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Everything You Need to Know About Exhaust Leaks

Exhaust Leaks

The exhaust system in your car is one of the most often overlooked systems and least respected parts of a vehicle.  As the part of your car that expels smelly, dirty fumes we often ignore it and just assume it's doing its job as long as there's no smoke coming out the back end of the vehicle or fumes filling the cabin. 

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Your exhaust system performs a very important function however and does a lot more than many people think. It's not just a pipe through which toxic gases flow, it's essential for maintaining the proper temperature of your engine as well as reducing harmful pollutants that can lead to smog and serious health concerns. When you have an exhaust leak, it could end up costing you time and money to get it fixed, as well as lead to a reduction in your car's performance and even health and environmental concerns. For those reasons, this is definitely the kind of problem you don't want to leave for too long.


What are Some Signs and Symptoms of an Exhaust Leak?


There's a lot more to your exhaust system than simply a pipe that runs from your engine to the rear of your vehicle. There are a number of ways it can malfunction on you and cause problems including leaks. Fortunately, there are some signs and symptoms you can be on the lookout for to let you know you have a leak in your exhaust system. If you are experiencing any of these problems, then consider giving your exhaust system an inspection. If you're experiencing several of them, then it's almost definitely a problem with an exhaust leak that you're going to need to get addressed.


Bad Fuel Efficiency


If you're noticing your gas mileage isn't what it used to be it's possible that you have a leak in your exhaust system. When your exhaust isn’t contained the way it needs to be, and specifically when the gases are not able to be diverted back into your engine to be burned and control the temperature of the combustion reaction, your engine performance can suffer as a result. This will lower your fuel efficiency and cause you to head to the gas pumps more often than you would like without getting any kind of return on investment in the form of better performance.


When you have a leak in your exhaust system anywhere near the manifold you may end up suffering a reduction in gas mileage by as much as 3 to 4 miles per gallon. That can be a significant drop depending on the kind of vehicle you own, and it will certainly lead to an increase of money spent by the end of the year if you keep having to pay for an extra 3 to 4 miles per gallon in gasoline prices that you're not even using.


The average driver drives about 15,000 miles per year. If you're wasting four miles per gallon, depending on the price of gas you can see how this would be a significant expense at the end of a year if your exhaust leak didn't get repaired. 


Because your exhaust system relies on a number of sensors that monitor oxygen as it comes in and leaves, the leak will throw the sensor data off. Your car will try to compensate by burning more fuel to make up for the incorrect ratio of gases going in and out of your vehicle.


Unusual Noises


If you're noticing an exceptionally loud noise when you start your vehicle coming from the engine compartment it's possible that you have a leak in the exhaust manifold, specifically around the gasket. The gasket that connects the exhaust manifold in the engine block is subject to a lot of wear and tear in the form of temperature variation. If it wears out and begins to pull away, you're going to hear a loud kind of growling sound coming from your engine. That's why it's important to check the gaskets as well as the pipes when you're looking for any leaks in the system.


You may also notice a distinctive sound when you are accelerating once you start driving. This may sound like a whistling sound or just the sound of air rushing through a hole. That's definitely a sign that you have a leak somewhere in your exhaust system, but it can be difficult to hear while you're driving over the normal noises that your vehicle makes.


Bad Smell


While some of the fumes from your exhaust don't have any odour, carbon monoxide is notorious for being odorless but very deadly, there are other gases that get burned in your vehicle that do have a smell. If you have a leak in your exhaust manifold then you may get a strong smell in your vehicle that becomes quite distracting and annoying after a while. It can also be very dangerous to your health. If you're smelling a burning smell, or a smell like rotten eggs, then you'll definitely want to take your vehicle in to get your exhaust system checked out. 




Leaks in your exhaust system can translate into the feeling of a distinct vibration in the gas pedal while you're driving. It will be a very small and subtle vibration if you only have a small leak, but if the leak increases then you'll notice a more significant vibration in your foot.  The situation can get worse over time and the vibration can grow beyond just the gas pedal. You may start feeling it in the steering wheel while you're driving as well and if it's bad enough the entire vehicle including the floorboards and your seat may begin to shake.


Check Engine Light


There are literally hundreds of reasons a check engine light can appear on your dashboard so you can't really diagnose it right away if you're not experiencing other symptoms. It is possible however that the check engine light will come on if you have a problem with your exhaust system, particularly with something like your catalytic converter, for instance. Depending on where the leak is in your exhaust, you may or may not get a warning on your dash about it.  If you want to know for sure what the check engine light on your dashboard means, one of the best things you can do is head to a site like Amazon.com and pick up an OBD2 scanner. The onboard diagnostic tool is the same device a mechanic will use to diagnose a warning light when it comes up on your dashboard. It can't fix any problems for you, but it can narrow down the nature of the problem, so you know exactly what's going on. If you have any interest in diagnosing the problems in your vehicle or DIY car repair, this would be an invaluable tool to have. Some more affordable ones cost only $30 to $40, so it's not a bad investment to make.


How Much Does It Cost to Fix an Exhaust Leak?


Getting an exhaust leak repaired in your vehicle should cost you somewhere between $125 and $350 depending on the nature of the leak that we're dealing with. Obviously, leaks can form at different parts in your exhaust system, and for different reasons. You could also have small leaks or some significantly sized leaks so it's hard to nail down exactly what the problem might be.


If the problem is simply an exhaust pipe that has a hole in it, you could potentially get a new exhaust pipe from a site like Autozone.com for about $15 to $20. Of course, depending on the kind that you need, the prices can get up to over $100.


As with any car repair, the make, model, and year of your vehicle has a significant impact on how much you're going to pay for repairs. The cost of repairing a Toyota Camry is typically much cheaper than repairing something like an Audi A4, so you need to keep that in mind. Higher end vehicles simply have higher maintenance and repair costs. Likewise, if you take your vehicle to a dealership it's going to cost more to get it repaired than it will at your neighbourhood mechanic.


Can You Drive with an Exhaust Leak?


Theoretically, you can drive with a hole in your exhaust system for quite some time. But as you can see, based on the symptoms of an exhaust leak, it can be potentially very dangerous and expensive to continue to do so. If you have fumes leaking into your car, they can make you sick. If the fumes aren't being properly regulated by things like your catalytic converter then you may increase pollution. It can also end up costing you a significant amount of money at the fuel pumps.


The longer you drive with an exhaust leak in your vehicle the more damage it's going to cause, and the more money you're going to have to pay. It's better to get this problem fixed as soon as you can so you don't have to worry about it anymore. 


How Do You Fix an Exhaust Leak?


If you want to save yourself some money you could always take on the job of doing the repair yourself. Depending on the nature of the leak that you're dealing with this isn't an incredibly complicated job to get done. If you have a lot of experience doing the car repairs on your own at home and are comfortable working under the hood of your car, this could definitely be something that you can handle on your own. As well, you can get it done pretty cheaply if you have the right parts to do it.


The thing about DIY car repairs for a job like this is, if you Google it, you're going to find a lot of hacks or shortcuts that show you ways to get it done that are maybe not the standard sorts of repairs a dealership would engage in. That doesn't mean they won't work; it just means they're not the sort of repairs that a licensed mechanic might do. With these kinds of repairs, you need to use your best judgment to determine if it's going to be right for you or not. Any time you cut some corners to make a repair on your car, there's no guarantee it's going to work exactly the way that you're hoping it's going to.


That said, if you are committed to trying a DIY repair on your exhaust leak there are a number of videos that have been made by highly skilled mechanics that can guide you through the process as well. This video can show you how to do it for very little money and still have satisfying results at the end. At the end of the day, if you can do a repair that makes the part work again the way it's supposed to, then you've done a good job.


The Bottom Line


Exhaust leaks are not always considered the most important problems to deal with when it comes to auto repair. The fact is however that an exhaust leak can grow in scope and magnitude overtime and the situation can become a seriously problematic one. 


You don't want to be breathing in exhaust fumes that can make you sick in the cabin of your vehicle nor do you want to be contributing to excessive pollution and smog out in the world. And of course, one of the most important considerations for any driver is their bottom line. That extra three to four miles per gallon of fuel that you're wasting because you have an exhaust leak is going to add up to a considerable amount of money at the end of the year.  Even if you only drive 15,000 miles per year, wasting four miles per gallon is going to cost you close to $1,000 in gas over a year depending on what the price is currently and the kind of vehicle you're driving.


When you notice a leak in your exhaust system, you're going to end up saving yourself money by getting it repaired as soon as you can.


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