Informational Guide

Exhaust Manifold Vs Headers

In this guide, we compare the key differences in exhaust manifold vs headers for performance.

Various operations are occurring continually for your vehicle to operate. From induction, compression, combustion, and exhaust, all of the systems can be confusing.  

While the manifold and exhaust headers are both parts of the same system, there are some vast differences between the two. In this guide, we look at the exhaust manifold vs. headers to help you gain some clarity.  

To begin, let's look at the first part of the stock manifold vs headers. The exhaust manifold sits between the catalytic converter and the engine cylinder head. Its job is to collect the exhaust gas while it leaves the cylinder head.  

The manifold is usually made from cast iron so that it can withstand the high heat and pressure coming from the exhaust.  This part generally comes installed from the factory, but there isn't usually a lot of space for the gas to flow through.

Additionally, cast iron can crack. With a tubular steel exhaust manifold, there is more durability. However, these also tend to cost more.   

exhaust manifold

Pros & Cons Of Exhaust Manifold


  • Reduces emissions 
  • Usually inexpensive 
  • Absorbs heat 
  • Retains exhaust noise 


  • Reduced flow due to lack of space 
  • Thick walls reduce performance 
  • Can crack easily 

What Is A Header?

Headers are an aftermarket part that is usually constructed with stainless steel tubes to make a more effective path for gases to escape. The header tubes are connected to a collector pipe, pulling the gases from each cylinder separately, thereby reducing the backpressure found with the manifold.  

With the right construction, you can achieve more performance with an aftermarket header. It can also increase the sound of the engine. Headers come in a variety of sizes, so you need to choose between the long tube header and short tube header. Long tube headers outperform the short tube variety, but they also cost more.  

engine headers

Pros & Cons Of Headers 


  • Eliminates back pressure 
  • Improves performance 
  • Work great with turbochargers 
  • Improvement with high revving 


  • Changes sound 
  • Added costs 

Exhaust Manifold Vs Headers: Key Differences Explained 

1. Car Performance & Speed 

The exhaust manifold doesn't alter the performance or increase the speed. In fact, it can hinder it due to the back pressure from the exhaust gases. Because the exhaust header allows for a better pathway for exhaust gases, creating a better route for the exhaust to flow, you should notice an increase in performance and speed after installing it to your vehicle.   

2. Sound 

Sound is another factor when looking at the headers vs. manifold. The exhaust header doesn't muffle the sound of the engine, allowing the natural roar to shine forward.

However, the exhaust manifold typically has a thicker construction that can absorb some of the sounds. If you want to muffle the sound of the engine, the manifold is going to offer what you are looking for.  

3. Back Pressure Reduction 

The exhaust manifold isn't designed with efficiency in mind. Exhaust gases regularly get trapped while escaping, leading to a back pressure situation that reduces performance. On the other hand, the unique construction and tubed design of the headers ensures that the gases can flow freely, thereby ensuring that there is no back pressure.  

4. Material  

Let's take a look at the material between the headers vs exhaust manifold. The exhaust manifold is typically made from cast iron or steel. In general, these are subject to cracking and damage over time. 

However, the exhaust header can be made from a variety of materials, including stainless steel and mild steel. The header can also be coated in chrome or ceramic for a better style.  

5. Fuel Economy 

With the stock manifold, you can't expect an increase in fuel economy. The gases tend to get trapped, reducing the overall efficiency. If you upgrade to an aftermarket header, you can expect a more optimized performance, which also increases the fuel efficiency for cost-savings at the pump. The difference might not be vastly different, but over time it adds up.  

6. Heat Shield Features 

Don't overlook the value of heat protection with the headers vs stock exhaust manifold. Most manifolds offer protection from heat. Some styles offer an insulated design for more protection. On the other hand, there will be less heat protection with the aftermarket headers, leaving you more vulnerable to injury if you touch a hot surface.  

7. Installation 

Most vehicles come equipped with a stock manifold. You won't need to install a new one unless there is a problem. However, when a new manifold is needed, you can simply replace the old one without making any modifications.

If you prefer to add aftermarket headers, you have a much bigger installation to contend with. You will need to make modifications and tune the exhaust.  

8. Tune Required 

After you replace the manifold, there are no further changes that need to take place. You can swap the parts out without a lot of fanfare. However, adding headers requires that you tune the engine for maximum performance. 

In addition to the tune, you will also need a custom exhaust that works with the headers, thereby adding to the time investment and cost.  

9. Outside Visibility 

No one is excited to look at the exhaust manifold in a car. They all tend to look the same, and it's nothing to brag about. However, adding aftermarket headers can make the car look more aggressive and fierce. That's why they are regularly added to performance-focused vehicles, and you can see them under the hood of most models at a car show.  

10. Cost 

To replace an exhaust manifold, you can expect to pay between $600 and $800 for most vehicles. This cost includes the price of the parts and labor to replace them. On the other hand, adding a performance header might cost you a little more for parts, but the labor and modifications cause you to spend a lot more in the end.  

Exhaust Manifold & Headers: Brand Comparison 

Mopar HP Manifolds Vs Headers 

In general, Mopar enthusiasts prefer to stick with the manifold over a set of tube headers. That's because the company designs its headers with racing in mind, not for the average driver.  

Pontiac Long Branch Manifolds vs Headers 

Some people swear that high-performance manifolds offer the best of both worlds, reduction of back pressure without all of the hassles of installing a header. The Pontiac Long Branch manifold is one design worth looking at.  

Shorty Headers vs Mustang Stock Manifolds 

A shorty header is going to provide a small upgrade over the Mustang stock manifold. However, to gain the most performance, you would want to look at a long header instead.  

Chevy 350 Headers vs Manifolds 

If you want to get the maximum performance out of your Chevy 350, it pays to install a header. However, you will need to tune the engine and perform some modifications.  

People Also Ask (FAQs)

Do headers run hotter than manifolds? 

While the header and manifold are going to have the same surface temperature, there is one big difference. If the header is three to four times larger, there will be that much more heat radiated.  

How much does it cost to replace an exhaust manifold? 

You can expect to spend about $800 to replace an exhaust manifold if you can't do the labor yourself. However, if you just need the parts, you might only spend about $125 to $350.  

How long does it take to fix an exhaust manifold? 

The exhaust manifold can typically be reached from the top of the engine. In total, you are looking at three to five hours to complete the replacement, as long as you have the right tools.   

Do I need a tune with shorty headers? 

In some cases, you can install shorty headers without a tune. However, if you are changing the catalytic converters at the same time or making other exhaust modifications, there's no way around tuning.  

Do headers increase MPG? 

Because the header changes the flow of the exhaust gases and optimizes the performance, you can expect less back pressure. Without this pressure, the fuel economy is bound to improve.  


With all of the comparisons we made, you should understand the difference between the shorty headers vs stock manifolds now. You should have all the answers you need to determine what's best for your vehicle; it's just a matter of putting your plan into action.