If you’re looking for both performance gains and a better sound note for your Jeep Wrangler JK, there’s no better way to achieve that then replacing your stock exhaust with an aftermarket replacement. Exhausts are a critical component of any vehicle as they filter out toxic fumes, expelling them through the tailpipe. An exhaust system allows your JK Wrangler’s engine to breathe better and quieter, increasing horsepower, torque, and gas mileage all at the same time. While the stock JK Wrangler exhaust is perfectly capable, swapping the factory exhaust for an aftermarket option can make a huge difference in power and efficiency! There’s no doubt that upgrading your JK exhaust system will help you crawl over rocks and trek through mud like never before.
So, you’ve decided to invest in an aftermarket exhaust to upgrade your Wrangler’s sound and performance. Sounds like an easy decision, right? Not quite! There are several different JK Wrangler exhaust systems to choose from including axle-back and cat-back exhausts as well as headers. But what are the differences between JK Wrangler cat-back exhausts, axle-back exhausts, and exhaust headers? Which one is going to offer the best performance benefits? Which one is the most affordable? In this guide, we’ll go over all the pros and cons of the different types of exhaust systems so you can choose the best Jeep Wrangler exhaust for you. Also be sure to check out this video from CJ Off-Road to get a more in-depth look at each exhaust system! Whether you have a Rubicon or Sahara, an exhaust can make a huge difference in the overall performance and sound of your Wrangler.
"Easy & Affordable"
Pros: Inexpensive, look and sound great, easy to install
Axle-back exhausts are going to be the most affordable exhaust option out there. Not only are they cost-efficient, but they also offer great sound quality while enhancing the look of your Wrangler. As an axle-back exhaust system only replaces the end of your exhaust system, they are easier to install than some of the other options. An axle-back exhaust system replaces all parts from the rear axle all the way to the exhaust tip, which is where it gets the “axle-back” nomenclature. They are basically just a muffler upgrade with a nice exhaust tip. For a reasonable price, axle-back exhausts will add an aggressive sound note and a nice-looking set of exhaust tips to your rig. Installation can be completed in only a matter of minutes, so if you’re looking for something that is both affordable and easy to install then an axle-back might be the best Jeep Wrangler exhaust system for you!
Cons: Don’t really do much performance-wise
So while axle-back exhausts are an easy and inexpensive upgrade to make, they won’t really improve exhaust flow enough to see performance gains. They may look great and sound great, but they won’t do much when it comes to adding horsepower or torque. For those who are looking to boost their JK Wrangler’s performance with an aftermarket exhaust, a cat-back exhaust might be a better option.
"Better Efficiency & Sound Note"
Pros: Aggressive sound note, enhance performance
A step above axle-back exhausts, cat-back exhausts are going to provide a bit more performance as well as that aggressive sound note. A Jeep Wrangler cat-back exhaust system replaces everything past the catalytic converter, including the muffler, resonator, and some of the piping. Not only do they increase your Wrangler’s performance on the road and on the trail, but cat-back exhausts will also make your Jeep look and sound better overall.
Cat-back exhausts are one of the most popular upgrades since they enhance both performance and aesthetics. Larger and smoother tubing reduces exhaust restrictions for increased efficiency. Depending on the cat-back exhaust system, you will more than likely get a louder and more aggressive exhaust note, which is what most people look for in an aftermarket exhaust. However, there are some exhausts that do allow for a quieter, more reserved sound note if you aren’t too keen on loud exhausts. Whether you want a really aggressive-sounding Wrangler or something a bit more toned down, cat-back exhausts are perfect for those who are looking to enhance both sound and efficiency at the same time.
Cons: Pricier than an axle-back exhaust
Since they replace more of the factory exhaust system, cat-back exhausts cost a bit more in comparison to simpler axle-back exhaust systems. However, you will be getting what you pay for when it comes to cat-back exhausts. If you really want to give your JK Wrangler a better sound, look, and increase the performance all at the same time, then the price is definitely worth it. The advantages that a cat-back exhaust offer far outweigh the higher price point.
"Significant Performance Gains"
Pros: Offers most performance benefits, killer sound note, greatly improves exhaust flow
While headers are usually paired with a cat-back exhaust system, they can provide plenty of benefits on their own. Exhaust headers have individual primaries for each cylinder of the engine, which all travel into one collector pipe. Headers help eliminate backpressure by separating the exhaust gases into separate, individual tubes. Increasing the exhaust flow rate leads to more power, which is the goal of every automotive enthusiast. Shorty headers and long tube headers are the two main types of exhaust headers.
Shorty headers typically replace the exhaust manifold and work with your current factory catalytic converter, while long tube headers usually involve replacing the stock catalytic converter, Y-pipe, and manifold. Of course, shorty headers will be the most cost-efficient of the two as they require fewer components. Exhaust headers allow the engine to breathe significantly better, giving your Wrangler performance gains and a killer sound. Of course, pairing with a cat-back exhaust system will only improve the effectiveness of the headers.
Cons: Most expensive option, some are for off-road use only, complex install
When deciding which is the best JK exhaust system for you, one thing to keep in mind is that certain headers that eliminate the catalytic converts are recommended for off-road use only. Headers do increase engine bay temperatures and can melt certain components, so it’s a good idea to invest in a header wrap and spark plug boot kit to keep everything nice and protected. While Wrangler headers might be more expensive than other exhaust options, they can greatly improve power and efficiency. Even though headers are also more difficult to install than an axle-back or cat-back exhaust system, the performance gains and exhaust note are unrivaled.
All three types of JK exhaust systems — axle-back, cat-back, and headers — are great options when looking to replace your factory exhaust system. It really comes down to your price point, performance goals, and personal tastes.