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How to Measure Exhaust Noise

Updated February 21, 2017

The loud noise of car, truck and motorcycle mufflers has prompted legislation in many areas that limits the number of decibels allowed by vehicle exhaust. In such localities, police are enforcing noise reduction by measuring exhaust decibels or sending suspected offenders to testing sites for exhaust noise evaluation. Some states and cities have adopted laws requiring motorcycle mufflers to bear an EPA exhaust noise stamp. If you have an exhaust system that might cause concern, you should learn to measure the noise from your muffler as the authorities will to avoid running into problems.

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  1. Check the legal limit for loud noise from vehicle exhaust in your locality. Ask about the decibel limit and the RPM level for an engine during an exhaust noise test. Some laws in the U.S. are enacted and enforced by municipalities, or by entire states. Other nations have exhaust noise reduction laws in effect that apply to the whole country.

  2. Put on ear protection. Stop the vehicle on a solid flat surface and leave it running. Prepare a noise testing spot that is at least 25 feet away from any building or enclosed fence wall to avoid echo.

  3. Place the microphone of a decibel meter even with the level of the centre of the muffler exhaust opening. Locate the microphone 19 1/2 inches behind the tail pipe at a 45-degree angle to the opening. The microphone cannot be in the direct gas path from the exhaust.

  4. Set the decibel meter weighting for human ear frequencies, not the low frequency setting used to measure music. Several meters use "A" for ear frequencies and "C" for lower frequencies. Set the decibel range for the legal limit. That sets the maximum sound allocation in the centre of the needle sweep on the meter. Most localities set an absolute maximum between 90 and 100 decibels. Set the timing for either fast or slow for metering exhaust sound.

  5. Pull the throttle or depress the accelerator to rev the engine to 50 or 75 per cent of the safe RPM limit. Some localities test muffler noise with the engine at 50 per cent capacity while others test for excessively loud noise with the engine at 75 per cent running capacity.

  6. Read the decibel meter for number of decibels. The exact number shown is subject to a determined variable of plus or minus 10 or more decibels. Your sound level is within legal limits if the figure displayed falls between the variable determined for the meter. The exhaust noise is well within legal limits if the meter shows the range set is too high to measure the decibels. The sound is over the legally allowed limit if the range shows it is set too low.

  7. Tip

    Calculate the RPM percentage for running a motor to perform an exhaust sound test. Divide the red line RPM number by 2 to figure 50 per cent. Multiply the red line number by 75, then divide the answer by 100 to figure 75 per cent. If the red line is 16,000 RPMs, then 75 times that is 1,200,000. Then 1,200,000 divided by 100 is 12,000, so 12,000 RPMs is 75 per cent of 16,000 RPMs.

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Things You'll Need

  • Ear protection
  • Decibel meter with microphone
  • Measuring tape

About the Author

Jonra Springs began writing in 1989. He writes fiction for children and adults and draws on experiences in education, insurance, construction, aviation mechanics and entertainment to create content for various websites. Springs studied liberal arts and computer science at the College of Charleston and Trident Technical College.

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