Many people hoping to upgrade their vehicle’s performance replace their exhaust manifolds with headers. While this is effective, unwrapped exhaust headers can’t provide the same benefits as wrapped headers, so you’re choosing to forego increased power. Let’s look at some benefits of wrapping exhaust headers, including better exhaust performance and cooler temperatures under the hood.
What Are Exhaust Headers?
First, let’s make sure you understand what exhaust headers are. Exhaust headers and manifolds perform the same function in your vehicle: funneling exhaust gases through your exhaust system. While their job is the same, they achieve their shared goal in different ways. Both are the first piece of your exhaust system, which sits between the front exhaust pipes and your cylinder headers.
Upgrading Manifolds to Headers
A header has an individual tube for each exhaust port, and all these tubes come together in a larger tube known as a collector. This upgraded design eliminates the back pressure that manifolds are known to experience, increasing exhaust performance. For this reason, one of the first exhaust upgrades many vehicle owners perform is the switch from manifolds to headers.
In addition to the differences in their design, headers and manifolds are also made out of different materials. Manifolds are traditionally cast iron, a thick, durable material that’s prone to cracking over extended periods of time. Manufacturers try to combat this cracking by thickening the walls of the manifolds.
Unfortunately, as space is limited under the hood, the only way to thicken a part is to increase the inner thickness, which creates a more restrictive environment for exhaust gases. On the other hand, headers are usually made of stainless steel, which is more expensive but has thinner tubing to help gases flow more freely.
Thankfully, the switch from manifolds to headers is an easy one. Since most headers are designed to fit specific makes and models, their installation requires no more effort than removing the manifolds and bolting on the new headers.
Reasons To Wrap
Once you’ve made the switch from manifolds to headers, you may think you’re done seeing performance enhancements. Fortunately for you, that’s not the case. You can wrap (or have a professional wrap) your exhaust headers with an insulating cloth to keep heat in your pipes.
Headers generate a lot of heat, so some type of heat insulation is a good idea. You can coat the headers with high-temperature paint, use a ceramic coating, or opt for header wrapping. Wrapping is more expensive than high-temperature paint and less expensive than a ceramic coating, so it offers a great combination of effectiveness and value.
Lower Temperatures Under the Hood
While the components under your hood are capable of withstanding high heat, they’ll wear out more quickly the longer they’re exposed to an intense environment. Header wraps help to keep your hardware cooler, which means they’ll last longer before you need to bring your car into the shop. They also reduce the air temperature that your engine breathes in, especially if you have an airbox setup.
Finally, lower under-hood temperatures mean that you can get to work on your engine components much more quickly after turning off your car, as cooldown time decreases significantly.
Better Exhaust Performance
Although the components under your hood benefit from reduced heat, the same can’t be said for exhaust gases. Gases require high heat to move quickly, and wrapping your headers causes gases within your tubing to drastically increase in temperature. This means that your exhaust gas velocity is much higher, leading to better exhaust gas scavenging from your engine’s cylinders.
When more exhaust gases are removed from the cylinders, the next combustion cycle will be cleaner. All these factors work together to increase the power potential of your engine.
If you’re into turbocharging, higher exhaust gas temperatures reduce turbo lag and spool time. That means you’ll boost more quickly and hit your maximum boost quicker, too.
If you don’t think an engine bay can be attractive, you’ve never seen wrapped headers. When you first purchase exhaust headers, you may think to yourself, “Why would I want to cover up this beautiful stainless steel?” After a few heat cycles, you’ll know why. Shiny silver quickly turns to a dull, dark grey.
When you have your headers wrapped professionally, they’ll look sleek and attractive, with a finish almost like carbon fiber.
Reasons Not To Wrap
Although header wraps come with a plethora of benefits, there are a few downsides you should know about before you pull the trigger. While these disadvantages may not be deal-breakers, it’s important to understand the whole picture before buying.
Chilly Winter Days
Remember how we said it was good that your engine bay won’t warm up as quickly? You might think twice when you start your car on a cold winter day. That’s right, it’ll take longer for your car to warm up inside the cabin, too. Your vehicle components may thank you, but your chilly fingers sure won’t.
You can combat this by starting your car a few minutes earlier each day— your cabin will still warm up; it’ll just take a little extra time.
Hotter exhaust is great for gas velocity, but it means your catalytic converter has more work to do. You may experience a catalytic converter failure earlier than you would without engine wraps. You should expect to require maintenance on the converter at some point anyway, but engine wraps could speed up that process.
Finally, engine wraps can lead to additional moisture retention. Trapped moisture coupled with metal parts is never a good combination, so you may notice an extra repair or two is needed over time. The good news is that stainless steel is resistant to moisture, but even stainless steel can rust after a while.
Who Should Wrap?
If you want better performance, a header wrap is the way to go. For racers, there’s no doubt that wrapping your headers is the right choice. If you’re more of a hobbyist, wrapping your headers may not be as necessary.
Now that you know the benefits of wrapping exhaust headers, check out our fantastic selection of performance exhaust headers—you can upgrade your ride’s power easily with this bolt-on part!