I was surprised by the question: Does a car still use a muffler?
And yet it makes sense. Years ago, it was common to see commercials on television touting muffler repair and replacement. Cars weren’t as sturdy. Owners anticipated having to replace parts of the exhaust system every few years.
Today, however, that has changed. Most modern vehicles have a stainless-steel or aluminized-steel exhaust system designed to last for a lifetime.
What is a muffler?
A muffler is designed to muffle the sound created by a rumbling engine. Engines operate with a lot of power. That energy creates continuous pulsating sounds that reverberate through the exhaust valves. It creates thousands of pulses per minute, which could create a very noisy environment without the muffler in place.
A muffler is designed as a noise canceler. If you were to open a muffler up, you would see a series of tubes, baffles, and chambers all working to reflect the sound waves as they move in from the engine. They are reflected back and forth in such a way to decrease and cancel each other out.
Mufflers are created differently. Some are designed for quiet, reducing the noise to a minimum. Others are created with lower tones and different zounds. If you hear a growling noise from some vehicles, it’s the way the muffler was designed.
Why mufflers grow noisier with age
When you drive a vehicle off the showroom lot, it’s a solid machine that works at optimal performance. From there, every bump in the road or slamming on the brakes starts wearing on the various components. This doesn’t happen all at once. Unless you’re in an accident, it happens slowly over time.
This is normal.
Over time, the engine starts to wear down. Even if you bring your car in regularly, various parts continue to wear down. Belts can wear and extend. Joints can wiggle loose. Efficiency can degrade.
As the pieces no longer fit together quite as tightly, you’ll notice it in performance. You may hear noises you’ve never heard before.
Every noise you hear is an indicator of something not working quite the way it was designed. It might not impact your car … at first. But over time, it can start causing damage within the system.
Oil is one of the most important foundations for an engine’s good health. While there may be some debate on whether to change it out every 3,000, 5,000, or even 7,000 miles or more, err on the side of changing it more. Oil is a lubricator that keeps your engine cool and working well. As oil degrades, it won’t perform well, which causes the engine to have to work harder for performance.
This is where problems begin.
A muffler takes that noise and muffles the sound. More sound means more work. And because a muffler degrades over time too, you get the two components countering each other.
Common muffler problems
The most common muffler problem is rust. As water trickles through the exhaust system, it causes condensation to build within the system. As some of it accumulates, it causes rust over time.
Moisture can accumulate from other resources too. During our snowy winter months, ice and snow can build up underneath your vehicle. Rain can splash up during the rainy summer months. This can also build up over time and cause rust, especially along joint and connection lines.
Another common problem exists when holes or loose parts exist within the exhaust system. This happens over time. Hitting a bump or a pothole causes friction in connections. Every rock kicked up as you drive can ping the muffler. While you might not see damage the first month after you purchase a vehicle, or even after the first year, damage accumulates over time. It’s the constant wear and tear that eventually causes a problem. And if a crack exists in the muffler or tailpipe, it needs to be replaced.
How to know your muffler needs replacing
Like other parts on your vehicle, there are telltale signs a muffler gives you, signaling it isn’t working properly.
The easiest is by producing more noise. Since a muffler’s main objective is to remove noise, you’ll notice if it’s no longer performing optimally. When a muffler is damaged, it can’t provide noise reduction. You’ll hear it every time you start your car and drive. It won’t be something you can ignore, as it will only worsen over time.
The engine can also misfire. A misfire shows up as a sudden loss of speed, yet the engine recovers quickly and moves on. It feels like it stumbles, catches, and recovers. This happens as exhaust moves through the system, it catches in the muffler without moving smoothly through the system. This catch causes it to hesitate, showing up as a misfire.
You can also notice it in your fuel economy. And with prices rising as high as they are today, you’ll feel it in your wallet. A good exhaust system is essential to a vehicle’s performance level. The muffler can easily be the starting point to losing efficiency. A crack or leak in the muffler allows exhaust to flow where it shouldn’t be. This cuts back on performance, requiring more fuel to get the job done. This means the fuel you put in will have to work harder for the same results. You’ll be filling up more often as you move through your weeks.
You might also hear a rattle if the problem stems from loose parts. A loose connection, a damaged part, or a small crack can allow different pieces to rub together, bang together as you hit a bump, or rattle as the car vibrates and moves.
How to fix a bad car muffler
Unfortunately, the only way to fix a bad car muffler is replacement. If it has a minor hole, a mechanic may be able to use adhesive material to patch and bond to the muffler’s surface. But beyond that, it’s better to replace the entire muffler. It’s the best way to ensure it works correctly with your system, providing both safety and fuel efficiency.
When was the last time you had your car’s muffler inspected?