Are Long Tube Headers Legal? Your Friendly Guide

Long tube headers are a popular modification among car enthusiasts seeking to boost their vehicle’s performance. However, the legality of these modifications can be a concern, as they may not comply with state and federal guidelines.

A thorough understanding of the associated laws can help drivers make informed decisions about their modifications. In this article, you will get to know these accessories in and out.

In most states in the US, long tube headers are illegal due to their impact on the catalytic converter and oxygen sensor.

However, some drivers may still use them if they avoid tampering with these particular components. It’s essential to consider local regulations and how they apply to your vehicle.

While exploring long tube headers, it’s important to consider the noise they produce. The loud sound might be appealing to car enthusiasts, but it may not be appreciated by neighbors, leading to disputes or potential legal issues.

So, before deciding on long tube headers as a modification, carefully weigh all the relevant factors, including potential consequences.

Are Long Tube Headers Legal

Are Long Tube Headers Legal?

Long tube headers are popular among car enthusiasts for their potential performance boost. However, their legality varies across the United States due to different state laws and federal regulations. It’s essential to understand these guidelines before making modifications to your vehicle.

Federal Laws

Federal law prohibits tampering with the catalytic converter and oxygen sensors in any vehicle. Long tube headers can be legal, as long as they don’t interfere with these emissions components. If modifications comply with this requirement, it’s more likely to be acceptable on the road.

State Laws

On a state level, laws regarding long tube headers and exhaust systems tend to differ. Some states may permit their use, while others may have stricter emissions regulations.

To determine the legality in your specific state, it is crucial to consult local laws or visit an authorized inspection station.

Power and Performance

Long tube headers can increase both horsepower and torque. They achieve this by offering better exhaust scavenging and reducing backpressure. In turn, this leads to improved performance.

RPM Range

The design of long tube headers allows them to perform well at higher RPM ranges. Since they have longer primary tubes, they’re more efficient at extracting exhaust gasses from the engine during higher RPMs. This allows your engine to breathe more efficiently at higher speeds

Turbocharged Engines

For turbocharged engines, long tube headers can help reduce turbo lag and improve performance.

With less backpressure, the turbo can spool up more quickly, providing a more responsive and potent boost. However, it’s essential to ensure proper compatibility and installation to maximize gains.

Are Long Tube Headers Legal

Emission Laws and Regulations

Federal Emission Laws

Emission laws in the United States are governed by the EPA. They regulate standards for various engine types, including light-duty vehicles. Long tube headers are generally illegal under federal law when they tamper with the catalytic converter and oxygen sensor 1.

Specific State Regulations

State regulations can vary, but most states disallow long tube headers on pollution-controlled vehicles 2. Here’s a brief overview of a few states:

  • California: Known for strict emission laws, long tube headers are illegal unless they have a CARB executive order number.
  • Arkansas, Iowa, Kansas, Virginia, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Alaska, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, New York, Ohio, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Washington, West Virginia: While details vary, long tube headers generally aren’t legal for emissions-controlled vehicles in these states.

Different states have different testing procedures and rules, so it’s always best to check your state’s specific regulations.

Different Types of Headers Used in Vehicles

Long Tube Headers

Long tube headers (LTS) provide improved power in high RPM ranges. They are made of stainless steel and have a meaner exhaust sound. These headers are often not legal due to the loud exhaust sound.

Shorty Headers

Shorty headers work well in limited space engine bays, such as lowered cars. They offer better low-end torque and are often more legal than long tube headers.

Equal Length Headers

Equal length headers distribute exhaust gasses evenly to provide a smoother flow. This design leads to consistent cylinder scavenging, improving overall performance.

Unequal Length Headers

Unequal length headers offer a unique exhaust note, creating a distinctive rumble. They still provide performance gains but often less than equal length headers.

Are Long Tube Headers Legal

Effects of Headers on Exhaust System

Sound and Loudness

Long tube headers alter the sound of your exhaust system, making it louder and more aggressive. This is a result of gasses flowing more directly into the collector pipe.

Back Pressure

Long tube headers reduce back pressure in the exhaust system. Less back pressure can lead to better engine performance, as it allows exhaust gasses to escape more efficiently.

Emissions Control

One issue with long tube headers is their effect on emissions control. Removing factory headers can cause issues with the catalytic converter, making it difficult to meet emissions standards.

O2 Sensors

When installing long tube headers, the placement of O2 sensors may be different from stock headers. Make sure the O2 sensors are correctly installed to maintain proper engine function and emissions control.

Installation and Compatibility

Long tube headers replace the stock exhaust manifold in a vehicle. They are designed to improve exhaust flow and performance. However, their legality varies from state to state due to some factors like noise and emission standards1.

The installation process of long tube headers can be more complex than shorty headers3. This is because they often require additional modifications to fit properly. Despite this, many car enthusiasts appreciate the performance benefits of long tube headers when compared to stock exhaust manifolds.

Compatibility is an essential factor to consider. Long tube headers are often recommended for high-rev vehicles, while shorty headers or stock exhaust manifolds may be better suited for daily drivers2.

If you’re unsure about the legality of long tube headers in your state, it’s advisable to check local regulations before installation. Additionally, always choose long tube headers that are compatible with your vehicle’s exhaust system4.

Pros and Cons

Benefits of Long Tube Headers

  • Performance boost: Long tube headers improve engine performance by providing better exhaust flow. This leads to increased horsepower and torque1.
  • Improved sound: These headers produce a deep, aggressive exhaust sound, which many enthusiasts find appealing3.
  • Fuel efficiency: As long tube headers have larger exhaust port pipes, they can improve fuel efficiency in some cases2.

Drawbacks of Long Tube Headers

  • Legality: Long tube headers may not be legal in some states due to their impact on emissions systems4.
  • Installation: Installing long tube headers can be more complex and time-consuming compared to shorty headers5.
  • Cost: Long tube headers tend to be more expensive than their shorty counterparts6.

Are Long Tube Headers Legal

Potential Uses of Long Tube Headers

Track Cars

Long tube headers help track cars benefit from increased engine performance and overall horsepower gains. These enhancements lead to better lap times for racing enthusiasts.

Using long tube headers on track cars is more acceptable, as they often aren’t subject to the same regulations as street-legal cars.

Daily Drivers

For daily drivers, legality becomes a concern when installing long tube headers. Due to their potential impact on emissions, they might not be a suitable choice for everyday use.

However, there are other aftermarket modifications available that are legal and beneficial for daily drivers, such as shorty headers or cat-back exhaust systems.

Towing and Hauling

Towing and hauling vehicles may require increased power and torque. Although long tube headers can provide these enhancements, their legality becomes an issue, just like with daily drivers. Instead, consider other upgrades like aftermarket intake systems and performance exhaust components which can improve towing and hauling capacities.


Long tube headers can enhance your vehicle’s performance, but their legality varies by state. Some states do not allow modifications to exhaust systems, making them illegal in those regions. It’s essential to check with local regulations before installing these headers.

When considering long tube headers, it’s crucial to be careful of their sound. While they provide better performance, they can also generate louder exhaust notes.

Make sure to research your state’s requirements and think about how your choices may affect others around you. Happy motoring!


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Sean Mendez

Hi, I am Sean, a self-confessed petrolhead. I live in Boise, Idaho with a busy family of four and our energetic Labrador retriever. Thank you for visiting my website. You can find my email on the contact page.

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