Dear Tom and Ray:
Please help settle a debate between me and my boyfriend. We share a 1994 Honda Accord with 212,000 miles. Last summer while driving it from Iowa City, Iowa (where we lived with the car for three years), to Oakland, Calif., we had to stop to replace the muffler. We didn't have a lot of money, so the mechanic sold us what he said was an "OK" muffler that probably would have to be replaced again in a couple of years. Lo and behold, the muffler now needs to be replaced again. My boyfriend wants to wait. He thinks it's OK to let the muffler go until we can't stand the noise any longer. I disagree. I think the hole will keep increasing in size and spread into the already old and tired exhaust system. Who's right? Should we fix it sooner rather than later, or is it fine to let it go?
Tom: So, your theory is that what's attacking your muffler is like some sort of metallic flesh-eating bacteria that, if not contained, will spread to other parts of the exhaust system?
Ray: Hmm. Not that I know of, Jennifer. But then again, I'm not entirely up to date on my JAMAs: The Journal of the American Muffler Association.
Tom: The only way a bad muffler can affect adjoining parts of the exhaust system is if it falls off and takes something else with it. If it were to fall off while you were driving, it might drag down an adjacent section of pipe and break it, even if that pipe still had some useful life left.
Ray: But there are two other reasons to replace the muffler now. First, on a car with 212,000 miles, it easily could be the last muffler you'll ever need. So why not put it on and enjoy the (relative) peace and quiet for the next year or two, or however long the car lasts?
Tom: But more importantly, how are you and your boyfriend going to continue to have these informative, groundbreaking debates if you can't hear each other?
(Car Talk is a nationally syndicated column by automotive experts (and brothers) Tom and Ray Magliozzi. Write to them at the Car Talk Web site.)