Though there’s nothing wrong with the Jeep JL Wrangler’s stock exhaust system, it’s easy to get a personal exhaust note that’s more your style and that will make your Wrangler stand out. Exhaust systems are also an easy place to improve performance, making it a good choice for many Jeeper's first modification.
Stock exhaust systems are infamous for having a weak exhaust note and restricting power by causing backpressure to build up. Though the Wrangler’s is better than most stock exhausts, it can still be improved easily with a few basic modifications.
The options for Wrangler aftermarket exhaust systems are numerous, and systems can either be purchased together or piecemealed together provided that each component is understood and selected with care. No one wants to buy one great piece of an exhaust system only to find out it won’t work with their dream-build.
We recommend figuring out exactly what you want from your Wrangler’s exhaust before starting to build it out, that way your exhaust system can be a great-sounding and great-performing part of your Jeep. These are some of the top exhaust modifications for JL Wranglers, and what you can expect to see from each.
Cat-Back Exhaust Systems
Cat-back exhaust systems replace everything starting at the rear outlet of your catalytic converter (while leaving the catalytic converter itself intact). This includes the muffler, the exhaust tips, and the pipes that connect those components.
It’s a misconception that all cat-back kits require deleting your muffler, and that’s certainly true for many off-road setups. Muffler options are available though, and many prefer the exhaust note from a muffler-equipped exhaust.
There’s no question that cat-back exhaust systems allow for the most customization, especially with regards to how much power you’d like to have and how much sound you’re interested in making. Everything from the pipe diameter to the muffler type is customizable.
Most people agree that the exhaust note that comes from a truly well-assembled and installed cat-back exhaust system is second to none, and the additional performance boost is noticeable from the moment they touch the gas pedal. By replacing all of the elements of the exhaust at once, it’s easy to make sure that the gases are able to leave unobstructed, preserving power.
Of course this level of freedom requires a lot of installation, which is probably the only major negative to a cat-back system.
Thankfully, the team at CJ Off-Road has experience with installing cat-back systems, and have made this video to show you what’s required for a perfect sounding cat-back installation.
As you can see, installing a cat-back exhaust is a fairly involved and time consuming process, but exhaust mods are uniquely situated to improve your experience inside your Wrangler and on the trails. This makes them worth the monetary and time investment that they require.
There are a lot of options for cat-back systems, each promising its own unique benefits.
Axle-Back Exhaust Systems
If you’re almost pleased with your exhaust note but just want a little extra rumble, an axle-back exhaust provides many of the same benefits as a cat-back exhaust. An axle-back system replaces everything from your rear axle, which includes your muffler and exhaust tips.
The great thing about an axle-back system is that you’ll still have all the great muffler selections that you would with a cat-back system, which means a great exhaust note.
In this CJ Off-Road video, Matt walks us through the steps necessary for an axle-back installation. Though these will vary across brands and systems, the basics should be very similar.
Though involved, an axle-back exhaust system is an easier installation than a cat-back system. Even Jeepers who are new to the modification world can install an axle-back system and see an immediately improved sound.
You won’t see as many performance boosts with an axle-back exhaust system as you will with a cat-back system, but that doesn’t mean that axle-back systems can't provide any performance gains. Improving the diameter and airflow at any stage of your exhaust helps remove bottlenecks that can restrict your engine’s ability to adequately breathe. Whether you’re looking for on or off-road performance, exhaling is pretty important.
Muffler Types and Differences
As you may have noticed, for both cat-back and axle-back exhaust systems, one of the major components that they replace is the muffler. If you’re not ready to commit to a full exhaust system but still want a better exhaust note and different feel, then there’s no reason to not replace the muffler on its own.
There are three styles of mufflers. Chambered mufflers create a throaty exhaust note without creating a lot of noise. Turbo mufflers are perfect for reducing noise, though they are more restrictive. Straight through mufflers are exactly what they sound like, a straight perforated pipe. This allows exhaust gases to flow straight-through, hence the name. Straight-through mufflers are the loudest and also provide the least obstruction to exhaust, which preserves power.
One term that you’ll likely encounter frequently in your hunt for the perfect exhaust system is mandrel-bent. The reason that you should care about this term is that mandrel-bent piping helps to ensure that your exhaust flow is unobstructed.
Using a mandrel instead of compression alone to bend pipes ensures that there isn’t a point of restriction occurring in your exhaust’s pipes. The stainless steel in a mandrel bent pipe is stretched on one side and compressed on the other, keeping a consistent diameter within the pipe itself. This helps to eliminate backpressure.
The easiest way to envision this is to think of a straw. If you’ve ever seen a straight straw that’s then bent, you’ll notice that the shape changes to a more almond shape that restricts flow. Meanwhile, a flexible straw compresses on one side and expands on the other, allowing it to bend while still preserving diameter, and subsequently flow.
Though they won’t help with performance, there’s something about a great set of exhaust tips that just completes a look. While normal exhaust tips can become warped and ugly after being exposed to heat, most aftermarket tips are designed to resist heat so they’ll be as gorgeous as they are now even after you’ve pushed your engine to the limits.
The tip of the exhaust is what’s the most visible, and since there are few performance differences, all you need to focus on is finding a great set of tips that look perfect and are designed to fit the exhaust system of your dreams. This is a great way to complete, or start, an exhaust build and add a little personality to your awesome sound.
There’s a reason that exhaust modifications are some of the most popular for Jeep Wrangler owners. How your vehicle sounds is as important to your experience as how it looks and feels, and there are many options for modification that can create the exhaust note you want.
Regardless of which exhaust modification path you choose to go with, it’s easy to improve on the stock exhaust, and it’s one of the best ways to improve your JL Wrangler.