Symptoms of an Automobile Exhaust Leak

Written by marysia walcerz
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Symptoms of an Automobile Exhaust Leak
The tail pipe is the exit point for car exhaust. (double exhaust pipe image by green 308 from Fotolia.com)

Keeping your car functioning properly and on the road is the goal for every car owner. It's important to pay attention to any irregularities in your car so that you can catch issues before they develop into major problems requiring expensive repairs. With an exhaust leak, understanding the exhaust system is the first step toward being able to identify and diagnose the symptoms.

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The Exhaust System

The primary job of the exhaust system in a car is to channel harmful gases produced by fuel combustion, such as carbon monoxide, away from the interior of the car and out into the air. The secondary job of the exhaust system is to limit the amount of harmful emissions that the car produces. The exhaust system also serves to reduce the amount of noise that your engine makes.

The exhaust system is made up of the exhaust manifold, which is connected to the exhaust pipe, which connects to the catalytic converter, muffler, and finally the tail pipe. The exhaust manifold collects harmful gases, and channels them to the catalytic converter (often just called the "cat"). The catalytic converter then converts those gases into less harmful gases, like carbon dioxide. The muffler muffles the loud noises that the car engine creates, and the tail pipe releases the newly converted gases into the air.

Problematic Noises

The first sign of an exhaust leak is often the noise that is made by one broken part of the exhaust system. Any noise coming from the undercarriage of your car, such as a clunk, thump or rattle, should be examined for potential problems. You can often diagnose where the leak might be based on where the noise is emanating from. A loud clicking, roaring, popping or ticking sound coming from the engine can indicate a cracked exhaust manifold, and increased noise from your engine in general can mean that the muffler is the issue. The tail pipe is another source of an exhaust leak -- if you hear a ticking, a high-pitched hissing or a whistling noise coming from the tail pipe, it's definitely time to examine it for a potential exhaust leak.

Unusual Smells

The smell of leaking exhaust is another easy giveaway that you're dealing with an exhaust problem. The primary goal of the exhaust system is to channel harmful gases out of the car -- if you're smelling exhaust inside of your car, there's clearly a leak somewhere that's allowing it to recirculate back in. A sharp, acidic or unusually sweet smell can be an indicator of noxious emissions that are leaking into your car from a break in the exhaust system.

Visual Signs

A quick examination of the parts of your exhaust system can also help identify symptoms of an exhaust leak. Rust, corrosion or cracks in the tail pipe or muffler are common signs of a leaking exhaust system. You should also look for exhaust coming out of your car from anywhere that isn't the tail pipe, a clear sign that exhaust is leaking from somewhere it shouldn't be.

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