At the ripe old age of 8, I remember, after my first day on the job at my father’s muffler shop I told him that I had “half a mind” to become a muffler installer like him. In the past it was believed that anyone could do muffler work. “You could train a monkey to do that job!” Those words came from the “elite” mechanics, who had glorious certifications, sewn on their sleeves. Exhaust technicians had never had such a thing as a “certification” patch until ASE final issued one ASE X1 in 2012. We were all trained on the job, and it was those burn scars, from the hot exhaust, that were our certification labels. Many years of hard work and great men like Doug Thorley, Gale Banks, Mr. Hooker, Ray Flugger, Jerry Paolone and the passionate engineers at the exhaust manufacturers, that we were recognized as a part of the automotive performance industry, helped us reach our status as craftsmen. That was the end of the ’50s and into today’s technology.

Once we hit the era of computer-controlled technology, the exhaust business really boomed. We had CNC (computer numerically controlled) benders, that would bend most configurations. We had “vector” measuring machines, that would measure a particular pipe shape, which we could input into our CNC machine to replicate that same shape. What this meant was that now most shops could install factory replacement parts. This was such a great convenience for their clients, but additional profit for the shops. Most any mechanic could replace a stock part, with the proper tools.

Then the demand came for “upgraded exhaust.” Performance engines demanded larger systems, to get the maximum efficiency.

Most manufacturers opened up a performance exhaust division. Their only challenge was to manufacture a performance muffler. The lines of the exhaust remained the same as the stock piping, so what they did was just change the diameter and radius of the tube, without changing the tube shape. This way they could offer the installer shops a performance system that fit within the confines of the factory systems.

Ah, but there are challenges awaiting the general repair shop. I owned a CNC machine and a vector. There were necessary calibration requirements to create a consistent shape (pipe shape). Every time I purchased a bundle of tubing, there were “bin” numbers on the tube. I would have to run a calibration part and measure it for “spring-back factors” (which caused overbends and underbends), and then punch those calibration numbers in my CNC machine. If I did not, then I may have some tube shapes that needed tweaking. Imagine you are a general repair shop and that pipe just does not quite fit where it is supposed to fit. Maybe there is not enough bend over the axle, or the tail end veers off to one side or the other. Are you prepared to make the proper adjustments? My pipe shapes are always consistent, because I was not a mass manufacturer who had a deadline to meet.

There are many exhaust manufacturers who build systems that consistently fit in their proper location. I have always shied away from the off-brand, no-name, online products. If you go that route, you usually do not have anyone to call about poor fitment. Buy your exhaust products from a known name, aftermarket manufacturer. Most of these manufacturers advertise in Undercar Digest, or are very well known in the performance world.

Neither the general repair shop, nor the specialty exhaust shop should worry about losing business to each other. There is plenty of work out there. I say “just because you saw a video on how to do brain surgery, does not make you a brain surgeon.” So, for the general repair shop, I would advise them to leave the custom exhaust work to the shop that specializes in exhaust. There truly is an art in crafting an exhaust that compliments what that engine was built to do. And I say to those performance exhaust shops, “don't veer too far off of the very reason you got into the exhaust business.” There is plenty of business out there for everyone.” Find a group of shops that complement each other, but have their own specialty. Know that their work is good for your clients and refer your good clients to them. They in turn will refer you business, if your work meets their expectations.

In the end, it is about satisfying a customer, who you want to be a lifelong customer.