Choose the Best Type of Muffler for Your Ride

Choose the Best Type of Muffler for Your Ride

Last Updated June 12, 2023 | Meghan Drummond

Mufflers moderate your exhaust system’s noise level so it's not obnoxiously loud. This helps you stay on your neighbors’ (and local law enforcement’s) good side, but it also makes your drive more enjoyable.

Swapping out your muffler is also an inexpensive and easy way to customize your exhaust note. And while every car enthusiast loves a great-sounding exhaust, “loud” isn’t a substitute for quality. Here’s what to know so you can select the right muffler for your needs.

What Does a Muffler Do?

Mufflers route your exhaust through perforated tubes, baffles, and other obstacles to alter the sound. As the gas expands, the exhaust pressure is reduced and the sound is muffled.

By taking an indirect route, the exhaust’s sound changes. The result is generally quieter, but can also have other features like a deep rumble or a sharp, tinny sound. The pattern of the chambers and baffles will determine what kind of exhaust note you get.

Some mufflers also use absorptive materials, like fiberglass or steel wool, to dampen sound.

Types of Mufflers

There are several types of mufflers that use different sound-dampening methods. Each type also has a unique sound. The three primary types of mufflers are Chambered, Turbo, and Straight-Through.

Muffler Type Comparison
Feature Chambered Mufflers Turbo Mufflers Straight-Through
Sound Raspier Deeper Loudest
Road Legal Yes Yes Sometimes
Possible Horsepower Gains 0-5% 0-10% 0-15%
Appearance A plain chambered muffler A Raptor Turbo Muffler A cylindrical muffler

Chambered Mufflers

gif shows how chambers eliminate some noises, causing a more pleasant sound

Most mufflers, including your stock one, are chambered. But not all chambered mufflers are the same. These mufflers change sounds in a variety of ways.

The number of chambers is the first thing to look at. More chambers can create a greater reduction in exhaust noise. A single-chambered muffler will likely be noticeably louder than a stock muffler. But a three-chambered muffler will have a more moderate sound profile.

Chambers also allow for some types of noise to be eliminated entirely while others pass through. That’s one of the reasons why chambered mufflers are so popular. When it comes to reducing exhaust drone, they do a great job.

Destructive interference is what happens when opposite sound waves cancel out. By adding metal plates and creating inner chambers at specific lengths, chambered mufflers can force sound waves to collide. This cancels those sound waves out.

Turbo Mufflers

Gif shows how turbo mufflers use perforated pipes to disperse sound

Turbo mufflers guide exhaust gases through an s-pattern of perforated pipes. This means the exhaust has to pass through more tubing.

Some turbo mufflers also use sound-deadening material for more sound reduction. If you’re looking for the quietest muffler available, you’re probably looking for some kind of turbo muffler. Most performance turbo mufflers are louder than stock, but you’ll still be able to drive by the neighbors’ house late at night without getting a mean look.

The perforated pipes create a sound quality that some describe as raspy.

Despite the name, turbo mufflers have nothing at all to do with turbocharged engines. If you have a turbo engine and want a turbo muffler, go ahead, but it’ll work just as well on V6 and V8 configurations.

Straight-Through Mufflers

Gif of a straight pipe muffler

Straight-through mufflers come in a lot of different styles. The most infamous are glasspacks. These mufflers developed a reputation for being loud. And it’s pretty well-deserved. A straight-through muffler is going to provide the least restrictive and loudest option.

Advancements in automotive engineering have created more refined straight-through muffler options. These are perfect for people looking to reduce backpressure but who don’t want loud cabin noise. This way you can get performance and enjoy your music on the road.

Many straight-throughs use absorptive material, like fiberglass, to deaden sound. These materials can suffer blowout over time. Some well-designed straight-throughs avoid this with options like stainless steel mesh, or waterproof lining to keep the fiberglass dry.

Combination Mufflers

As engineers work to design mufflers that work just right with individual engines, they often combine aspects of multiple muffler designs. These mufflers may have multiple chambers, but one chamber looks like a turbo.

In short, while most mufflers may fall into the three types above, many will fall into this category.

Other Muffler Sound Factors

While the type of muffler is one of the main factors affecting sound, there are several others. There are also some non-sound affecting factors, like material, that you should consider. While exhaust material doesn’t affect sound (much, if at all) it does affect corrosion and heat resistance.

Case Length

The longer the muffler, the more it’s able to deaden noise. Shorter mufflers will be louder.

Inlet and Outlet Orientation

Some mufflers are center-aligned, with the inlet and outlet roughly center and parallel to each other. Others are offset, so the inlet may be on one side and the outlet on the other.

Center/center mufflers will generally be louder.

Center muffler pictured above an offset muffler

Exhaust Diameter

A wider exhaust diameter can reduce restriction. But reducing restrictions too much can decrease power. If your exhaust is too large the gas will cool down, becoming slower and heavier. This will cause turbulence and increase backpressure.

You’ll also need to make sure that your muffler’s diameter inlet and outlet match the rest of your exhaust pipes.

Do You Need a Muffler?

One frequently asked question is if a muffler is even really needed. The short answer is “no.” The longer, more accurate, answer is “it depends.”

Your ride will 100% function without a muffler. Many people remove their muffler entirely and replace it with a piece of straight pipe (not to be confused with a straight-through muffler). This is called a “muffler delete” and it can invite unwanted attention from authorities.

Depending on how loud your exhaust is, you could also cause permanent hearing damage. That’s going to make it a lot harder to appreciate how awesome your engine sounds.

Will a Muffler Delete Increase Horsepower?

A muffler delete will potentially add about 5 horsepower, which is just kinda sad. If you’re all about horsepower, get a cat-back system. You’ll get better horsepower gains, won’t be on the wrong side of the law, and you’ll have an exhaust that sounds “good” rather than just “loud.”

On the other hand, if you’ve got a race-only vehicle, the small hp gained from a muffler delete might be worth it. And if you’re only doing a few seconds at a time, you probably won’t damage your hearing. Probably.

Completing a Muffler Swap

If you’re after a quick upgrade to your vehicle’s sound and performance that won’t break the bank, a muffler swap might be right for you.

Muffler swap installation in progress

The steps to complete are pretty simple.

  1. Jack up your vehicle.
  2. Remove the bolts or clamps holding the muffler in place, and put it in a safe place so you can reuse it.
  3. Slide your new muffler into position.
  4. Make sure your muffler’s tight against the body and that the pipes are properly positioned. Then bolt it into place.
  5. Start your ride up and take it for a short spin to listen for rattles and check for leaks.

If Your Muffler Is Welded

Sometimes your muffler pipes will be welded into place. Use a hacksaw to cut through, then clamp the new muffler into place. No need to weld.

How to Pick the Best Muffler for You

Alright. Here’s what it all boils down to. There are a lot of different muffler styles, and that’s because there’s no one-size fits all. But it’s easy to narrow down your muffler options based on what you’re trying to get out of a muffler swap.

The Loudest Muffler Possible

The loudest muffler possible is a straight pipe. But if you’re mainly driving on inhabited roads and/or care about your hearing, then you’re going to want to modify that sound somehow.

A straight-through muffler can mostly keep the performance benefits and reduce your cabin noise, and a resonator can help prevent drone.

A straight-through style muffler being installed

Check out glasspack mufflers. While old-school glasspacks are overly sharp, modern high-quality ones can provide a loud sound that doesn’t belong in a high-school parking lot.

The Quietest Muffler Possible

You’ll be looking for a turbo muffler in a large case with a lot of sound deadening. You could also look at coupling a 3-chambered muffler with a high-quality resonator. That way you’ll get a reduced sound, but also a richer one.

The Best Performance Muffler

A straight pipe offers the best performance, but there’s no balance with sound there. Instead, a high-performance chambered muffler can provide you with both. Check out some of the chambered options from Borla or Magnaflow for a sound you’ll love.

Best Muffler for a V8

If you love the old-school sound of a Fox Body 5.0, then you should check out Flowmaster’s lineup. The 40s are traditionally paired with the Fox Body V8, but there are a lot of updated options for even better sound.

5.0L Fox Body with hood up

In general, a chambered muffler will be the best option for V8s. With a V8, you’ll be sure to have a big sound no matter what you choose, but chambered mufflers will give that sound better tonal qualities and help get rid of drone.

Best Muffler for a V6

Getting a straight-through can make your V6 sound awesome. But keep in mind, it’ll never sound like a V8…and that’s fine! Let your V6 breathe and it’ll still show up with performance when it counts.

Best Muffler for a Turbo

Okay. Like we said above? You don’t need a turbo muffler for a turbo engine. There’s not a direct relation there.

But the turbo muffler did first debut on a turbo engine, and it’s still a great choice! Your turbocharged engine is designed to make flutters, pigeon coos, and any number of other sounds that help give you cues about performance. A turbo muffler can give you a better-than-stock sound while still letting you enjoy your unique turbo noises.

Your New Muffler Can Sound Amazing

As much as we talk about performance gains and other benefits, at the end of the day? Muffler swaps are about sound. Check out our YouTube channel and watch some exhaust installs. Do you prefer the wide-open sound of an SLP? Or the more rumbly sound of a MagnaFlow? Once you find the sound you love, swapping the muffler in should be a piece of cake.

Source: How Mufflers Work How Stuff Works | Understanding Muffler Design and Sound Absorption Strategies Dragzine

This article was researched, written, edited, and reviewed following the steps outlined in our editorial process. Learn more about CJ's editorial standards and guidelines.