to headers. They are basically suffocating that V8 that is hiding under the hood.

Headers Vs Manifold, Which Is The Best Route?

We have covered all the pros and cons for both headers and manifolds and now it’s time to decide when it comes to headers vs manifolds. Which route should you go after? Let’s elaborate.

Knowing the pros and cons probably made up your mind if you should go for performance headers. But if it didn’t it is quite useful to elaborate why you should go for headers and why you shouldn’t.

The number one reason why you should go for headers is the increased power that you will receive. For example, you are a drag race enthusiast. In this case, it is a no-brainer to go for the headers since they will improve your times quite significantly.

Also, if you plan to race your car on the local track, this will also benefit you and will improve your times. So, to sum up, if you plan to do a project like this, headers will be the perfect upgrade that you could to your car.

On the other hand, if you plan to daily drive the car, I wouldn’t recommend installing aftermarket headers. They will make your car unusable. It will become a real gas guzzler and will produce tremendous noise that will infuriate a lot of people. Remember that not all people are car guys and they will not have understanding for your mods. Even your family. I know that because I have been there.

Dailying a car with headers can be difficult but not impossible if you know what you are doing and you do everything tastefully. But keep in mind that the gas bill will be high.

Do I Need A Tune For Running Headers?

This is a good question and a question that deserves an elaborate answer. The answer is yes, you will need to get a tune for your modified car. The ECU map needs to be reworked in order to make the new components run properly on your engine.

Modern cars are computerized and if you don’t tune the car with custom software, you will get a check engine light all the time. The engine will run poorly because of the bad fuel to air mixture and you will regret that you bought these headers.

Headers VS Manifold

So, you need to consider a visit to your local tuning shop in order to make the headers work. This will cost you also a good penny. Because nothing is free.

But if you are running a carbureted car. These upgrades are easier, you will only have to make small adjustments to the carburetor and allow more fuel to enter the combustion. And also the timing will probably need to be readjusted as well. That’s it. So, if you are planning to modify a classic muscle car, this will be a great mod to start with. Headers vs manifold easily wins this one.

Cost To Purchase Headers?

The cost to purchase headers depends on the headers that you want to purchase. There are headers for $350 that are poorly made and there are headers that cost $1,500 which are much better quality.

There are also custom headers that can also cost you a few grand. And these are the best out of the bunch. Overall, everything depends on your budget and how much money you want to spend on your set of headers.

Header vs Manifold: Facts

  1. Header and manifold have different functions and are made of different materials.
  2. A pipe header is typically an aftermarket upgrade used in high-performance cars, while a manifold comes standard in most production vehicles.
  3. A header boosts engine power by reducing exhaust backpressure, allowing the engine to breathe more easily.
  4. There are four main types of headers: long-tube headers, Tri-Y headers, lakester headers, and shorty headers.
  5. An exhaust manifold is made of thick cast iron and is typically shorter than a header.
  6. A header is generally a better option than an exhaust manifold because it expels exhaust gases more efficiently and enhances performance.
  7. A header is typically more expensive than an exhaust manifold.
  8. A pipe header is lighter in weight than an exhaust manifold.
  9. An exhaust manifold usually comes with a heat shield to reduce under-hood temperature and boost horsepower.
  10. A header is aesthetically better than a manifold and ideal for high-performance cars that want to attract attention.

Conclusion – Headers Vs Manifold

In this article, we have covered quite a lot when it comes to installing headers mod on your car. First, we learned what is a manifold, and then we have learned what are headers. As we noted that they are performing the same task. But differently. The headers are more performance-oriented while the manifold is more fuel-efficient and quieter.

Then we have covered the pros and cons of both of these components. So, you have a better picture of what is better for you and if it’s worth considering converting your car to run headers. There are a lot of pros and cons when it comes to this. And finally, we gave our verdict of whether you should run headers vs manifold. And the answer is, it depends on your application.

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