Replacing your Jeep Wrangler JK’s, stock exhaust with an aftermarket system is a smart upgrade. Not only will you get an exhaust note you’ll love, but depending on the mod you pick you can also improve performance.
Here are the pros and cons of the most popular exhaust upgrades for JK Wranglers so you can decide which is the best for you. And check out this video to get a good look at each exhaust system.
Swap Out Your Stock Muffler
Pros: Great sound at a great price.
Even if you’re not all-in on a major exhaust upgrade, swapping out your muffler will give you a better sound right away. While mufflers are a key component of most other exhaust upgrades, they’re also available on their own.
They are affordable, easy to install, and available in a wide range of sound profiles. Whether you want to get the loudest option available or prefer to keep things tame, there’s a muffler to suit your needs.
Cons: Less performance-focused than other exhaust upgrades.
A muffler swap will get you minimal (if any) performance gains. And while the sound is awesome, it can get you in trouble with the neighbors. If you live in a densely populated area, you may want to stay on the ‘milder’ side of the sound spectrum. You’ll still have an edge over stock mufflers.
Install an Axle-Back
"Easy & Affordable"
Pros: Inexpensive, looks and sounds great, easy to install
Axle-back exhausts are cost-efficient. You’ll get a great sound, but also a great look. 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 offer all the benefits of a muffler swap, but you’ll also get a nice exhaust tip.
Cons: Doesn’t really do much performance-wise
Most axle-back kits won’t improve exhaust flow enough to see performance gains. Those who need major bumps in horsepower and torque should seriously consider a cat-back or headers.
Go Big with a Cat-Back
"Better Efficiency & Sound Note"
Pros: Aggressive sound, improved performance
Cat-back exhaust systems replace everything past the catalytic converter, including the muffler, resonator, and some of the piping. You’ll see an improvement in your Wrangler’s performance on the road and on the trail. You’ll also get a great sound and look.
Cat-back exhausts are a popular upgrade 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 with 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. But 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.
"Significant Performance Gains"
Pros: Offers the most performance benefits and greatly improves exhaust flow
While headers are usually paired with a cat-back exhaust system, they can provide plenty of benefits on their own. Headers separate exhaust from each cylinder, improving flow. Increasing the exhaust flow rate leads to more power, which is the goal of every automotive enthusiast. Shorty headers and long tube headers both offer significant gains.
Cons: Most expensive option, some are for off-road use only, complex install
Some headers, usually those that eliminate the catalytic converters, 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.
When looking to replace your factory exhaust system, there are a lot of great options. It really comes down to your price point, performance goals, and personal tastes.