What's involved in changing a muffler?

I just got back from Midas (motto: “You won’t pay a lot for that muffler”) with an estimate for almost $650.00 to get a new muffler. Yikes! This is what it cost me to have my timing belt replaced, and that involves (I’m told) a high degree of engine dis-assembly & re-assembly so it’s very labor intensive.

Here’s the breakdown:

Exhaust Pipes (close to end of useful life) - $180.00
Muffler (close to end of useful life) - $300.00
Tail Pipes (customer request) - $30.00
Clamp (necessary component) - $8.00
Labor - $67.00

“Close to end of useful life”?? The thing is clearly blown! Blind pedestrians take cover when I drive past them for fear of low-flying helicopters. Tail pipes I could do without- that’s just the chrome decorative tips that dropped off some years ago.

There is also something in the summary section identified as “Enviro/Supply” that is going to cost me another $30.00. What the heck is that? (yes, I should have asked when I picked up the car but I was in a huge hurry, so I just stuck the estimate in my pocket & said I’d be back next month to have the work done.)

Isn’t a muffler just a resonant chamber shaped to cause sound waves to cancel out? Why does it cost $300 to do that? Does a Prelude require some sort of special high-end gold-plated diamond-studded muffler?

I am reasonably capable when it comes to doing my own light-duty maintenance on my car. I can take a 100 disc CD changer apart & put it back together with no trouble. Shouldn’t I be able replace a muffler especially considering it sits right on the outside of the car (you don’t really have to take the car apart to get to it, do you?).

Are there any special skills or tools required? I suspect that some welding might be required, which I don’t know how to do.

Mufflers don’t get bolted on, they are welded/soldered/sweated (I don’t remember which one), so the biggest hassle is whether you have the equipment and/or skill to cut off the old one and install the new one. You should be able to get rather cheaper parts from your local NAPA dealer (or whichever “Mad” or “Crazy” or “Wild” guy in your neighborhood advertises as a discount auto parts store).

The Enviro/Supply charge is a little fee that service shops have tucked into the bill in recent years to cover the cost of maintaining their tools and maintaining their equipment in line with EPA regs. In the old days, they simply included that in the markup for the parts. Now they display it to show that they incur “additional costs” for doing business (apparently alone of all the merchants in the world) while not quite remembering to remove the costs from the markup that they originally charged on the parts. Go look at your timing belt bill, you’ll find the same $30 charge (in our neighborhood it’s $29).

Well, this is one of those tasks that can be done by the more experienced sort. But exhaust manifold bolts can be tough, as the heat and corrosion makes removing them a real hassle at times. Breaking a manifold stud bolt would really make your day as well. Sounds like you don’t need those replaced, though, I’m unclear on that.

Muffler shops have access to a couple things I don’t, even though technically I could do the job-- Oxyacetylene cutting torches which makes removal of some parts quick and easy, and an arc welder for joining the pieces of exhaust tube itself. A lift also makes the job much easier. I replace all my own stuff-- starters, water pumps, belts, but shocks and struts and exhaust can be a pain in the *&^%%$.

Parts are whats hurting you hear, they are pricey.

I’ve done it, but that was on a truck which would probably be easier than on a small car (more room to work, straight pieces of pipe rather then intricate curvy ones, more “play” in the whole system).

Call your local discount auto parts store and ask them how much a muffler is. I was able to buy a generic one, but a small car might require one that’s a special shape.
You will also need the pipe, which you should be able to get ready made in the right shape.

I bolted mine on. I got a muffler and pieces of pipe that are expanded at one end to slip oner the mating piece, and clamps that fit around the joint.

Be careful to get everything in the right diameters, and that the ends that are expanded/contacted go the right way. I mean, it doesn’t matter which direction they face but you can’t put two expanded ends together.

Depending on where the muffler is you may need a tailpipe - you don’t want to release the exhaust in the middle of the car where it could get sucked into the back seat.

You will need jackstands, a good socket set, liquid wrench, and probably a hacksaw to get the old system off. Maybe a hammer and chisel if the bolts are really rusted together.

Exhaust work is at the low end of the skill level when it comes to mechanics. Having the right tools really helps in this job. I used to be a full-line Mechanic at a dealer so I will try and talk you through this job.

First and formost: go to a parts store, bring with you information, Make Model Engine size 2 or 4 door. To much information is not enough. I work at a parts store now.
The exhaust catalogs have nice diagrams to help pick the right parts.

Second: An acetylene cutting torch is a very handy tool.
dangerious yes. Use common sense.

Third: Jack up both ends of the car and safely support it. Jack stands are the best.

Forth: Put on safty glasses, Rust never sleeps, look over the piping, resonator, muffler. A Honda Accord has its pipes bolted together with flanges and gaskets. without a torch, your best bet is to spray the bolts with a penetrating oil. Castle “Liquid Torch” works for me.
If you can’t free up the bolts snap them off and replace with new.
Removing the old pipes and muffler is the hard part.
Putting on the new is a piece of cake. Wait untill all the parts are in place before you tighten it all up.
It really is a simple job. Dirty yes hard not really.
Go for it.

I’ve done mufflers on passenger cars a few times and I’ve never seen one that required welding. From my experience, they’re just hung in place and the pipes clamped together. In principal, changing a muffler is pretty easy, there are no special considerations like timing or precise alignments to worry about, just pull the old one out and put the new one in. If all your pipe to pipe clamps are tight and the assembly doesn’t move enough to bump the car body, it’s a job well done. In practice, it can be a chore to get the pieces threaded into position but you should be able to handle it.

You probably won’t have to worry about the exhaust manifolds. Based on the Midas estimate, what you’ll be dealing with is only downstream from the catalytic converters.

To re-iterate Booker57’s point, safety glasses and jack stands are a must.

Make sure to use aluminized exhaust pipes–they will greatly extend the lifespan of your system. Places like Midas love the extension tubes/exhaust pipes/over-the-axle pipes they sell because they rust out so damn fast.

Though my car came with a stainless steel exhaust system, several years ago a girl friend of mine needed a new exhaust from the manifold back. I bought her a muffler, then took her Toyota Avalon to a local mechanic (who does lots of racing), where he custom-bent and welded together aluminized pipes to perfectly fit her car. He did it for less than 1/3 to 1/2 what Midas wanted and, five years later, the pipes still looked great when I checked them out recently.

Stock mufflers, such as from Walker, are almost always guaranteed to rust out quickly. Make sure the muffler you buy is attached to the pipe with clamps, which will allow you to replace it easily.

Attrayant, you didn’t say what sort of vehicle you have, you know, I mean they aren’t the same.

I don’t do no welding when putting on a muffler ever. I haven’t seen anyone else do it either. Sometimes they use the torch to make it easier to get it off but they don’t weld them back on.

Midas includes labor with their estimate & you forgot to mention what guarantee you have for it & since I don’t know what vehicle this is, youll have to get the book on it yourself & find out what the muffler parts cost.

I probably done a dozen pipe/muffler jobs on 1980’s era Mustangs. These are notes from experience…

Just go down to your local auto parts store and buy everything. It shouldn’t cost more than $120 for all the stuff.

A few tips:

  • If you don’t already have one, rent or borrow a reciprocating saw (e.g. Milwaukee Sawzall).

  • Don’t worry about trying to unfasten and/or save the U-clamps and nuts; just cut them out.

  • Wear goggles.

  • Make sure the muffler you get a) is the correct size for your vehicle, and b) has a welded bracket for mounting. (You don’t want to try to install your own bracket on a muffler.)

  • Spend a little extra and use stainless steel U-clamps and nuts. That way, it’s a piece of cake to replace everything next time.

One more thing (I know this should be in IMHO, but oh well):

Don’t go to Midas. I have known literally dozens of people who have been screwed by them. Same goes for Precision Tune. Instead, find an honest, independent mechanic you trust (just like your personal MD), and take all your work to him.

Midas is expensive as hell. You should take the car to 2-3 other shops in your area and get other estimates. I’ve had several exhaust jobs done, complete from manifold to tailpipe, and its never cost anymore than about 300 dollars.
As far as doing it yourself, I would’nt recommend it. Even if you dont have to weld, you would still need a tubing bender unless you order the exhaust tubes special order,which would cost some bucks. You’d also have to buy a catalytic converter. All in all you would save yourself a big headache by allowing someone else to do it.

Of all the auto repairs I have attempted/accomplished, none is more potentially infuriating than muffler/tailpipe repair.

First of all, you’re going to need to get the car off the ground far enough to get underneath it, and do it safely. cost of decent jack- $150.00
Cost of jackstands- $25-30 each x 4= $100-$120
Miscellaneous specialty tools: 100-500 bucks, depending on the completeness of your tool kit now.

Cost of materials: varies depending on vehicle; your local muffler shop will make half of the parts there with their own bender, or buy them at a substantial discount. You can’t buy them cheaply as they can.
My Ford Probe had a muffler system that cost 290 bucks as component parts, not including the $400 catalytic converter.

Most importantly, you’re going to tak a chance on damaging other portions of your system- you may only start out needing a muffler and by banging and beating around on the system, wreck other parts, like the headpipe, catalytic converter, etc.

Next, you’ll get a lot of crap in your eyes, even wearing goggles, and burn yourself on your safety light, and possibly accidentally cut through a gas/brake line. Or worse, accidentally flatten one of said lines with a hammer blow, a far more serious and difficult to detect problem.

Of course, you’ll have the tools etc. after you’re done, and this creates a far worse problem. When a family member/friend/relative has a bad muffler, they’ll say "Hey, So-and-so has all that stuff, I’m sure he’d be GLAD to do the job for me FOR FREE if I just pay for the parts.

So you’ll get sucked into a lot of jobs helping people fix their cars for free.

Personal, painful experience speaks. Years and years of such experience. Shop around and find someone else to do it.


Exhaust systems are not a good do-it-yourself project. Even if it’s bolted on rather than welded all of the bolts will be rusted solid! And if you break the bolts that go into the manifold you’ve got problems. Not to mention that it’s hard to do anything crawling around under the car.

$650 is pretty high. Instead of a muffler chain like Midas try a regular auto repair shop. Even a Honda dealer might be a lot lower.

I’ve done an engine, transmissions, generators, water pumps, carbureators and parts in between. My work is sometimes better than some of the shops I have patronized. It all means nothing because I could not be bothered with the monumental pain in the caboose that automotive work represents.

Billy Rubin is spot on the money with this one.

Second, fergitabout Midass! They wanted $70.[sup]00[/sup] to replace a short length of tailpipe. I went to an reputable independent that I have gone to for years and the job was done for $18.[sup]00[/sup]. Shop around and beware the franchises that have a much higher overhead.

Appreciate the replies. I feel confident about being able to do this, but one main concern was the initial expense for special tools & jackstands, etc. After buying those, I’d probably be up in the Midas range and then what’s the point? At least with Midas I’d get a little piece of mind knowing it was done by a professional, and I’d leave with a lifetime warranty.

So the consensus seems to be that this is basically a low-tech gruntwork job, but something I still don’t want to invest in being able to do myself. I’ll take it to a mom & pop garage that did my emissions tuneup a few years ago.

(And for those who asked what kind of car it is, I did say it was a Prelude. '93 if that makes any difference.)

I saw Prelude but not '93. Must be my eyes. Hey, a car that old should have nuts that come off. Shucks, they come off 65 VWs easily.

YOu should have bought the Hanes manual for the car though, youll get detailed instructions.

Also, the muffler is more than just a muffler, there are pipes & you have to see how many of them to do.

Also, why do it? You got a big hole? Small ones you can just put some spiffy muffler patch on. Yep, you can buy that.

definitely go to the indie…OR, for repair tools, see if you can rent them from a rental store…you’d be surprised at what you can rent!
if you do go to an indie, see if he can repair rather than replace…this has worked for me remarkably well in the past…e.g., 20 rather than 259 bucks!