Best Headers For Your Mustang

Best Headers For Your Mustang

Last Updated February 5, 2020 | Chris Cervenka

Finding The Right Set Of Exhaust Headers

When you make it to the point where you’re ready to upgrade your Mustang's headers, it’s important to do your research beforehand to make sure you’re picking up the right part. In most cases, long tube headers will provide the most power benefits, while sacrificing ease of install. Whereas in other cases, shorty headers may sufficiently get the job done depending on what you use your Mustang for on a daily basis. In this article, we’ll explain the pros and cons of both.

What Are Headers?

Your exhaust manifold is a crucial component of your exhaust system, but one that tends to be quite restrictive from the factory. Replacing your stock manifold for performance headers that are less restrictive will give you increased airflow, and therefore, more horsepower. In terms of the overall exhaust outflow process, the manifold is the very first step. Once exhaust leaves the cylinder heads, it will flow into the manifold or headers before typically proceeding through a series of pipes, the catalytic converter, resonator, muffler, and then out through the tailpipe and exhaust tips.

This means that performance headers are your very first opportunity in the process to open things up. It's a great place to start for those looking to make their mark on their factory exhaust system, granting increased performance without costing thousands of dollars or being incredibly difficult to install.

When Should You Upgrade My Mustang’s Headers?

If you’re at the point in your Mustang build where you’ve already exhausted (pun intended) all of your options for basic bolt-ons, then it could be time to upgrade to a set of shorty or long tube headers. Basic bolt-ons typically include a cold air intake, cat back exhaust and a tune to support those changes to your engine. The idea is to allow your engine to breathe better in both air entering the engine through the cold air intake, and exiting through the exhaust system.

When it comes to exhaust, adding a pair headers will allow you to free up the restriction of the factory system, and sometimes even eliminate large bottlenecks such as the factory power-robbing catalytic converters (cats) or suitcase-sized resonators.

Different Types of Mustang Headers

For late-model Mustangs, there are two main types of Mustang headers: shorty vs long tube. The general difference between them is in the name; long tube headers typically run the full length down to where the cat back connects, and the shorty headers go in place of your factory manifolds. Obviously, this can differ for different engines and model years, but the general idea still remains.

Learn about the differences between each type of Mustang headers:

  • Shorty Headers: Typically replaces the factory exhaust manifolds with freer flowing piping. This option is popular with turbo builds due to the fact the turbo flange can connect closer to the turbo’s location in the engine bay area. Also popular for those who may want to keep their factory catalytic converters intact if their state requires emissions testing.
  • Long Tube Headers: Long tube headers are the option for those who are looking for the largest power increase for their exhaust system. Long tube headers typically replace the factory cats and connect directly to the factory cat back system or include a set of mid-pipes, either with or without high-flow cats. Regardless of whether you go off-road or include high-flow cats, this combination will provide you with the largest power gains on a naturally aspirated or supercharged motor.

Long Tube Headers: Naturally Aspirated and Supercharged Applications

Long Tube Headers on a Mustang

For those that are looking to get the most power out of their naturally aspirated or supercharged engine, long tube headers are the way to go for you. Due to the free-flowing, minimal bend design, long tube headers will show decent mid-range and large peak gains over a factory exhaust system.

However, there can be a couple downsides to choosing long tube headers over a shorty setup for your Mustang:

  • Ease of Installation: It’s quite a bit easier to install shorty headers over long tubes. In many cases on the late model Mustangs, the steering shaft and a surplus of engine accessories are required to be disassembled to allow room for long tube installation.
  • Clearance Problems: The long tube headers tend to hang lower than the factory exhaust system. So, for those Mustangs that are lowered, be sure to check for clearance before picking up a set for your car.

What you’re asking yourself at this point could be: is it worth it? Well, that answer is up to you! If you’re looking for maximum power gains throughout the majority of the powerband, then this is the ideal header choice for you. It can be a lengthy installation – sometimes up to the better part of a weekend to install – but once they’re on your Mustang, the sound and power increases are well worth the extra effort.

Shorty Headers: Naturally Aspirated and Turbocharged Applications

For those naturally aspirated motors that are in search of an exhaust header that will retain their factory catalytic converters but free up some exhaust flow, then shorty headers could be a viable option for you. The installation is a good bit easier than installing long tube headers, and you’ll be able to see some of the increases in both the exhaust note and power!

If you’re planning on adding a turbocharger to your Mustang’s setup, then you probably know that your factory exhaust will need to be modified in order to properly fit the turbo to your motor. Since a turbocharger is exhaust driven and on most applications will reside in the engine bay, the most practical option would be a shorty header in an effort to mount the turbo flange/piping closer to the source of the exhaust – the engine. This will allow for less turbo lag and less hassle and piping for your setup.

Exhaust Header Coatings

There are a few different types of coatings available when you’re looking at exhaust headers. The option is there due to the high-heat exhaust gases coming right off the engine which could reach up to 1,400 degrees Fahrenheit in some cases!

  • High-Temperature Paint: In the majority of cases, this is the most basic choice for performance exhaust heater coatings. High-temp paint provides a barrier between the metal and the atmosphere which effectively prevents rust. High-temperature paint is formulated to resist against cracking and flaking as well. If your Mustang is a street car with occasional track use, this would be a great cost-effective alternative to some of the more expensive coatings.
  • Stainless Steel: Unlike chrome plating, stainless steel provides sufficient protection against the elements and high-heat temperatures through the metal itself. There are typically two types of stainless steel that are used when it comes to exhaust headers: 409 and 304. The lower the number, the higher the quality of the headers. There’s obviously nothing wrong with 409 stainless steel, as it’s widely used in factory exhaust systems across the board, but 304 is definitely the better option for longevity and visual appeal. Stainless Steel headers are ideal for mild-moderate street use and occasional track use.
  • Ceramic Coated: If you’re looking for the top-of-the-line option when it comes to exhaust header coating, it doesn’t get much better than ceramic coated! The ceramic coating used for this option is actually baked onto the metal in a red-hot oven. Once cured, ceramic coated headers offer the best protection from the elements and super-high-heat conditions. If you’re serious about maximum performance and a set of headers that will see high-heat on a regular basis, then ceramic coated is definitely for you!
  • Nickel-Chrome Plated: Yup, this is the same kind of coating you see on classic Mustang bumpers and trim pieces! Working as a middle-of-the-road option for mild street use, chrome plated headers are a good option for those that like the shine and dazzle of chrome plating, but aren’t exposing their exhaust to super-high heat conditions on a regular basis.

Mustang Exhaust Header Coatings
Exhaust Header Coatings

Unequal vs Equal Length Headers Explained

Sometimes you’ll see the option for either equal or unequal length headers for your Mustang. The difference between the two is the length of the header primary pipes. On an unequal length header, the distance to the collector is different depending on the collector’s proximity to each cylinder. On an equal length header, the distance from the cylinder to the collector is equal for every cylinder. This is done by bending each header primary pipe in a particular way to achieve equal length for every pipe.

Long story short, the best Mustang headers option is to have equal length headers in an effort to allow more equal exhaust flow as it exits the car.

Best Headers For Your Mustang

In summary, shorty headers are great for those looking for a small boost in power with a relatively straightforward installation on their naturally aspirated motor. If you're turbocharged, it's the same deal since the shorty header will work better with the turbo piping. As for those who are interested in long tube headers, this is the best option for supercharged or naturally aspirated Mustangs looking for the largest increase in horsepower for the mid-upper range of the power band. The installation is considerably more difficult and time-consuming, but the power and exhaust note is definitely worth it for some.

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