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It’s one of the first things car enthusiasts do for their latest project car: an exhaust system of some kind. It’s an affordable modification with instant gratification. Depending on the type, you can hear and even feel the difference without popping your hood. That’s typically the case with axle-back systems. So, which one is right for you, a cat-back and an axle-back exhaust system? 

Depending on your goals, a cat-back exhaust system will yield better results than an axle-back system, for a higher price

When modern car owners decide on exhaust upgrades, they often consider two options. The first, a cat-back exhaust system, replaces everything from the catalytic converter back. The second, an axle-back exhaust system, replaces the last section of pipe, typically the muffler and tips.

Consequently, installing an axle-back system could be as easy as jacking up a project car, removing exhaust clamps, and installing the new hardware. However, considering that a cat-back features more lengths of pipe, it’s a bit trickier to accommodate. 

Moreover, cat-backs and axle-back exhaust systems are extremely popular modifications for muscle car enthusiasts. Unlike pricier bolt-ons or internals, an affordable axle-back exhaust system could make your ride much louder and might even result in a modest horsepower increase. Better yet, a full cat-back exhaust system can transform the sound of your vehicle. 

A Borla ATAK cat-back exhaust system.
A full Borla ATAK exhaust system | Borla

What’s more, not every cat-back or axle-back does the same thing. For instance, some cat-back systems are straight-piped, meaning they go straight back from the catalytic converter to the exhaust tips. However, some incorporate an X-pipe or H-pipe at the midsection.

As such, you’ll have to decide how loud you want your vehicle to be after the installation. Many online retailers will rate how loud an out-of-the-box system is on a one through three scale. If you want maximum volume from a Ford Mustang or Chevrolet Camaro, something like a Borla ATAK cat-back system would do the trick. However, if you want modest performance gains without irritating your neighbor’s neighbor, a Magnaflow Street Series system with mufflers would be a better bet.

Consequently, you’ll need more than volume in mind when you pick your system. For instance, some cat-back systems can cost over $4,000. However, budget-minded DIYers can pick up an affordable axle-back exhaust system for less than $300.