How to Make Any Car Backfire: 7 Ways

BMW M1 with exhaust backfire

You might’ve heard the noise coming from a vehicle near you at a stoplight or when revving down on the road. Backfire coming from the exhaust isn’t exactly a new thing but it certainly became easier with the advent of ECU tuning and a few other factors. In this article, I’ll be going over how a backfire occurs, what it takes, the legality, and the reasons why many car owners like to tune their cars to backfire.

The way to make your car backfire is to disrupt the current way the engine works. This can be done by changing the fuel-to-air ratio, adjusting the timing, or removing the pieces of your car that muffle the exhaust sound. The most consistent way to do this is to tune your car’s ECU and flash a new version onto your car’s computer.

That’s right, I want to talk about backfiring. This is something that I’ve admired in cars ever since I was young. If you’ve always wanted your car to backfire while you drive it, you came to the right place. I’m going to outline 7 different ways to make your car backfire. First, let me get some definitions out of the way.

How Your Engine Works

To understand a backfire, I have to quickly explain how your engine works. There are four stages: suck, squeeze, bang, and blow.

The car sucks in fuel and mixes it with air to get the perfect ratio.

How an engine works
How an internal combustion engine works.

The engine compresses it via your pistons. As the piston reduces the available volume in the cylinder, the pressure goes up.

A spark plug then ignites the mixture and blows it up via a controlled explosion.

Finally, the exploding gas blows into the crankshaft which gives your car the power required to turn your wheels.

What Is a Backfire?

The previous steps need to be done in a very specific pattern and follow the right timing. One reason why a car might backfire is that the timing is messed up or the spark plugs are randomly going off out of sequence.

The reason why your car will backfire is mostly due to the first step when the fuel and air mix together. You can cheat the ratio and give more fuel than you’re supposed to, resulting in a “rich” mixture.

Porsche 934 1976 with exhaust backfire
PORSCHE 934 1976 driven by Maurizio FRATTI / Andrea CABIANCA, during practice on Imola Circuit, Italy.

When it explodes, there’s too little air which will slow down the process of combustion. Since this mistimes the process, you’ll hear the popping noise out of your tailpipe as it leaks from the cylinder out of sequence.

A backfire sounds like popping and crackling at the tailpipe of your car. There are different factors that will determine how loud it is and what tone the noise comes out at.

Is a Backfire Bad?

“Wait a second,” I just talked about stepping out of sequence and messing up the order of how your engine works. Surely, this has to be a terrible thing for your car.

In all honesty, it isn’t that bad as long as you’re doing it intentionally.

If it’s just randomly happening to your car, then it’s not the same story. Backfires are a symptom of a bigger problem.

BMW M1 1979 with exhaust backfire
BMW M1 1979 driven by Christian TRABER, on Mugello Circuit, Italy.

You could have a shorted spark plug, a faulty timing belt or catalytic converter, a leak somewhere, a busted sensor, filters that need to be replaced, or an injector that needs to be replaced.

The physical process of a car backfiring isn’t detrimental to your car’s health. Over a long enough period of time, you might have some extra damage to the internals of your engine.

The biggest drawback of backfiring is that you’ll have a decreased fuel efficiency. This makes perfect sense since you’re messing with the perfect air-to-fuel ratio that your car is used to.

It’s like putting way too much meat in your chili (which might also result in backfiring later). It still tastes good, but it’s not quite right.

Is Backfiring Illegal?

So backfiring isn’t bad for your car, but can it get you in trouble? In many states, yes. You’ll want to check on the legality of backfiring in your specific state.

Red sport car with a close up of the exhaust muffler

It’s illegal due to it sounding like fireworks going off which can alarm pedestrians and other drivers nearby. What’s worse is when someone does it in the middle of the night when everyone is mostly at home sleeping.

In states where it’s not specifically illegal, you might still get hit with a count of disturbing the peace or get a noise ordinance filed against you. This will be more common if you live in a neighborhood and routinely drive early in the morning or late at night. All it takes is a cranky neighbor to call you in.

Can You Force Your Car to Backfire?

I just covered some of the boring parts about backfiring, but now I get to talk about the fun stuff. Can you force a normal car to backfire? Absolutely. That’s why you’re reading this in the first place, right?

Remember, backfiring is all about tweaking that four-step process I described earlier. The good news is that there are some really easy ways to hack this process.

Why Would You Want to Make Your Car Backfire?

If you’re asking this question, then this probably isn’t for you. Hearing backfire is something exciting for the right kind of person, and I understand that it doesn’t appeal to everyone — like pineapple on pizza.

There’s nothing wrong with disliking backfire or wondering why anyone would want to hear it while they drive. Just understand that a lot of car enthusiasts feel a thrill when they hear the same noise that upsets other people.

The simple answer? It just sounds so darned cool.

How to Make Any Car Backfire

Here are some of the top ways to force your car to backfire. Some of them might not work for your vehicle depending on how it’s carbureted and how sporty it is. Still, it’s worth a shot to get that fun crackle and pop as you drive.

1. Check If Your Car Backfires Already

If you have a sporty ride, there’s a good chance that your car will naturally backfire already. It’s easier to notice it by stomping on the brake pedal and quickly downshifting. The sudden deceleration might be enough to rattle out a little backfire.

On the other hand, you can accelerate hard, hit a high RPM, then throw it into the next gear. This is only done via a manual, which might be reason enough to learn how to drive a stick.

Please, for everyone’s safety, don’t try to figure this out on a major highway. Pick a safe area where the road is straight and empty. You don’t want to wreck while you’re trying to backfire.

2. Backfire From the Start (Older Cars Only)

If you have an older car that’s naturally aspirated, there’s a pretty simple hack to get it to backfire. However, this can only be done from a complete stop and won’t ever work on the highway.

It’s very important that you don’t do this inside of a closed environment like a garage because the fumes can be fatal.

Open the garage if you are parked inside, but preferably roll your car into the driveway. After all, don’t you want your neighbors and friends to hear the backfire?

Datsun 280Z
Datsun 280Z

First, start your car. Let it rev normally for a little bit. Put your foot on the gas pedal and turn off the vehicle. Keep your foot on the pedal for a little bit.

For me, it works after about 30 seconds of keeping the car off with the pedal down.

Fire up your car while you stomp your foot on the gas pedal until it goes all the way down and then ‘hold it there.’ Voila, you just backfired your car.

You should hear a beautiful rev with notes of backfire in it.

3. Tune the ECU

This step will require some additional knowledge and help. Basically, there’s a little computer in your car that’s calling all the shots. It will tell your engine how to behave. This computer is called the ECU (electronic control unit).

Since it’s just a computer using code, you can rewrite it and tune the output of your ECU. This will change things like the timing, fuel-to-air mixture, and how quickly the injector fires.

By doing this, you can completely customize how your engine works. This is where things can get messy.

ECU Tuning up close
ECU Tuning

If you put in the wrong parameters or mess with the wrong numbers, you can destroy your engine irreparably, totaling your car.

This is why you should only tune the ECU if you know what you’re doing, otherwise, you need to bring in an expert.

There are companies specifically built around making great ECU chips that will maximize your car’s performance or provide backfire.

Consult with one of these experts if you have any doubt.

Also, keep in mind that the ECU chip that you’ll be using is highly specific. It is based on certain makes, models, years, and even trim levels of vehicles.

Putting in the wrong one could be disastrous.

If everything goes right, then you’ll be left with a car that routinely backfires.

4. Hit a Higher RPM

Backfires are more common at higher RPMs. It’s dangerous to regularly drive your car near the redline, but it’s okay to do from time to time.

Car tachometer RPM with a red needle accelerating

You might find that your car backfires when you shift at higher revs or prematurely shift down, causing a rev spike.

In an automatic car, the RPM value that your car shifts at isn’t something you can control. Even if your car has paddle shifters by the steering wheel, the onboard computer will take over if you approach the redline.

This tip is mostly for people driving a manual.

5. Muffler Delete

A muffler delete is a car alteration that has the highest chance of resulting in a backfire. This is a process where you take out the muffling component at your exhaust.

A muffler’s only job is to quiet the noise of your exhaust. It has a series of interior baffles where sound is scattered around and dissipated before exiting your tailpipe.

Car mechanic removing the exhaust muffler delete

If you get rid of this muffler, you’ll have to exchange it with a straight piece of tube. From there, the exhaust will freely flow through your exhaust pipe before exiting your tailpipe without interruption.

This is also a quick way to make your car louder.

Be warned: some states don’t allow you to drive a car without a muffler. It’s a quick way to get pulled over and ticketed.

6. Substitute a Performance Muffler

If you don’t want to delete the muffler, you can simply swap it out. In this case, you’ll be installing a performance muffler instead.

These mufflers are designed to create a gorgeous sounding note from your exhaust. If you install one on a sporty car, you might unlock backfiring.

Performance sport muffler exhaust

You’ll probably want a mechanic or performance shop to install this for you so you don’t make any mistakes.

One of these mufflers can easily cost you a few hundred bucks after parts and labor are factored in.

7. Add Anti-Lag to Your Turbo Car

If you have a turbo-charged car, there’s another component you can add if you want to hear backfire. This is called an anti-lag system.

Turbo anti-lag valve

Your turbocharger runs off of exhaust fumes in the engine. A typical ECU will close the throttle when you take your foot off the gas, resulting in a lack of fumes for your turbo.

An anti-lag system steps in and adjusts this timing. It also can change the fuel-to-air ratio within the engine, which positions you really well when it comes to backfiring.

Conclusion

Hopefully, this answered all the questions you had about “backfiring” and how to achieve it on your ride. For more car guides, check out the rest of my site. Also, take a look at some products I highly recommend for drivers like you.

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Ernest Martynyuk

An automotive enthusiast who's been tinkering with vehicles since I was 15-years old. Repairing automotive electronics has been my main job for over a decade now and have a passion for everything technical regarding cars.

4 thoughts on “How to Make Any Car Backfire: 7 Ways”

  1. The writer of this article is a classic example of Me First. Uncaring, dismissive of others feelings and an oxygen thief par excellence.

    His liking of back firing engines is cool for he and those like myself, who enjoy those sounds at a race track. At 3 a.m. in a domestic setting it is scary for children who are woken, sleep depriving for workers and down right arrogant behaviour.

    Get a grip young fella – Karma is all powerful. Oh and grow up while you are at it. Sando

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    • Thanks for checking out the article. The intent of this article is to inform anyone curious about how a vehicle can backfire, what it takes to make it happen, the legality, and the effect it can have on the vehicle itself. Its intent is not as you state, “to wake up people who are sleeping at 3 a.m.” In fact, a few people I know ended up reverting ECU tunes as they themselves did not find it enjoyable after a while.

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  2. People are not squares for not liking this stuff. No one wants to hear this shit when they are dead ass asleep at 4 am because some jagoff has to try and compensate for inferiority.

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    • Precisely why it’s also illegal when it reaches a certain noise level. Engine backfires caused by mechanical issues are don’t tend to be as loud.

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