Exhaust Shootout: Catback vs Axleback vs Turboback Exhaust vs Muffler


It’s confusing and we get this question a lot. What’s the difference between a catback exhaust and an axleback exhaust? What’s the difference between a full exhaust and a turboback exhaust? What’s the difference between a muffler and an axleback?

They are all very good questions and instead of telling our customers the same thing over and over, we decided to just create a post where we can clear it up. Below you will see the differences between the various types of exhaust and how they help with their intended purposes.

So what are the differences between the various exhaust components and what does each one mean?

Headers are the exhaust component that attaches to the cylinder head. This is why they are called headers. The headers are designed to scavenge exhaust from the cylinder ports and make the exhaust cycle more efficient. On a car or truck that is naturally aspirated, headers usually attach directly to the catalytic converter.

Downpipes are usually found on cars with a turbo. The downpipe attaches to the o2 housing of the turbo and then connects down to the catalytic converter. There are some cases where the design of the exhaust of a naturally aspirated car has a downpipe as well, but generally it’s for forced induction applications.

Catalytic Converter
A catalytic converter, also known as a “cat”, typically goes between the header and the intermediate pipe or catback exhaust. This is an essential piece of smog equipment that is against the law to remove, modify or alter. A catback exhaust is called a “cat back” because it generally is the full exhaust after the catalytic converter. It’s the exhaust from the cat all the way back to the muffler (and including the muffler).

Test Pipes or Cat Deletes
As the name implies a cat delete is a pipe that deletes the catalytic converter from your exhaust system. They are more commonly known as test pipes as well.

Intermediate Pipe
The intermediate pipe, also known as the mid pipe, is designed to fit between the catalytic converter/cat delete pipe and the muffler section.

Catback Exhaust
The catback exhaust is the most popular upgrade. The catback exhaust replaces all of the exhaust piping from the catalytic converter back to the muffler. It replaces the muffler and tip as well. It’s also commonly referred to as an “exhaust system”.

Axleback Exhaust
Some cars have intermediate pipes or mid pipes that flow pretty good from the factory. So manufactures only release certain sections of the exhaust such as the axleback exhaust. An axleback exhaust generally replaces the muffler, tips and a small section of piping that connects to the intermediate pipes or mid pipe. Consider an axleback exhaust as a muffler section exhaust.

Generally, mufflers are universal and need to be welded on. A muffler shop would cut off your old muffler and weld on a new one.

Ok, so what’s better and what are the differences between these?

So now that you know about the various components of an exhaust system, we’re going to explain to you which we recommend which are better or worse.

Catback vs Axleback
In about 95% of the cases catback vs axleback debates are over power and cost. Which makes more power and is a catback worth it? Well, in just about all cases a catback exhaust will make more power than an axleback exhaust. What you have to decide is if the added cost of a catback is worth the gain in power. Every car and truck has different gains between these systems. In fact, some manufacturers only make axle back systems for your car. If this is the case for you, it could be that the factory system flowed so good that it didn’t seem worth it for the manufacturer to replace all of the piping so instead they released a lower cost exhaust – the axle back. The factory muffler is usually pretty restrictive since it needs to be quiet, so this is usually where most of the power is gained from on a catback vs axleback debate.

Catback vs Turbo Back
In every case, a turbo back exhaust is going to make more power than a catback exhaust but will cost significantly more because you’re replacing the full exhaust system. A catback vs turbo back comparison is usually not a fair one as the turbo back typically replaces the downpipe, catalytic converter and catback, so it’s a much more comprehensive system. Obviously, only turbo cars have the option of a turbo back exhaust.

Catback vs Catless
You can’t really have a catback vs catless exhaust debate as these are complimentary pieces. If you have a catback exhaust you can add remove the catalytic converter and replace it with a test pipe or cat delete so your system becomes catless. Keep in mind, this is for off road use only. So if you are deciding on catback vs catless you can’t do this, you either have a catback exhaust with a catalytic converter or a catback exhaust with a cat delete.

Midpipe vs Downpipe
Similar to the above, you can’t have a debate on midpipe vs downpipe as they are in different locations of the exhaust. A downpipe is in the front of the exhaust system and a mid pipe (or intermediate pipe) is toward the end, between the catalytic converter and axleback or muffler section.

In conclusion
So in conclusion, the exhaust is made up of many different components and it really depends on what you’re looking for out of your car that will ultimately decide the way you go with your exhaust system.

If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to ask below! Hope this was informative!

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  1. Hi. Is there a difference of sound between a axle back vs muffler only

    1. that mike but what I want axle back muffler

  2. What do you recommend for a stock BRZ which requires more performance gain and louder sound? Thanks

  3. Would there be much performance loss between a cat delete and a whole turbo back exhaust

  4. i plan to buy a turbo back for my Genesis coupe, is the cat still in the system? cause i heard that cat delete = loud and i need to stay street legal. im living in Canada. i also must keep muffler

  5. I have a 2013 f150 3.5L v6 EcoBoost. What would you recommend to get the most turbo sound without overbearing exhaust noise?

  6. is there an increase in HP & Fuel/Diesel Efficiency if axleback exhaust upgrade on a ISUZU MU-X (SUV)? just curious…

  7. Hey is it okay to replace the entire exhaust sustem on a 2000 v6 camry headers and all?(keeping all cats im in cali i want to be legal) and is it bad for the engine to do that?(with or without a tune from a professional)

  8. What would you recommend for Lexus 2019 is350 F Sport to get a good sound but not to loud on the highway.

  9. ive a 14 vw jetta gli 2.0t gen 3,i ordered a cts turboback and was going to have it installed as im kinda disabled.im not sure if its legal though.I was looking on another vender the same exhaust and it was for offroad only,.It has a high flow cat, im confused ? any help would be appreciated.jjoncich

  10. My son owns a 1999 civic hatchback and pull over by a cop last night for having a yonaka exhaust. He was told that it has a straight thru . My question Is the yonaka exhaust is a straight thru? thanks.

  11. I want to make my Brand New Mercedes Benz AMG E53 Coupe louder. I mentioned to the Mercedes Benz manager that I was going to change my exhaust and to my horror he told me if I change my exhaust he would void my 3 year warranty………….I mentioned this to the shop owner where I plan to buy the exhaust and he said “just do a cat back instead” then they won’t void the warranty.
    So my question is this, will I notice a significant increase I the sound of the titanium cat back verses stock exhaust and as a rule of thumb will dealership allow a cat back with voiding the warranty
    Thanks in advance

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