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Back Pressure vs delta pressure

A lot of people have different thoughts on backpressure, and often confuse it with
Velocity and Delta Pressure...
I will now post a colaboration of posts from


…is probably the most widely misunderstood concept in engine tuning. IMO, the reason
this concept is so hard to get around lies in the engineering terms surrounding gas flow.
Here's the most impotant ones you need to be aware of to understand the things I'm
about to say:

BACKPRESSURE: Resistance to air flow; usually stated in inches H2O or PSI.

DELTA PRESSURE (aka delta P): Describes the pressure drop through a component and
is the difference in pressure between two points.

One other concept needs to be covered too, and that's the idea of air pressure vs.
velocity. When a moving air column picks up speed, one of the weird things that
happens is it’s pressure drops. So remember through all this that the higher the air
velocity for a given volume of gas, the lower it's internal pressure becomes. And
remember throughout all of this that I’m no mechanical engineer, simply an enthusiast
who done all the reading he can. I don’t claim that this information is the absolute truth,
just that it makes sense in my eyes.

Ok, so as you can see, backpressure is actually defined as the resistance to flow. So how
can backpressure help power production at any RPM? IT CAN'T. I think the reason people
began to think that pressure was in important thing to have at low RPM is because of the
term delta pressure. Delta pressure is what you need to produce good power at any
RPM, which means that you need to have a pressure DROP when measuring pressures
from the cylinder to the exhaust tract (the term "pressure" is what I think continually
confuses things). The larger the delta P measurement is, the higher this pressure drop
becomes. And as earlier stated, you can understand that this pressure drop means the
exhaust gas velocity is increasing as it travels from the cylinder to the exhaust system.
Put simply, the higher the delta P value, the faster the exhaust gasses end up traveling.
So what does all this mean? It means that it's important to have gas velocity reach a
certain point in order to have good power production at any RPM (traditional engine
techs sited 240 ft/sec as the magic number, but this is likely outdated by now).

The effect of having larger exhaust pipe diameters (in the primary, secondary, collector
and cat-back exhaust tubes) has a direct effect on gas velocity and therefore delta P (as
well as backpressure levels). The larger the exhaust diameter, the slower the exhaust
gasses end up going for a given amount of airflow. Now the ***** of all this tech is that
one exhaust size will not work over a large RPM range, so we are left with trying to find
the best compromise in sizing for good low RPM velocity without hindering higher RPM
flow ability. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to understand that an engine flows a whole
lot more air at 6000 RPM than at 1000 RPM, and so it also makes sense that one single
pipe diameter isn't going to acheive optiaml gas velocity and pressure at both these RPM
points, given the need to flow such varying volumes.

These concepts are why larger exhaust piping works well for high RPM power but hurts
low RPM power; becuase is hurts gas velocity and therefore delta P at low RPM. At higher
RPM however, the larger piping lets the engine breath well without having the exhuast
gasses get bundled up in the system, which would produce high levels of backpressure
and therefore hurt flow. Remember, managing airflow in engines is mainly about three
things; maintaining laminar flow and good charge velocity, and doing both of those with
varying volumes of air. Ok, so now that all this has been explained, let's cover one last
concept (sorry this is getting so long, but it takes time to explain things in straight

This last concept is why low velocity gas flow and backpressure hurt power production.
Understand that during the exhaust stroke of a 4 stroke engine, it's not only important
to get as much of the spent air/fuel mixture out of the chamber (to make room for the
unburnt mixture in the intake system), it's also important that these exhaust gasses
never turn around and start flowing back into the cylinder. Why would this happen?
Because of valve overlap, that's why. At the end of the exhaust stroke, not only does the
piston start moving back down the bore to ingest the fresh mixture, but the intake valve
also opens to expose the fresh air charge to this event. In modern automotive 4 stroke
engines valve overlap occurs at all RPM, so for a short period of time the exhaust system
is open to these low pressure influences which can suck things back towards the
cylinder. if the exhaust gas velocity is low and pressure is high in the system, this will
make everything turn around and go the opposite direction it's supposed to. If these
gasses reach the cylinder they will dilute the incoming mixture with unburnable gasses
and take up valuable space within the combustion chamber, thus lowering power output
(and potentially pushing the intake charge temp beyond the fuel’s knock resistance). So
having good velocity and therefore low pressure in the system is absolutely imperative
to good power production at any RPM, you just have to remember that these concepts
are also dependent on total flow volume. The overall volume of flow is important
because it is entirely possible to have both high velocity and high pressure in the
system, if there is simply not enough exhaust piping to handle the needed airflow.

It’s all about finding a compromise to work at both high and low RPM on most cars, but
that’s a bit beyond the scope of this post. All I am trying to show here is how the term
backpressure is in reference to a bad exhaust system, not one that creates good low
RPM torque. You can just as easily have backpressure at low RPM too, which would also
hurt low RPM cylinder scavenging and increase the potential for gas reversion. And
understand that these tuning concepts will also affect cam timing, though that is again
probably beyond the scope of this post. At any rate, hope this helps, peace. "

-here's a reply to the above post-

"I've been seeing a resurgence of the backpressure misnomer, but didn't have the time
or inclination to write it up. So, again, thanks.

There is one thing I'd like to add to texan's work:

Exhaust Scavenging
In essence, this is the opposite of the exhaust reversion that texan describes.

Reversion: at the beginning of the intake stroke during cam overlap, exaust gas in the
header is under high pressure (negative delta P) and is pushed back into the cylinder,
diluting the new air/fuel charge.

Scavenging: at the beginning of the intake stroke during cam overlap, the momentum of
the exiting exhaust gasses creates a brief vacuum (positive delta P) in the header,
pulling out the remaining exhaust gases from the combustion chamber, and allowing the
new air/fuel charge to be full-strength.

Scavenging is also the reason for differently shaped headers (4-2-1, 4-1) and collectors.
We use the momentum of exiting exhaust from one cylinder to scavenge exhaust from
another that is next in the firing order! The different shapes allow for this to happen at
different airflow velocities thus at different RPM bands.

Scavenging takes advantage of the momentum of the exiting gasses. In essence, the
fast moving exhaust pulse pulls a vacuum behind it. Momentum is mass times velocity.
So not only do we need to keep the velocity high to prevent reversion - but it greatly
improves the scavenging effect.

Thus we have a balancing act (as others have pointed out). We want to minimize friction
to lower the backpressure as much as possible - larger pipes have less friction because
they have less surface area per unit volume. But we want to increase the delta P as
much as possible to prevent reversion and increase scavenging effects - smaller pipes
increase delta P because they increase velocity.

There are lots of tricks to try to widen the useful RPM band (stepped headers) or to
increase the overall effiency (ceramic coated exhausts), but it's still subject to this basic
Friction vs. Velocity
AKA: Backpressure vs. Delta Pressure
You want low friction and high velocity.
You want low backpressure and high positive delta pressure. "

Credit given to Texan and Fritz for their info on this topic.
TDC member # fo-1-1 (411)
Official TDC hitman.
"Needing Backpressure - Myth or Reality?

The goal of any exhaust system is to efficiently remove burnt gases from the combustion
chamber, prevent reversion at overlap, and by enhancing exhaust gas velocity leaving
the chamber, create a vacuum to help draw or scavenge in more intake charge volume
at cam overlap.

The key is maintaining exhaust gas velocity or energy as the gases leave the exhaust
port when the exhaust valve opens.

So as the exhaust gas leaves the exhaust port in a 4 stroke engine , it creates a series of
pressure waves travelling at the speed of sound that move towards the exhaust tip (or
forwards) and then some reflects back. Like the water waves coming onto the beach,
forward and back, forward and back. The main overall direction is forwards but there is
some reflection back to the exhaust port (reversion).

Simple enough...everyone knows this. So what's new and groovy?

The problem is at cam overlap (when both the exhaust valve and intake valve are both
partially open and when the pressure in the chamber is greater than in the intake port).

If a high pressure wave is reflecting back and arrives at the exhaust port at the wrong
time (i.e. when burnt gases still need to leave), it blocks the flow out. You see these
instances when a high pressure wave is reflected back at the wrong time as dips in the
torque curve AT REGULAR INTERVALS (usually in the midrange rpms).

If a low pressure wave is reflecting back at the correct time at the exhaust port it
actually helps pull burnt gases out of the chamber and also helps pull in more intake
air/fuel at overlap. You see these favourable low pressure reflected waves occurring on
your torque curve as small torque increases AT REGULAR INTERVALS.

Now here's the first bone of contention and a source of debate between exhaust

1. Is a reflected high pressure wave always bad?

Most of the experienced people I speak to and read on the various boards say YES! You
never want backpressure and you want it as low as possible for as long as possible. The
low backpressure assists in maintaining that high exhaust gas velocity. They then design
anti-reversion chambers and/or place steps (increases in diameter at various proprietary
points along the length of the header) to prevent the reflected waves from travelling
back to the head.

There are also some pretty smart people who believe slightly differently ...They believe
that if you have a high pressure reflected wave arriving a few milliseconds before
exhaust valve closure, you prevent the loss of intake air:fuel out the exhaust valve at
cam overlap. The exhaust backpressure at this crankshaft degree in the exhaust stroke
prevents leaking out or bleeding out of you intake charge into the header and ensures all
of it goes into the chamber for combustion.

However, these people do NOT use the exhaust diameter as a way to create this
backpressure. That would be too crude or less precise, since the backpressure would
exist at all times and they only want this backpressure over the few crankshaft degrees
when the exhaust valve is just about to close ,when the intake valve is opening further,
and the piston has reached TDC and starts downward for the intake stroke. Using an
exhaust just to have backpressure then is like cutting butter with a chain saw.
The people who agree with this will often tell you that combustion chamber and intake
port pressures are higher than the pressure in the exhaust just before exhaust valve
closure . So some intake flow into the chamber can get pushed out the closing exhaust
valve by the higher combustion chamber pressures.

So all you guys that say backpressure is a good thing...I don't believe so...not at all
crankshaft degrees which is what you get with a restrictive diameter exhaust. You don't
want to have too big a diameter (actually it's cross-sectional area) that will slow or kill
velocity or energy. But no backpressure most (99%) of the time is good.

2. How do we get low pressure waves and high pressure wave to arrive at the correct

The conventional way to get the exhaust gas harmonic to do this dance of low pressure
to pull in more intake charge and high pressure to prevent bleeding off all at the right
time is by changing the tube layout on the header: using lengths, diameters, collectors
with various merge angles. But these are limited to one harmonic or exhaust gas speed.

So some Japanese engineers at Yamaha (figures, it's always some genius engineer at
some bike manufacturer that comes up with these wild ideas) thought: "What if you
have an exhaust throttle valve (located in the header collector or at the entrance to the
secondary tubes in the first merge collector) that could control the pressure wave

The throttle valve angle would vary as the speed of the exhaust gases changed to
control the reflected waves. In an 11,000 rpm bike, the valve opens progressively as the
rpms climb as the tubes are "in step" with the engine harmonics and less reflected
waves occur but at around 7000 rpm, the valve is closed down to 40-60% of wide open
when the harmonic is "out of step" with the engine and at 8500 rpm the exhaust throttle
valve is progressively opened. How much to change the throttle angle is based on
crankshaft angle input or ignition signal input to an ECU with then controls the throttle
valve angle knowing the harmonics of the engine.

We see these in the Mercedes McLaren F1 car. If you think this is somebody's
Frankenstein pipe dream then guess again. The new Suzuki GSXR1000, Honda Fireblade,
and Yamaha R1 already have these. And those are today's street bikes! Can the new
RSX and Civic Si be that far away from the next stage forward for more power? The
impetus will not be performance oriented but the drive to bring this to the market place
will likely be more practical, as this throttle valve (the first one was called the Exup or
Exhaust Ultimate Power by Yamaha in the late 80's) gains better emissions and lower
exhaust noise (less pollution is good ...admit it Kyoto is the right thing to do).

So the new toy for exhaust makers will be like variable valve timing and variable cam
timing...the mating of electronics to optimise exhaust harmonics at each rpm as the
harmonics change with the rpms climbing. It won't be just cut and try any will
be cut try and reprogram. Welcome to the new millenium. "

Credit Given to Tuan at SHO. Happy now?

TDC member # fo-1-1 (411)
Official TDC hitman.