Exhaust Manifold Leak: Fix it now? Or let it go?

If your car’s engine starts making a ticking noise, especially on a cold start you might have an exhaust manifold leak

How big of a deal is an exhaust manifold leak? And how urgent is it that you get it fixed? 

This article cuts through the crap and gets to the point so you know exactly how to handle this fairly common car problem. 

What Is an Exhaust Manifold?

Before getting into it, you should understand what an exhaust manifold is. So here goes….

Your car breathes. Seriously.

It inhales air to feed the tiny explosions created inside your engine that make your car go vroom-vroom. 

After those explosions happen, tiny poofs of smoke are released… otherwise known as exhaust.

Your car then exhales this exhaust through a system of pipes that lead out to the ass end of your car.

You with me? Good!

An exhaust manifold is bolted to the side of your engine and gathers exhaust from little ports on the side of your engine and sends it all into a single channel. 

This channel connects to a system of pipes that lead out to the rear end of your car to your tail pipes.

How Do I Know I Have an Exhaust Manifold Leak?

If your car makes a loud ticking or “pfft-pfft-pfft” sound, there’s a good chance you have an exhaust manifold leak. 

The sound will get more rapid as you accelerate. And there’s a good chance the sound will go away once your car warms up. 

This happens because metal expands when it heats up. The expanding metal forces the exhaust manifold leak shut, and the ticking sound goes away.

Don’t get all excited. Your car isn’t self-healing! The leak is still there and will eventually get larger the longer you ignore it and won’t be able to fuse shut any more.

Why did I Develop an Exhaust Manifold Leak?

You developed an exhaust manifold leak because your car is old. Things wear out over time (duh). 

Exhaust manifolds are durable and take a ton of abuse with all the heat they are exposed to. But everything eventually wears out.

If your car is brand new and it developed an exhaust manifold leak, stop reading this article and bring it in for warranty service.

Should I Be Concerned?

If you do have an exhaust manifold leak, it’s not a problem where you need to stop driving the car. It’s just a hole in your exhaust system. So it doesn’t really make your car unsafe to drive. 

And it doesn’t get in the way of your car’s ability to run. Your car will start up and go just fine.

The worst part of an exhaust manifold leak is the sound. The longer you wait to get it repaired, the louder it will get. And the more your neighbors will hate you, lol. 

Some people out there beat the drums of fear and say exhaust manifold leaks decrease gas mileage, cause pollution, and are dangerous to your health.

I call bullshit.

Sure, these things are mildly true at best.

You’ll pollute the environment a tiny bit more because the exhaust coming out of the leak hasn’t passed through the catalytic converter to get clean.

And maybe you will lose a little fuel economy or engine power because the flow of exhaust is obstructed. 

And there’s a tiny opportunity that you might breathe in some extra exhaust because some of it is not being put out the back of your car. 

But this is all negligible stuff. Don’t lose sleep over it.

What Happens if I Don’t Fix It?

If you don’t fix your exhaust manifold leak, it will get larger, louder, and possibly more expensive to fix.

How Do I Fix It?

When it comes to fixing your exhaust manifold leak, the first thing you need to do is figure out where the leak is. There’s a few areas where the leak might be coming from.

The Exhaust Manifold Itself

If the leak is directly on the exhaust manifold, you’re going to have to get a new exhaust manifold.

The Exhaust Manifold Gasket

There is often a gasket between the engine and the exhaust manifold. If the gasket wears out, it creates an opportunity for a leak. If this is the source of the leak, all you have to replace is the gasket.

Downpipe Connection

Your exhaust manifold bolts to the downpipe on your exhaust system. Sometimes the bolts that make this connection become loose or rust out. Check this area and all you might need to do is tighten a bolt or two. Or maybe replace one that has rusted away. Easy-peasey!

Donut Gasket

The area where your exhaust manifold connects to the downpipe generally uses a donut gasket to help create a good seal. These gaskets can wear out and create an opportunity for a leak. If this is the source of your leak, all you need to do is replace the donut gasket.

Band Aid Fixes

There are several “band aid” fixes you can do to an exhaust manifold leak. Products from companies like JB Weld and Devcon work quite well. 

Remember…. I said these fixes are band aids. They won’t last forever.

But if your car is on its last leg or if you’re strapped for cash right now and need to put off a proper repair for a while, a band aid solution just might be the right decision for you.

Conclusion

An exhaust manifold leak isn’t that big of a deal. It’s more of an annoyance than anything else. It doesn’t have to be fixed right away. But waiting too long will make it get worse.

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