Wednesday, July 15, 2009

A Redneck Repair

This is a blog about a handy person and from time to time, a handyman has to what he does best and that's to fix something. Well, I have a 2003 Dodge Intrepid that needed a bit of fixing up several months ago, but I've put it off because it cost too much money. The exhaust system from the muffler back was starting to rot out and leak through the drain holes. This wasn't just water mind you, but a towel applied to the business end of the tailpipe confirmed three exhaust leaks. There was nothing in the way of sound, but this is still dangerous because any gases that don't make it past the rear bumper usually end up in the cabin. This is bad news as we take our little ones in this car. The pipes and the resonator up front were in great shape, as they get the full heat of the engine and little condensation lingers in these parts.

On the other hand, mufflers farther downstream tend to accumulate a lot of moisture and acids that build up as a result of combustion. Even the best stainless steel parts will corrode over time as these corrode from within and without. Salt tends to eat these parts and Michigan's roads tend to need a lot of it during the winter. The car is six years old with 78,000 miles; something needed to be done. A look at Autozone's website showed the rear resonator at $43 and the muffler at $49. Add four clamps and a turn down and that would have been in excess of $120. A muffler shop would have wanted to redo the whole system. This would have been closer to $400 to $600 by my reckoning. Instead, a trip to Meijer was in order. Two Cherry Bomb turbo mufflers at $22 apiece, a turn down and one 18" straight pipe and elbow (about 8" to 10" radius) at $6 apiece and 6 clamps at $2 apiece and two hangers at $6 meant a grand total of $70 with tax.

But how does it sound, well, you'll have to wait...

First of all, this is how I did something and not how you should do it. If you have any questions about safety, don't do this and take it in. I'm a terminal cheapskate and don't like spending money. I will not take responsibility for your success or failure in any repair. Now that the niceties are out of the way...

First things first are to raise the rear of the car. I use ramps whenever feasible and to set the parking brake. Choking the front wheels would be a good idea too. Wear safety goggles and gloves when working on exhaust system. Do not use a torch for this work as you're more likely to do more harm than good. A sawzall works great for getting a welded exhaust system into manageable pieces. I cut the pipe going into the muffler (the one behind the rear axle) as close to the weld as possible, without leaving any weld attached. Cut the metal part of hanger going into the rubber insulator next, then cut the other metal hanger attached to the rear resonator. A ground strap is attached to this part; cut this off with the sawzall or a pair of dikes (wire cutters).

Next is to remove the mess from underneath the car and place a turbo muffler on the stub of the pipe. These are 2 1/4 O.D. or outside diameter, so the mufflers will need to be 2 1/4 I.D. or inside diameter. A clamp goes on next, snugged finger tight. Cut swagged end off the 18" piece and discard. Then cut the remainder into equal-sized pieces. File or grind off the burrs and insert one of the pipes into the downstream end of the muffler. Install the elbow and loosely clamp both joints. Level this relative to the car and snug these down.

Now the next part is tricky. Hopefully you anticipated the pipe clearing the spare tire well. The muffler needs to go on that end of the elbow and a clamp to hold it in place. But first you need to remove the rubber insulator behind the rear axle and discard it. Then remove the rear exhaust hanger with a 1/2" wrench. Throw this away too. Next, you will want to position the hangers on the body. I used the hole for the original resonator hanger and the one which supports the fuel filler tube for mine. The hangers I used were the ones that use the clamps from the new install. They look cleaner, but remember, they need to line up with the clamps to work right. Leave the screws loose for now.

Install the second turbo muffler on the elbow and clamp it. Make sure everything is level to the rest of the car and doesn't hit the body. Install the other piece of pipe you cut and the turn down, clamping each and hooking the hanger into the last clamp. Make sure everything is tight, but not so tight you break the clamps. Carefully level everything out and even a little tilt toward the rear of the car might not be a bad idea. Leave the parking brake set and start the car. Using a towel. block off the end of the tailpipe and wave your hand over the joints. There should be no gases blowing on your hand. Satisfied the exhaust isn't leaking, nudge the accelerator while sitting in the car with your foot on the brake and the transmission in park. There should be no buzzing, rattling, excessive noise or banging. If so, shut off the car and check, if not, get the car off the ramps and take it for a test drive.

As for the sound, despite the Cherry Bomb brand, the system will sound the same as it did before, albeit a little throatier. I'm 39 years old and even as a teenager, I liked a quiet vehicle. Besides, the 2.7 liter on most Intrepids does not sound good unmuffled. The Intrepid is now safe and quiet with a minimal investment. When I went to get the parts, a service advisor from a local Chevy dealer warned me this would be loud. Happily, when this is done right, the car is almost factory quiet and sounds better than new. God bless!

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