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What Is A Resonator On A Car? (Full Explanation)

Cars are complicated pieces of machinery, packed with a multitude of different parts and components that contribute to the way they run. One of these components is the resonator, which plays a major part in the way your car sounds. This may leave you wondering just what a resonator does on the car.

A car’s resonator is a component in the exhaust pipe that changes the sound of the engine before it gets to the muffler, and is the component that lowers the sound the engine makes. It is an important component as it determines how loud the car is and what the noise sounds like inside the car.

It is easy to get the resonator’s job mixed up with the job of the muffler, as they tend to be next to each other on the exhaust pipe. In this article, we will discuss in greater detail what the resonator does, as well as its relationship with the muffler, and whether you should remove your resonator.

What Does A Resonator Do?

The job of a resonator is simple. It is a system installed in the exhaust that changes the sounds your car makes before they reach the muffler, which quietens the sound of the car. This means that you will be able to drive in relative peace, without your thoughts being drowned out by the loud roar of your car’s engine. While the job of the resonator is simple, it relies on science to make it work.

The original idea for the inclusion of a noise quietening mechanism inside cars came all the way back in the 1950s and 1960s, when cars were beginning to get very loud. This prompted manufacturers to create larger mufflers, but they realized that these mechanisms were greatly reducing the car’s horsepower and harming the car’s fuel economy.

Adding a resonator into the exhaust system before the muffler meant that there would be a greater flow through the car’s exhaust system, thus reducing the noise created without compromising the horsepower or fuel economy of the car.

How Resonators Work

Resonators consist of multiple pipes that contain perforations encased in metal chambers. When the sound of the engine passes through these pipes, they will act as echo-chambers, changing the sound that is made. These chambers are insulated with material in order to better absorb the sound that is passing through. The pipes work best when travelling at higher speeds, preventing droning sounds.

Resonators won’t make the sound coming from the engine any quieter, but they will instead change its pitch and frequency before the sound travels to the muffler. Therefore, resonators are often referred to as ‘pre-mufflers’ as they prepare the sound for quietening. When the resonator and muffler are working perfectly, the noise heard inside the car will be greatly reduced.

Do You Need A Resonator On Your Exhaust?

You don’t need a resonator on your exhaust, but it’s strongly recommended that you do have one. They come as standard on all cars as they help to reduce the pitch of the engine noise before it reaches the muffler, and so both components help to reduce your car’s noise levels.

Having a resonator on your car’s exhaust will be beneficial in a number of ways. First, it will control the noise coming from your car, making the drive quieter for you and the people around you. So, it will greatly reduce the chances of getting any noise complaints from the neighbors as well as helping you get from A to B in peace and quiet.

If you like the idea of having a slightly louder car, removing the resonator may not be the way to go. Changing the muffler is the better option if you want a bit more noise, as that is the component that controls the decibel output from the car. If you’re looking for a lot more noise, you could consider swapping the resonator for a straight pipe, although it may cause some complications.

Complications From Removing The Resonator

One of the main jobs of the resonator is to help control the flow going through the exhaust. Disrupting this flow will cause your car to be less fuel efficient and worsen your carbon dioxide emissions. This may cause you to fail an emissions test, as well as costing a lot more money in fuel. It may also mean you have a permanent warning light come up on your dashboard.

While removing the resonator will make it louder inside the car, there is no guarantee that it will make the noise emanating from the outside of the car noticeably louder. It all depends on your motives, but it could leave you with an uncomfortable sounding interior, with very little to show for it on the outside. 

While you may be able to drive without a resonator, it is a very important mechanism for your overall comfort and fuel economy. Ultimately, the answer to the question of whether you need a resonator on your car is down to personal preference, but it is greatly recommended that you do have one.

KEY POINTS

• Resonators lower the pitch of your car’s engine

• It works with the muffler to reduce the noise your car makes

• You can remove it, but it’s not recommended

Muffler vs Resonator Differences

The muffler won’t be able to do its job properly without a resonator, and vice versa. The two components work in tandem to control the sounds coming from the car, but they are very different. Think of it in American football terms: the resonator is the quarterback, distributing the ball (correct sound frequencies) to the receiver, or in this case, the muffler, to get the touchdown (correct sound output). 

Different Construction

The build of the resonator is distinctive. It has a hollow metal chamber with holes all the way round it to allow sound to escape through. This chamber is wrapped in insulating material which will dampen the different sound frequencies, producing a more consistent sound wave. This material will be wrapped and often double-wrapped in metal to stop any sound escaping.

Mufflers don’t have the insulation padding that you see in resonators. Instead, they will have two tubes side by side. One of these tubes receives the sound frequencies from the resonator among the gases and fumes flowing through the exhaust, while the other tube is responsible for letting everything escape out of the back of the car. 

The tubes in the muffler are perforated, but not to the same extent as those in the resonator tube. These perforations effectively reflect the sound waves into each other, causing them to cancel each other out through destructive interference, quietening the overall noise. There is a lot more open space inside the muffler where sound waves can move around and hit each other. 

Different Placement

The two components are placed at different parts along the exhaust system, with the resonator coming first to do the main bulk of the work, before the sound waves reach the muffler. The two components are always placed as separate parts, and they’re usually connected by a short, curved pipe. 

Performance Differences

Mufflers have a greater impact on the performance of the car as they create backpressure. This was first experienced in the 50s and 60s, when manufacturers were experimenting with different types of mufflers. They noticed that mufflers that reduced the sound too much slowed the car down, reducing its horsepower. Resonators have much less of an impact in this way. 

Removing One Of These Components

Another difference between the two parts is the effect caused by removing one of them. Removing the muffler will make your exhaust sound louder, as the sound is no longer being muffled. If you choose to remove the resonator and keep the muffler, your car will sound more unique, but it will drone at certain speeds, and be far less fuel efficient. 

When To Change Your Exhaust Resonator

Poor Performance & Fuel Economy

As with any component of your car, the resonator will be vulnerable to wear and tear over time and will eventually need changing if you plan on keeping your car for a long time. There are a few signs to spot to know when it’s the right time to upgrade your resonator, with the first one being a decline in vehicle performance and fuel economy. 

If the time comes when your car is no longer able to put in the same number of miles as it used to, you may very well need to look at your resonator. As it is partially responsible for keeping the flow of exhaust gases going efficiently, any drop in its performance will be noticeable and have consequences. The same will be the case with the amount of power your car can emit. 

The Car Sounds Different

Another of the easily notable changes will be to the sound of the car. If your car begins to sound different, it may be because of a flawed resonator failing to deal with sound frequencies correctly. 

Engine Won’t Start 

If your engine fails to start at all, it could also be an issue linked to a faulty resonator. While the issue could be as a result of myriad other mechanical failures, it is a potential symptom of a damaged resonator.

Warning Lights

Modern cars are also very good at letting us know when an issue arises. If your resonator is failing, you will likely get a warning light come up on the dashboard. This light could be specific, or it could be a general engine warning. Either way, it is worth having a look at your resonator to make sure it is functioning correctly. 

Potential Hazards

Along with other components, a failing resonator can emit bad smells into the car. These can potentially be dangerous and should never be ignored. If you intend to operate on your resonator yourself, rather than going to a garage, it is important to take precautions when checking it out. 

You’ll need to be in a well-ventilated area, as being in an unventilated space could leave you at risk of inhaling dangerous gases. Resonators can get very hot if they have been used extensively, so be sure to let everything cool down before you get to work. If you’re no expert on the ins and outs of cars, the easiest method would be to take the car to a garage for a full diagnosis.

KEY POINTS

• The resonator and muffler on your car both work together to reduce the sound it makes

• They both need to be working properly for maximum effect

• There are many ways to tell if your resonator needs to be replaced 

Does Removing Your Resonator Increase Horsepower?

Removing your resonator can slightly increase your car’s horsepower. However, the gain is usually very small, and may not be worth it due to the drawbacks of removing the resonator. This will affect how your car sounds and it may also impact your fuel economy, costing you more in the long run.

Removing the resonator (also called a resonator delete) will add around five horsepower to some cars, with some experiencing less of a boost and some experiencing more. By removing the resonator, you will be removing any buildup of dirt or soot in the exhaust pipe, which would help the flow of exhaust gases to move through the pipe. 

Should You Remove Your Resonator?

While the answer to whether you should remove your resonator will come down to personal preference, there are a few positives and negatives to doing so. Removing the resonator can change the sound that your car makes, making it sound deeper.

It doesn’t cost a great deal to remove the resonator compared to other vehicle modifications, so it is a change you can make if you are on a low budget. No other maintenance will need to be done after the initial job. There is also the bonus of potentially having a slight boost in horsepower once the resonator has been removed.

Negative Points To Consider

Changing anything in a well-manufactured system is bound to have its negatives and removing the resonator from your exhaust pipe is no exception. Most modern cars have sophisticated exhaust systems which will keep air flowing efficiently throughout the pipe. If you tamper with this, it can cause the exhaust to work less efficiently than it would have before, leading to potential complications.

Removing the resonator will likely write off your car’s warranty, as you have made a major modification to the exhaust unit. Add to this the potential to fail an emissions test, and it can appear more trouble than it is worth. Making such a big change to the exhaust system will change the amount of backpressure in the muffler, which will likely trigger your car’s engine light warning.

Overall, the positives of removing the resonator can be drowned out by the obvious negatives, and the hassle that it takes to perform the removal. It should be noted that a resonator delete doesn’t have to be a permanent move, and you can get it reinstalled should you feel the need. 

Final Thoughts

The resonator is an important component of your car’s exhaust, operating alongside the muffler to control the noise of the car. It also helps gases flow efficiently through the exhaust pipe, which can help to improve your vehicle’s fuel economy. Removing your car’s resonator is not recommended.