My brother-in-law's car has just failed inspection. One of the items listed was a "cat-back." Since the bill is astronomical, I was wondering how much of the exhaust system is encompassed in this term and what is the relative ease to change this on a 97 Pontiac sedan?

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    If you will update the question with the make model I can give you more information on the difficulty. Apr 8, 2011 at 20:40

3 Answers 3


The cat back is just that the exhaust pipe including the muffler from the catalytic converter to the end of the tail pipe. Seems odd to me, not impossible just odd that you would need to replace the entire exhaust system from the cat back to pass inspection. I see from your profile that you are from PA and road salt can deteriorate an exhaust in that time-frame so it actually may be that bad.

It's not difficult to change unless it's rusted really bad, if that's the case you will want a lift and a torch.

Based on the "astronomical bill" I would get a second opinion.

  • you might want to suggest getting the parts and just doing the install by hand. Cat-back replacement is purely socket-set work once you have the piping on hand. It's also a great introduction to amateur mechanics - exhaust pipes are tolerant of newbies....
    – Bob Cross
    Apr 10, 2011 at 1:28
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    @bob if it's rusted to the extent that it's legitimately failed inspection the bolts may be so badly rusted that they are impossible to get off with regular hand tools. Without the correct tools (reciprocating saw and a torch) it can be one of the most frustrating things to do on a car. Even more so when you are laying on you back with the car on jack stands. The exhaust if forgiving as you mention it can just be a big PITA. Apr 11, 2011 at 17:54
  • I don't disagree. That said, if it's that bad, your options are greater - you don't care if you break a bolt. Also, once you have the rusty POS off, it's so so satisfying to put the pretty new pieces on.... Your mileage may vary, as always.
    – Bob Cross
    Apr 11, 2011 at 21:52
  • Seems likely to me, although it varies. My '91 is still on the original exhaust at 250k miles, but my '95 (116k miles) already had it's second exhaust rust out. Cat back number 3 just went on a few months ago. $1500. Exhausts are one thing you don't want to do yourself if you live in the rust belt. It's astoundingly hard work cutting/torching it out of there without damaging the underbody of the car. If not rusted, it's insanely easy and takes about an hour (but in that case you probably wouldn't be needing to replace it!). :-) Jun 28, 2011 at 12:15

Go around to some local shops and put their estimates against each other (openly) to drive the price down. There are a lot of "universal" pieces that can be used in exhaust repairs. I had everything (converter to the tail) replaced in my old Corsica (10 years ago maybe) for around $100. Of course this was no high end exhaust, but it was a Corsica. ;) Lasted until I sold the car some 6 years later.


I can't see it being astronomical - that is one of the expected regular replacements here in the UK (where we do get a lot of corrosion due to salt) but it is a quick half hour replacement and it is pretty cheap kit.

I don't know the Pontiac so I don't know whether there is some custom piping in there, but that seems odd.

  • The astronomical price come from the cat back being only one of three failing items. The others being the entire rear passenger light unit not working (I'm figuring a cracked or loose terminal block) and the struts, brushings, etc assembly. Apr 11, 2011 at 11:41
  • @Bobnix - ahhh, that makes sense. It sounded like you meant the cat back was going to be astronomical:-)
    – Rory Alsop
    Apr 11, 2011 at 11:46
  • I figured I had a better shot with the lights and exhaust than the struts. Every bit I can do is one less thing they can charge me for Apr 11, 2011 at 15:49
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    @bobnix I would still get a second opinion. I am not familiar with PA laws, but in NC it takes a lot to fail an inspection for your struts. They may be on the up and up but some inspection techs can get a little over zealous. Apr 11, 2011 at 17:50

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