Common Exhaust Issues and How to Spot Them

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Your vehicle’s exhaust system is considered the only medium of transferring away harmful and poisonous gases, such as nitrogen oxide and carbon monoxide, produced by the engine. If you are not able to fix the problems in the exhaust system in time, fumes could leak into the cabin and extended exposure to the fumes can be detrimental for your health.

When you are driving, the police have the right to warrant the removal of your vehicle, under suspension of generating excessive amounts of harmful gases coming from the exhaust. In this post, we will be discussing the common exhaust issues and how to spot them. Read on if you want to know exactly where to look, as well as how to identify these common exhaust problems.

Common Exhaust Issues and How to Spot Them

Common Exhaust Problems

Not only does the exhaust system direct harmful gases away, it also helps the engine to cool down, as well as clean the air before it exits the vehicle’s tailpipe. This is very reason why identifying exhaust problems early on is very important, as it promotes safety and it keeps you from making expensive diagnosis and repairs. Here’s what you should do:

Identify Exhaust Problems

Step 1: Listen for weird and odd sounds

The engine’s muffler contains a lot of baffles and if they fail or break, the engine’s sound will not be dampened at all. If you notice any thumping or rattling, it is already safe to assume that there is something wrong with the exhaust system. Note that some cars have baffles that have the capability to open and close, making the vehicle quieter or louder. However, the linkages tend to become loose or break over time, which causes the rattling noise.

You should be aware that these rattling sounds can also originate from other sources, as well. For instance, when the catalytic converter’s interior degrades, pieces of the interior lining fall down and rattle around. This can also happen with baffles situated inside the muffler. A heavy thump would tell you that the mounting might be a little loose or worse, damaged. As you may already know, the exhaust system is hooked up using rubber brackets and metals. And inevitably, the rubber gets brittle over time and has the tendency to fall apart.

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Early identification of the problem is vital, as it can mean all the difference between replacing the whole exhaust system or just a small piece. Once the mount fails, the pipes of your vehicle’s exhaust system will fall and will rattle around, creating an annoying sound when you are driving.

Step 2: Use your senses

Carbon monoxide is an odorless and colorless gas that exists in the exhaust fumes. Even when inhaled in small doses, carbon monoxide could be very harmful to your health. It can cause severe dizziness or headaches, or worse, unconsciousness. Obviously, if you notice that your vehicle is emitting this harmful gas, you should immediately get the exhaust system inspected and repaired.

It is noteworthy that while carbon monoxide is an odorless gas, other gases that come out of the tailpipe are not. So, if you notice any weird exhaust smell coming from the cabin, you could assume that there is a leak somewhere in there. And for your safety, inhalation of the carbon monoxide from the fumes should be avoided at all times.

Step 3: Look for the signs while you are driving your car

To be able to tell if there’s a problem with the exhaust system, there are a few things that you can watch out for while you are driving your car. Two of the most common signs that the exhaust has been blocked off are reduced gas mileage, as well as loss of overall performance. If you notice that the engine must power through when pushing the exhaust out of the cylinder, it would mean that there is less power to provide for the wheels.

In addition, when your exhaust has been blocked off, it might be the cause of your car running hotter than the normal. In case you are not familiar, the temperature of the exhaust gas runs a little hotter as it leaves the cylinder. Any blockage in the exhaust will result in the restriction of the airflow, which makes the heat a lot closer to the car’s engine.

Visual Inspection Under Your Vehicle

When performing a visual inspection of your vehicle’s exhaust system, you only need these three things: a flashlight, jack, and jack stands. Here’s what you should follow:

Step 1: Lift the hood and inspect the exhaust manifold

On the side of your car’s engine block are pipes that run to the bottom part and the back of your vehicle. While you will not be able to see that much, you still need to thoroughly inspect what you can see. Make sure that all bolts are still there and are not loose. Over time, these bolts tend to fall out due to the engine vibrations.

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In addition, you might want to check if there are cracks in the metal. Repeated heating and cooling of the vehicle can develop cracks on the metal. Be careful though, as these parts can be hot, especially if the engine was turned off recently.

Step 2: Lift the vehicle and set on jack stands

When you lift your car using a jack, make sure that you are on a flat and level surface. Then, you need to place the jack stands at all corners to be sure that your vehicle will not fall on you while you are under it.

Step 3: Inspect the bottom part of the exhaust manifold

Once you get under your car, you would be able to see the other parts of the exhaust manifold that you were not able to see before. You need to check for similar issues mentioned above.

Step 4: Inspect the catalytic converter

To properly inspect the catalytic converter, you need to use a rubber mallet and tap the converter very lightly. You may also do this step using the end of a screwdriver. Listen for any rattles inside. As discussed above, the catalytic converter tends to degrade over time and with it, the inner lining starts disintegrating into pieces that rattle as you are driving your car.

You should also be aware that some catalytic converters do have a heat shield that keeps it at the accurate operating temperature. For that matter, you should ensure that the shield is secured and does not touch the catalytic converter, which is also a major cause of the rattling sound coming from the vibrations. A missing bolt or a loose one might cause it to generate a rattling sound while you are driving.

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Step 5: Inspect the mufflers

Step 6: Inspect pipes and connections

You need to thoroughly inspect the rest of the connections and pipes for dents, cracks, or rust. Keep in mind that the pipes should never come in contact with any other metal. This keeps the metal as cool as possible and it keeps the heat from going to the other parts of your vehicle.

Step 7: Check the exhaust mounts

The mounts found on the exhaust system use a rubber loop that holds the pipes in position while allowing movement. With this, you need to make sure that the rubber is not falling apart and has been installed properly. You can shake the muffler very lightly to test the mounts. Keep in mind that you should keep the shaking limited as too much of it can make the pipes hit other components.


Following the above procedure will help you identify any exhaust problems that your vehicle may be experiencing. After all, the key to solving these problems is to identify them early on before it causes any serious damage to your vehicle’s exhaust system. You can also prevent an expensive repair bill just by being proactive and identifying all the small problems before they become a massive issue.

Originally posted 2023-11-29 23:55:13.

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