Exhaust Manifold Repair – How Can You Get It Fixed?

by Conner Mckay

The exhaust manifold is the first part of any vehicle’s exhaust system. Tasked with the important duty of collecting gases from numerous cylinders into a single pipe, an exhaust manifold is usually a stainless steel or cast unit. It primarily delivers the exhaust gases to the exhaust pipe. Since the job it does is so important, a cracked exhaust manifold repair is somewhat pricey.

It’s not only the price of repairing the cracked bit but there’s also the high labor costs. With all that in mind, you might be wondering what’s all this fuss about an exhaust manifold. Well, today we answer that question. We’ll look into what an exhaust manifold is, why and how it cracks, how to repair it, and much more.

Exhaust Manifold

Exhaust Manifold Repair

Depending on the type of vehicle and its engine, there are two types of exhaust manifolds. It can either be a cast iron manifold assembly or a set of pipes. As mentioned before, the exhaust manifold collects burned exhaust gases from the cylinders and delivers them to the car’s tailpipe before it’s finally ejected.

The exhaust gases are simply the burned air/fuel remnants from the combustion process going on in the engine. Over time, due to the constant contraction and expansion of the components, the manifold might crack.

As scalding hot exhaust gases are released in the process, these cracks/leaks can be extremely hazardous. It can damage other parts of the engine and affect engine performance as well.

Occasionally, a broken mounting bolt makes the exhaust manifold leak. In this case, the mechanic must remove the broken stud or bolt. They may charge an extra fee for this, depending on the complexity of the situation. Very briefly, this is the process that follows:

  1. Determine if there is a crack in the manifold
  2. Extract and change the faulty exhaust manifold
  3. Check exhaust bolts, clean the cylinder head
  4. Install new exhaust manifold and gasket
  5. Start the engine to inspect for any exhaust leaks

The default engine in most single cars is V-shaped with two exhaust manifolds connected to it. One of them is for one cylinder bank while the other is for the second cylinder bank.

1. Cast Iron Exhaust Manifold

Generally, cast iron exhaust manifolds last longer. Thanks to the use of high-quality parts, the cracked exhaust manifold repair cost may not be that high. Modern cars cut down on the bulk so the exhaust manifolds are designed to fit into smaller corners and spaces.

If an owner wants more performance and power, they might swap the cast iron manifold for headers. These aren’t the most durable but again, that’s not what they were made for. Moreover, those manifolds can be somewhat heavy and get brittle with time and age. The decomposition and aging can increase the exhaust manifold repair charges.

2. Tubular Steel Exhaust Manifold

Tubular steel exhaust manifolds have better airflow, which is why they can often be spotted in performance cars, such as sports cars or anything that requires more horsepower. As you can tell from the name, this style of manifold is made from stainless steel or regular steel depending on the manufacturer.

Stainless steel is more expensive to produce, but that adds to its reliability and longevity. In comparison, mild steel doesn’t last as long. This can lead to a frequent need for repairing or replacing exhaust manifolds.

Exhaust Manifold Leak Symptoms

How do you know that the exhaust manifold in your car is broken? Look out for these signs.

Exhaust Manifold Repair, Symptoms #1: Burning Smells

When you lift the hood of the drive, an unpleasant odor of burning rubber or plastic greets your nostrils. Gaskets feature coatings that give off a plastic or rubber smell when burned or overheated. Damaged manifolds don’t do their job properly – they don’t transfer heat and the result is damage to the gaskets and condensed exhaust leaks.

Exhaust Manifold Repair, Symptoms #2: Performance Issues

A common symptom of a leaking exhaust manifold is a sudden or gradual loss of power when you accelerate the vehicle. It becomes very noticeable when your car isn’t as responsive as it used to be.

You have to press the pedal harder to get to the next gear. A manifold with a damaged gasket slowly affects acceleration capability, whereas a crack or similar damage will result in similar reactions.

Exhaust Manifold Repair, Symptoms #3: Low Fuel Efficiency

Having to stop by the gas station way more than you had to? When the manifold is damaged, the exhaust doesn’t remain pressurized as it should. Fuel efficiency drops. A new exhaust manifold or gasket could pay for itself by saving fuel within a few weeks.

Exhaust Manifold Repair

Exhaust Manifold Repair, Symptoms #4: Loud Exhaust Noise

If there is a hole in the gasket or any part of the exhaust system, it will produce loud sounds while the car is in operation. However, damage to the manifold tends to create tapping or hissing noises around the back of the engine. Not only does the manifold failure cause problems in that area, but it can also damage the catalytic converter.

If that part is damaged, you may hear loud grinding sounds. These sounds tell you that your vehicle’s engine isn’t able to hold compression anymore. It’s best to avoid driving the car till you can get it checked by a mechanic.

Exhaust Manifold Repair, Symptoms #5: Visible Damage

When your olfactory or auditory senses aren’t being tingled by a cracked manifold, you can move onto your eyes. Inspect the side of the manifold carefully and you may notice a visible crack there. It could be hairline thin but it might as well be pressed against the engine. Just because you can’t see the damage, that doesn’t mean it’s not there.

Despite the reduction in acceleration and loud noises, exhaust manifold repair costs are reasonable in value, comparatively speaking.

Exhaust Manifold Repair, Symptoms #6: Vibrations

When there’s a leak in the exhaust manifold, you might feel unusual vibrations, particularly in the steering wheel, floor, or pedals. These vibrations come from the escaping exhaust gases. They can be subtle initially, but as the crack worsens, so will the vibrations. So, if your car suddenly seems to shake more than usual, especially when it’s running, a manifold issue might be the culprit.

Exhaust Manifold Repair, Symptoms #7: Check Engine Light

While many issues can trigger the check engine light, a cracked or damaged manifold is definitely one of them. Modern cars have sensors throughout the exhaust system. When these sensors detect anomalies, like leaks from the manifold, they alert the vehicle’s computer.

Consequently, the check engine light illuminates. Although it doesn’t pinpoint the manifold as the problem, if you notice this light along with other symptoms, it’s a sign you should investigate further.

Exhaust Manifold Repair, Symptoms #8: Unusual Exhaust Color

The color of the exhaust can provide clues about your car’s health. A malfunctioning exhaust manifold can sometimes cause the exhaust to turn a bluish or white color. This change is due to oil or coolant entering the exhaust, which shouldn’t happen in a properly functioning system. It’s a clear warning sign that you should not ignore.

Exhaust Manifold Repair, Symptoms #9: Decreased Heating Efficiency

The exhaust manifold also plays a role in heating the car’s interior. If you notice that your heater doesn’t warm up as quickly as it used to, or isn’t as hot, a leaky manifold could be stealing some of that heat. Especially during cold months, this symptom becomes quite noticeable.

Exhaust Manifold Repair, Symptoms #10: Failed Emissions Test

States with strict emissions regulations often require cars to undergo regular testing. A leaking or cracked manifold can increase the amount of pollutants your car releases into the environment. Consequently, this will make it difficult, if not impossible, for your vehicle to pass an emissions test. If you fail the test, a manifold issue could be to blame.

Exhaust Manifold Repair, Symptoms #11: Engine Misfires

A misfire means the engine isn’t operating as smoothly as it should. When the exhaust manifold is compromised, it can lead to misfiring because the exhaust gases aren’t being channeled away efficiently. You might feel the car jerk or “miss” when this happens. In tandem with other symptoms, this can further indicate manifold troubles.

Exhaust Manifold Repair, Symptoms #12: Corroded or Damaged Bolts

The exhaust manifold is held in place by a series of bolts. Over time, and especially if there’s a leak, these bolts can corrode or even break. If you inspect the area and find such damage, it’s not just the bolts that need replacement. It’s likely an indicator of more serious manifold issues.

In conclusion, an exhaust manifold is crucial for your car’s performance and safety. Regular inspections and understanding the symptoms of a failing manifold can save you from bigger, costlier problems down the line. Always consult with a professional if you suspect any issues. By doing so, you ensure a longer life for your vehicle and a safer drive for yourself.

Exhaust Manifold Leak

There could be several reasons behind an exhaust manifold leak that might lead to exhaust manifold repair. Let’s go through some of them now.

1. Cracked Exhaust Manifolds

The engine is constantly working in high-pressure, and intense temperature situations. A crack in the metal could mean a leak in the manifold. The crack may start out paper-thin at the very first, but with time (and more heat consumed by the manifold), it will begin to increase in size.

At one point, the crack may self-seal when the metal expands. The sound coming from the damage will also become less noticeable.

2. Leaking Manifold Gaskets

The gasket, which is quite similar to the exhaust manifold, has to tolerate contracting and expanding the heated metal. The symptoms of failure are similar to the ones you see in a cracked manifold and the problem could exacerbate really fast.

Exhaust manifold gaskets seal the whole exhaust system, making them an indispensable part of the car. When the gaskets fail, it can negatively impact the drivability and performance of the vehicle.

3. Loose Or Broken Bolts

The studs and bolts holding the exhaust manifold together may get brittle due to the constant heating and cooling processes. Broken bolts are one of the more common problems in this case. But, the repair can still be a nightmare.

Exhaust Leak Repair

There really shouldn’t be any questions here at all. If you want your car to deliver smooth performance, you have to maintain every component of the car. When the component is as important as the exhaust manifold, there are so many reasons to be more careful.

1. Poor Fuel Mileage

A cracked exhaust manifold will give your car poor gas mileage. This happens due to a complex reaction of the oxygen sensor to the exhaust manifold. Not all cars have them, but for the ones that do, it may give an incorrect reading due to a damaged exhaust manifold. When that happens, the engine is prompted to burn through the air faster.

2. Gases Accumulated In The Cabin

Instead of escaping through the tailpipe, the exhaust gases will gather in the engine bay. Why is that an issue? The climate control system of the car draws air from near the engine bay. With the engine bay filled with exhaust gases, some of those gases may end up inside the car cabin, exposing the riders of the car to toxic fumes.

3. Damage To Other Parts

Occasionally, a leaking exhaust manifold can damage other components of the engine bay. Hot exhaust gases leaking through a damaged manifold are enough to melt wires or light parts on fire (the ones made of flammable materials).

Exhaust Manifold Repair

4. Failed Emission Tests

Some states or cities require emission testing. Your car will fail that test if it has a cracked exhaust manifold. This problem might even trigger the Check Engine Light. With the CEL on, your car will fail without any further inspection.

Sadly, there’s no quick fix for these manifold issues. Drivers have tried to fight the problem with heat-resistant epoxy, like JB Weld. Although JB Weld is a great product, it simply isn’t capable of withstanding 1,200°F exhaust gases.

The only available option is to change the cracked exhaust manifold. These problems should go away once the new manifold is installed.

There are more reasons to fix a malfunctioning exhaust manifold. Under intense use such as towing bulky loads, the temperature inside exhaust manifolds can shoot upwards sharply.

The increasing heat forces the manifold to expand, exerting tremendous strain on the studs and/or bolts holding the material to the cylinder heads. Fast forward about a hundred expansion and contraction cycles later, and the bolts or studs will fail entirely.

Compare this scenario to the bending of a paper clip. Eventually, it will fall apart in your hand after being tired of pushing back and forth. Only one part of the manifold is secured to the engine cylinder head, so the exhaust gasket could blow it out.

This lets the exhaust gases escape allowing air to get inside the exhaust stream. The O2 (oxygen) sensor is thrown off immediately, giving out weird readings.

If the oxygen sensor assumes that the engine is operating leaner than regular, it will direct for additional fuel to pump into the engine, harming the catalytic converter(s) in the process.

Furthermore, with the exhaust manifold expanding and contracting unevenly, the cast iron crack will aggravate the oxygen sensor into giving incorrect readings. Last but not the least, the annoying sounds due to the leak makes for a bitter riding experience.

How To Find An Exhaust Leak

First things first, start by doing a visual examination of the engine bay. Don’t do this exactly after a drive; let the engine cool for several hours before an inspection. Check for black soot over the manifold, one of the common signs of an exhaust leak. It would be easier on you if the cracks or loose bolts were visible. You can also connect a wrench to the bolts to make sure they’re torqued.

The easiest way to figure out if there is a leak is by using a vacuum cleaner. Turn the car engine off and place the cleaner in the exhaust pipe. The vacuum must be positioned in such a way that it pushes air into the exhaust. Spray some soapy solutions over the exhaust and check if there are bubbles. If there are bubbles, then there is a leak.

How To Fix Exhaust Manifold Leak

Replacing an exhaust manifold leak is relatively easy. You just need a few deep sockets and wrenches to remove the manifold. Light grit sandpaper or emery cloth can be used to remove traces of the former gasket, but we’ve found that a scraper works better, particularly in tight spaces. You can get the necessary tools at your local Home Depot or Amazon.

What You Need

  • Exhaust manifold gasket
  • Ratchet and socket set
  • Penetrating oil
  • Wrenches
  • Torque wrench
  • Jack and jack stands
  • Degreaser
  • Towels
  • Gloves
  • Repair manual

Steps To Repairing An Exhaust Manifold

  1. Detach the negative battery cable. The engine must be cooled down.
  2. Engage the parking brake. Raise the front of the car using a jack and place it on the jack stands.
  3. Remove any heat shields or engine cover with the ratchet and sockets to gain access to the bolts of the exhaust manifold. It might be easier from under the vehicle depending on the engine.
  4. Check to see if any other parts are disconnected, like the dipstick tube or EGR valve intake pipe (to learn more, check out our guide on what the EGR does in a car). Remove the bolts and set them aside.
  5. Spritz penetrating oil over the exhaust manifold bolts.
  6. Spray oil over the boils linking the exhaust pipe flange and the exhaust manifold collector. Let it soak for 10 minutes.
  7. Apply slow but steady pressure to the bolts of the exhaust manifold using the ratchet. The bolt should pop without too much force. However, if it doesn’t give, spritz a little penetrating oil and hit it a few times with a hammer. The oil can penetrate rust better thanks to the impact vibration.
  8. Take out all the bolts, aside from the one on the cylinder head, and then remove the bolts located at the collector. Place one hand on the exhaust manifold before removing the last bolt to lift the manifold.
  9. Discard the old gasket. Spray heavy-duty degreaser on the exhaust manifold. Once dry, check the manifold for cracks or carbon buildup, if any. Clean the area around it if there is carbon and change if you see cracks.
  10. Spray over the cylinder head too, prepping the area where the new gasket will be fitted. Use the towel to scrub and remove any deposits.
  11. For this step, wear gloves beforehand. Place the new replacement gasket on the studs of the cylinder head.
  12. Place the cleaned manifold in its original position. Change the bolts and secure them tightly.
  13. Torque the bolts to their specific specs as mentioned in the repair manual.
  14. The assembly now is the reverse of the extraction. Recheck the torque after a week of driving to prevent the bolts from slipping out later.

Exhaust Leak Repair Cost

Many people like to repair themselves to save money. You can definitely try to perform a repair on an exhaust manifold but only if you’re confident in your skills. If the problem is caught early on and is not as severe, you can get away with basic skills and the right amount of research.

At the later stages of a leaking exhaust manifold, the damage could be too severe for a regular person to handle. The right tools combined with prior experience and knowledge are required to do a good job, and only a professional boasts these.

Moreover, you may not be able to properly diagnose the actual cause of the damaged exhaust manifold, making it hard to understand where you should start the repair process.

One other option is to compare prices offered by various mechanics to get the best deal. You can compare parts costs and labor costs from suppliers and local stores in your area to save a few coins and still get the required repairs done at a good price.

Labor Costs

Typically, shops refer to a parts and labor guide to calculate how many hours of labor should be charged for any repair. Repairs usually last between two to three hours. An independent shop would charge you about $80 to $90 per hour, so that brings your labor costs to $160 to $270 for the 2-3 hours.

The labor rate is generally higher at a dealership, with an average of $110 an hour. After two or three hours, you have to pay between $220 and $330. There are no labor costs involved if you decide to do the repair yourself, and you can also learn some valuable technical skills in the world of automobiles.

Parts Cost

The exhaust manifold gasket cost will vary depending on the model, make, and year of the car as well as the number of cylinders the engine has. On a 2000 Chevrolet Impala, for instance, you can expect to pay about $20 to $30 at your local parts retailer for just the gasket. The price increases to around $50 if you choose to get it from a dealership, but the aftermarket gasket works fine.

With the prices mentioned above, the repair can be done for the low price of $18 if you do it yourself. Alternatively, your total rounds up to $400 if you get it done from a dealership.

There are a few kinds of cars that have introduced different exhaust manifold repair costs to the market. For instance, the labor costs of a Ford F-Series come to $270 to $350, while the parts can be bought for anywhere between $200 to $340. Round it all up, the total cost to replace a cracked exhaust manifold for a Ford F-Series pickup ranges between $470 to $690.

The lowest repair cost for a cracked exhaust manifold is for the Honda Accord where the charges are about $90 to $115. The parts run for around $260 to $460 and the total rings up to $350 to $590.

The Honda Civic has one of the highest costs in regards to exhaust manifold repair, with the parts alone being $580 to $850. Combine that with the labor costs of around $270 to $350 and you can end up paying $800 to $1000 for one repair of the car. The high labor costs can be attributed to the complexity of the problem. It usually takes a professional several hours to fix.

The costs will depend vastly on the kind of car you have and whether you brought it to your local mechanic or dealership before.

Exhaust Manifold Repair: In Conclusion…

The exhaust system of your vehicle is a big deal, so it should go without saying that you must never ignore it. The symptoms can combine with each other and manifest in multiple ways.

Exhaust Manifold Repair: Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

If you’re still curious to learn more about an exhaust manifold repair, our FAQs here might help…

What Is A Manifold On A Car

A manifold on a car is defined as a set of tubes and metal piping that are bolted onto the engine. There are two types of car manifolds – the intake manifold, and the exhaust manifold. The intake manifold is responsible for channeling air from the atmosphere. As well as, mixing that air with fuel that’s sprayed into the intake manifolds by your fuel injectors. The intake manifold then channels this air-fuel mixture into the engine’s combustion chamber to be burned. Once the combustion process is done, all the exhaust fumes are then exhausted out of the combustion chamber through the exhaust manifolds, before channeling through to the exhaust pipes.

How Much Does It Cost To Fix An Exhaust Leak

The cost of fixing an exhaust manifold leak will differ based on the type of work that needs to be done. And, where you’re sending your car off to. If the cause of the exhaust leak is a worn-out and faulty gasket, buying a new set of gaskets is pretty cheap. You could find exhaust manifold gaskets selling for as little as just $20. Or, as high as $50 for new OEM gaskets that came straight from the dealership. Although, the cost of labor often outweighs the cost of the parts themselves. Between the parts and labor required, the final tally for an exhaust manifold leak repair can be as high as $400.

Is An Exhaust Leak Bad

When your car experiences an exhaust leak, this is what happens when exhaust fumes leak out before reaching the tailpipes. These are quite bad for you, and for several reasons. Firstly, exhaust leaks would mean that fewer fumes are reaching the O2 sensors. The latter can be found within the exhaust system, near or around the catalytic converters. With a lack of data on oxygen levels in the exhaust fumes, the O2 sensors will deliver incorrect input to the car’s computer brain (its ECU). Thus, possibly leads your car to then burn either too much or too little fuel. This would easily impact your car’s performance and general driveability.

What Causes Exhaust Leaks

An exhaust manifold leak manifests due to several underlying issues that lead up to it. One of them is a cracked exhaust manifold. Due to high pressure and high heat, it’s more than possible for even a metal exhaust manifold to form hairline cracks over time. Thus, causing exhaust fumes to slowly leak out of it. But, worn-out manifold gaskets are much more likely of a scenario in the real world than cracked manifolds. These gaskets are also exposed to a lot of heat, causing them to wear out. Beyond that, it may be that the bolts and studs holding the exhaust manifold together might’ve gotten loose, allowing fumes to leak between them.

How Hot Does An Exhaust Manifold Get

Given that hot exhaust fumes exit straight out of a car and flows into the exhaust manifold, it’s not surprising that the manifolds can heat up pretty easily. Specifically, your typical exhaust manifold could get as high as 1,200 to 1,400 degrees Fahrenheit. Although, this is an extreme, performance-oriented scenario, such as driving at higher speeds on the highway. However, an exhaust manifold could also get even hotter than this. Should your engine run a bit too lean (there’s too much air and not enough fuel in the air-fuel ratio), it could get as hot as 1,600 degrees Fahrenheit.

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