Classic Inlines
603 W Pecos Ave
Mesa, AZ 85210


 
Header and Exhaust System Maintenance

High-performance mufflers and exhaust systems are as much about looks and sound as they are about horsepower. Most people want mufflers and exhaust systems that look and sound as good as they perform. That's easily accomplished when the parts are new, but how about two or three years down the road?

Keeping your headers and exhaust system looking like new, is a simple task that is often overlooked or disregarded. However, those that take the time to properly clean and polish these components, not only have an engine bay they are proud to show off, they greatly extend the service life of their exhaust components. While valve covers and oil caps are cheap to replace, custom headers and/or exhaust systems can be very expensive items. Especially if they are ceramic coated, chromed, or made from Stainless steel. Therefore it is essential to provide proper maintenance on a regular basis. In this article, we explain how to maintain the various finishes and materials that are commonly used in exhaust systems.

TIP: Preventative maintenance includes checking for loose or missing fasteners, gasket leaks, and checking the over-all condition of the exhaust system, including pipe hangers, exhaust clamps, and flange connections.

TIP: Exhaust system corrosion will occur if moisture (condensation) is present in the exhaust system.  Make sure that the vehicle is driven at least 20 to 30 minutes, when ever the car is started, to completely eliminate any moisture that is created by the combustion process.  Failure to do so may result in the pipes rusting from the inside out (excluding stainless steel).

TIP: Header coating damage usually occurs during the first engine break-in period, when the exhaust temperatures often exceed 1200°F. due to excessively lean or rich air/fuel mixtures and/or incorrect ignition timing.  For this reason we strongly recommend using an old set of headers or your stock cast iron manifold for your first engine run-up or break-in. Prior to installing your coated headers, make sure the air/fuel mixture and ignition timing are properly set. Also remove any fingerprints, grease, oil, or any foreign material before, starting the engine, which prevents the possibility of baking them on, permanently.

TIP: When storing your car for an extended period of time, park the car over a large sheet of plastic or a tarp.  This will protect your car, headers, and exhaust system from moisture seeping up through the floor or the ground.  Wipe down the headers and dry thoroughly, then coat the headers with WD-40. Pay particular attention to the areas where the tubes are welded to the header flanges and where the tubes come in close proximity to each other (especially where the tubes enter the collectors).  These areas are prone to rusting, as most coatings are unable to get between the tubes in these areas, during the coating process. If rust occurs, it will travel into and under the coating.  When you are ready to start the car after storage, remove the WD-40 by following the appropriate cleaning procedures below.

Powder Coated

While powder coatings are more durable than spray paint, proper cleaning methods must be observed to maintain the appearance. Never use any type of solvent, steel wool, scouring pads, or strong de-greasers to clean powder coated headers. Solvents or strong cleaning materials may lift the paint, as will gasoline, brake fluid and other chemicals, which must be wiped off immediately. Even then, it may be too late.

Prior to cleaning, rinse off any loose dirt with clean water, then use a mild detergent and warm water, or a non-solvent based cleaner (such as Simple Green), with a soft non-abrasive cloth or sponge, to clean the surfaces. When you are finished cleaning, rinse again with plenty of clean water and dry thoroughly.

Touching up small scratches and nicks is very important to the maintenance and care of powder coated headers. Any spot where bare metal is exposed, no matter how small, becomes a breeding ground for rust. If left un-checked, the rust can spread into or under the coating, eventually turning the header into a mass of twisted junk.

Touch-up should only be done to repair minor surface scratches and nicks. Don’t try to use touch-up paints to fix large scratches, or areas that have corrosion problems. Your best bet at that point, is to strip the part and start over. While there are many liquid touch-up paints available for powder coated finishes, it may be difficult to find touch-up paint that's suitable for high temp applications. Choosing a touch-up paint should only be done after consulting the powder coat formulator, which ensures compatibility. If you don't do this, you risk lifting the paint, or having adhesion issues. Bottom line, choose a touch-up paint you can apply, make sure it has the same level of performance as the original coating, and do your utmost to ensure compatibility.

The best product for blending touch-ups or light surface blemishes, is 3M’s Finesse, which is available at most auto body supply stores.

Ceramic Coated

Ceramic coatings are highly durable and will last for many years with proper care. However the durability and appearance is usually determined by the tune of your engine and proper maintenance. Excessive exhaust gas temperatures, caused by improper fuel/air mixtures (too rich or too lean), incorrect ignition timing, and/or excessive boost, can severely dull the appearance, and may result in Flaking. While it may be possible to restore the appearance by polishing, excessive damage normally requires re-coating the header.

Never use any type of solvent, steel wool, paper towels, scouring pads, scratch removers (unless clear coat safe), or strong de-greasers to clean silver ceramic coatings. Solvents and strong cleaning materials can dull the shine, and may damage the coating. Wipe gasoline, brake fluid and other chemicals from the coated parts as soon as possible.

Prior to cleaning, rinse off any loose dirt with clean water, then use a mild detergent and warm water, or a non-solvent based cleaner (such as Simple Green), with a soft non-abrasive cloth or sponge, to clean the surfaces. When you are finished cleaning, rinse again with plenty of clean water and dry thoroughly.

To polish ceramic coatings use a soft cloth and a non-abrasive metal polish. We recommend "Cermaglow Metallic Ceramic Polish" which is available from Eastwood, or Wenol Metal Polish (see below). To remove small scratches or scuffs, use a "clear coat safe" chrome polish or scratch remover.

TIP: Anytime you work on ceramic coated headers, wipe them down with a non-solvent based cleaner (such as Simple Green) and a soft cloth, and allow to dry thoroughly before starting the engine.

Chrome Plated

Chrome is highly functional, resists tarnishing, and outshines just about any other finish. Yet, as tuff as it is, chrome will oxidize, rust, and pit. There's nothing more discouraging than a pitted valve cover or header, in an otherwise neat and well organized engine bay. However, with proper maintenance and a quality metal polish, this can be prevented.

Prior to cleaning, rinse off any loose dirt with clean water, then use a mild detergent and warm water, or a non-solvent based cleaner (such as Simple Green), with a soft non-abrasive cloth or sponge, to clean the surfaces. When you are finished cleaning, rinse again with plenty of clean water and dry thoroughly. Polish if required.

Polishing is extremely important, as it removes the surface oxidation that feeds rust. Polishing compounds can also be used to buff out small scratches and blemishes, that if left unchecked, become breeding grounds for rust. While there are many excellent products available, we recommend Wenol Metal Polish (see recommended products below). Blue Job is recommend for removing the bluish tint found on chrome parts which have been exposed to heat. Never-dull Wadding Polish also works well, especially for small touch-ups.

TIP: Anytime you work on chrome headers, wipe them down with rubbing alcohol and a soft cloth, and allow to dry thoroughly before starting the engine.

Aluminized Steel

Aluminized steel is normally carbon steel that has been hot-dip coated with an aluminum-silicon alloy. The coating process assures a tight metallurgical bond between the steel tubing and the aluminum coating, producing a material that has a unique combination of properties that neither steel or aluminum can offer on their own. Aluminized steel offers improved corrosion resistance, however once the coating has been damaged, it can not be repair. As such, the best maintenance, is preventative maintenance. In other words, use what ever precautions are necessary, so as not to scratch the coating during installation.

Never use any type of solvent, steel wool, paper towels, scouring pads, or de-greasers to clean Aluminized steel. Solvents and strong cleaning materials may damage the coating. Use mild soap and water, or a non-solvent based cleaner (such as Simple Green), with a soft non-abrasive cloth, for cleaning. Never polish Aluminized steel, simply clean and wipe dry. We have heard that "Never-Dull Wadding" works, however we've never tried it, so we can't say for sure. I would suggest trying it on a place that isn't visible, just in case.
Stainless Steel

Unlike chrome, Stainless steel won't rust or pit, unless exposed to excessive amounts of road salt, however it will oxidize and change color over time. This is normally due to the various compounds used to clean and polish Stainless steel. Many polishing compounds are comprised of various types of metal, which are ground into very fine particulates. These particles become embedded in the microscopic pores, which eventually oxidize and turn a yellow/gold in appearance.

For routine cleaning, rinse off any loose dirt with clean water, then use a mild detergent and warm water, or a non-solvent based cleaner (such as Simple Green), with a soft non-abrasive cloth or sponge, to clean the surfaces. When you are finished cleaning, rinse again with plenty of clean water and dry thoroughly.

For stubborn stains, oil and grease, use organic solvents such as acetone, methylated spirits, alcohol, or specialty stainless steel cleaners. Use a rag, sponge, or old toothbrush for cleaning in tight places. Do not use ordinary steel wool, iron particles can become embedded in stainless steel and cause more problems. Stainless steel or Scotch-brite scouring pads are recommended. When finished, rinse well with clean water and wipe dry.

While there are many excellent products for polishing, we recommend Wenol Metal Polish. It does a great job on Stainless steel and is strong enough to remove tough stains, surface oxidation, surface rust, and water spots. Blue Job is recommend to remove bluing.

Recommended Products

Wenol was developed in Germany over 30 years ago and still remains one of the best polishes you can use on hard metals. Everyone from antique dealers, to mechanics, to the U.S. military, use Wenol to remove tarnish and rust, and to restore a sparkling shine on a variety of metal items. Wenol is one of the most trusted and widely used metal polishes on the market, because it really works, and it's safe to use on all metals as it contains no toxic or acidic ingredients.


Wenol Red was designed to clean, polish, and preserve bare metal surfaces. It removes heavy oxidation and tarnish from brass, copper, chrome, aluminum, pewter, stainless steel, and painted enamel finishes. Simply apply a small amount of Wenol Metal Polish to a damp polishing cloth, and rub gently. On tough stains, rub slightly longer, not harder. Then use a soft dry cloth to buff off the residue. Once you’ve removed the blemishes, use Wenol Blue to achieve a brilliant shine, and to protect the metal from corrosion and water spotting.





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