Gotta get home for Christmas (and car repairs!)
December 14, 2010 2:04 PM   Subscribe

[Holiday Travels & Car repair Filter] In order to save a load of cash, I'm driving to my dad's house, where he'll repair my car's exhaust pipe for the cost of parts. But will I make it there???

I have a 1996 Honda Civic that has had an exhaust leak for a few months. I took it to a shop, where they said that replacing the exhaust pipe to fix the leak would cost $225, but because there was rust around the fitting to the pipe in front of the exhaust pipe, they were worried that they would damage that pipe also -- and the estimate went up several hundred dollars. Being a poor student, I asked them not to fix things, and called my mechanically-inclined father. The plan is to drive from Massachusetts to Pittsburgh next week.

The hole in the exhaust pipe has gotten pretty noisy, and I'm wondering if there are ways to dampen the sound and make sure that my exhaust pipe doesn't snap off in the middle of the interstate. (Is that even a serious possibility? The mechanic did say there was a lot of rust down where that pipe attaches....)

My roommate offered to help apply Muffler patch tape. Does anyone have any experience with this stuff? I've also seen various online forums where patching an exhaust pipe is as easy as cutting up a few soda cans. Any thoughts there?

Is trying to drive that far with a far-gone exhaust leak a really bad idea? Is there anything I can do to make it quieter/safer? Thanks!
posted by sk932 to Travel & Transportation (11 answers total)
Is the leak from a rusted out pipe, or is it at a connector or flange? If the former, there's a couple things you can do to keep it structurally OK (in all likelihood) until you get there. If it's at a flange or connector, I'd just chance it. Muffler repair tape is just going to make a mess in my experience without actually doing anything.

So, where is it leaking? Rusted out pipe? Rusted out muffler? Broken flange or connector? Blown out "o-ring" where the manifold meets the downpipe?

Personally I'd simply make sure that if it breaks completely where it's leaking, which is only likely if a pipe is almost completely rusted away, the remaining pieces aft of the break aren't going to fall off the car. Not sure how the Honda is engineered, but often exhausts are only held on at a couple points, one being the engine down pipe and the other being a muffler hanger towards the back. If the pipe broke way towards the front and the only other support was in the back, the pipe is going to fall to the ground and havoc ensues. I'd simply use some wire (baling type) to add an insurance support behind the potential break so the exhaust doesn't fall to the ground.

If the section is halfway along a pipe you can do something like take a steel can, like a peanut tin, cut the top and bottom off and then slice it along one side so you can slip it around the pipe. Use hose clamps to clamp the splice at either end. But it would be unusual for this to be a viable temporary would require the hole or damage to be along a relatively straight section of pipe not near a connector or muffler.

Otherwise, your exhaust is just going to be noisy, perhaps obnoxiously so. If it breaks under the car, just be sure to keep yourself aware of any fumes that might come into the car...use the fresh air setting on your heater and if you smell fumes, keep the windows cracked. Most modern cars are pretty well sealed so there isn't a lot of danger from this.
posted by maxwelton at 2:21 PM on December 14, 2010

You'll be fine. The muffler tape will keep down the noise and may keep your check engine light from coming on, so it's probably a good idea. You definitely don't want it falling off in the middle of the interstate for safety reasons, but your car will still be driveable without a muffler.

Just really loud and annoying.
posted by electroboy at 2:37 PM on December 14, 2010

The muffler on my old car went from sounding fine to making noise to falling completely off right before I got on the highway in a matter of days. The rubber donuts holding it up at the back failed when the pipe to the catalytic converter gave out, so the whole thing just dropped onto the street. It would have been very dangerous on the highway.

I have a friend in Chicago who drove his old car for about a year with the muffler completely gone. It was pretty loud, but neither of us died of carbon monoxide poisoning because we kept the windows open. Which is also why it was loud. :)

So if you are going to make the drive, you really should get under there and support the muffler by a method other than the pipe. Because if that gives out on the highway and falls off it could puncture someone's tire or worse.
posted by MonsieurBon at 3:19 PM on December 14, 2010

I usually used a bent metal coat hanger to secure the muffler and tailpipe so they wouldn't come loose from the pipe upstream and then drag along the interstate, throwing sparks and making even louder, more distressing sounds.

From experience, I can tell you that if the leak is so bad that exhaust is backing up into the engine, it won't idle without stalling. I managed a three-footed clutch/brake/heel-on-the-gas routine on my late 80s/early 90s Hondas that had exhaust leaks.

But if you can keep the thing attached to the car, you should be fine. I just kept the windows open a little, which made it easier to give apologetic looks to people stuck at lights next to me and my loud car.
posted by mgar at 3:21 PM on December 14, 2010

Chime on the you'll be fine. Climb under there and secure it with some wire (coat hangers and pliers work great), and just be sure to leave the windows cracked if you are stuck in gridlock or need to run the car to keep warm.
posted by stellaluna at 3:32 PM on December 14, 2010

My boyfriend is a Honda mechanic so here is what he says:

Is the leak in the exhaust manifold, A pipe or B pipe? Is it a hole or is it a break at the flange? If it's just a small hole, then don't worry about it breaking. And if it's the flange, and depending which one it is, there might not be anything you can do for it. He needs to know which pipe is affected before he can say what to do.

Anyway, I had the same thing happen to my '98 Honda Civic. There was a leak in the B pipe which ended up snapping while I was driving down the road. My boyfriend says this is a VERY common problem with Honda Civics, he fixes these things all the time.

He says there's a good chance that it might become too complicated for your father to fix, since rust and salt (from roads up north) are major problems when dealing with exhaust fixes. Since the other mechanic said there was a lot of rust, he says that this is probably not going to be an easy fix. There's speciality hardware you're going to need to get and he also said to not buy any after market parts. Buy Honda OEM parts because he says that aftermarket parts for all things exhaust, especially up north, don't last as long as OEM parts. They're going to be more expensive but they will last you much, much longer and save you money in the long run. Fill us in with some more details and I can give you some more advice.
posted by MaryDellamorte at 4:03 PM on December 14, 2010

Response by poster: Thanks for the answers so far! I'll try to get under the car for a peak at the exhaust pipe hole in the morning. I'm not sure how close the hole is to the flange exactly, but the hole is on the B pipe, because the mechanic was worried about damage to the A pipe because of the rust around the flange. My father's a pretty darn competent amateur mechanic (rebuilding engines for our cars and such), so whatever the problem is, I'm sure he can fix it. Just a matter of getting it there. Mary D: thanks for the advice about the OEM parts -- we've had this car 10+ years and have done several exhaust repairs to date. I'm tired of these problems!
posted by sk932 at 5:21 PM on December 14, 2010

Bring tin snips. If it falls off in some upsetting way, snip the offending parts off and be on your way. Oh, bring heavy canvas gloves, too, so you don't get sliced by rusty parts. I drove an '84 Jetta with no muffler for a couple of years in Chicago, and if I didn't get a ticket, you won't either.
posted by davejay at 9:52 PM on December 14, 2010

Oh yeah, and keep the windows open some.
posted by davejay at 9:53 PM on December 14, 2010

Seconding the 'wire hanger' solution - ages ago I had a muffler and exhaust pipe rust through and just sort of settle, loose, in my undercarriage. I got under there, wired it in but good, and that held up and maintained the illusion of mufflertude until I could scrape up enough funds to get a proper repair done.
posted by FatherDagon at 2:12 PM on December 15, 2010

If it falls off in some upsetting way, snip the offending parts off and be on your way. Oh, bring heavy canvas gloves, too, so you don't get sliced by rusty parts.

Erm, wait a good long while AFTER it snaps off before manhandling, should that occur - if you've been driving for more than a few minutes, it will likely be HOT AS HELL.
posted by FatherDagon at 2:16 PM on December 15, 2010

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