How exhaust systems work

Internal combustion, by which fuel-burning engines derive power, can be a messy process. Fuel from the vehicle’s gas tank is drawn into the combustion chamber or cylinder within the cylinder head, where it is mixed with air drawn in from outside the vehicle through the air filter. From there a spark plug produces a spark from the vehicle’s electrical system, namely the distributor cap and wires, which ignites the fuel-air mixture, producing a small explosion.

This explosion drives the piston – which is seated flush in the cylinder – up, which translates the force of the explosion into the crankshaft. The crankshaft translates this power into a circular motion, eventually reaching the transmission, which transfers this power to the wheels. Finally, the remaining fuel-air mixture, both burned and unburned, exits through the exhaust port, and the cycle begins anew. This happens thousands of times a minute when a vehicle’s engine is running.

But what happens once the exhaust gases exit the engine’s combustion chambers? First, it travels out of the engine via the exhaust manifolds, also known as exhaust headers or simply headers. Since most vehicles have multiple cylinders, each combusting their own fuel-air mixture and thereby producing their own exhaust, the exhaust manifold collects the spent fuel from each cylinder. The exhaust is then sent further down the exhaust system via a single tube known as the tailpipe.

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