Has the car horn blown it?

2012-09-12 10:39

Vehicles continue to advance but at least one aspect of car design has remained relatively untouched - the humble car hooter. Until now....

As automakers continue to reach global markets they're having to change hooters to comply with various international noise laws and are using new materials to reduce weight and improve fuel economy. Earlier in 2012 we reported on automakers designing tougher hooters for the Indian market as locals abuse their hooters.


Cars have had hooters since the early 1900's - who's never heard the "ah-oo-gah" sound of a Ford Model T.

Despite the change in vehicle design and technology, the principle of a car hooter remains the same. An electrical current flows through a copper coil in hooter, making a magnetic field. The field makes a flat, circular diaphragm inside the horn oscillate, and the oscillation makes the sound.

Hooters can either play a singular sound or can be paired to create "chords".

Depending on the vehicle, hooter sounds can differ vastly. In the 1960's and 1970's, for example, Cadillacs had optional hooters that played a C and D-note combination, rather than the usual A and F.

To reduce costs, automakers bought generic hooters from third-party suppliers.

Ford engineer for global traffic and security hooters, Victor Rangel, finds the best location for the horn in each vehicle as its placement has a significant effect on the sound.

Rangel said: "We look for the right sound for every vehicle... kind of like an orchestra conductor, directing a really small wind section."

Each year Rangel's job becomes more complicated as Ford offers vehicles to different countries such as the Fiesta or Focus sold in South Africa. He must consider noise regulations for every country. In Sri Lanka, for instance, hooter noise levels should not exceed 105 decibels at two metres and 93 decibels at seven metres.

US horns are typically 110 decibels and, though the country has no standard rules, there are certain state laws governing hooter noise.


Due to the enthusiastic way Indian drivers use their horns, General Motors has had to use more resilient materials. Rangel said GM used tungsten instead of steel for the diaphragm as it lasts longer and Ford is about to introduce a more resilient hooter globally.

Rangel said car owners in Asia replaced their horn often - they got so much use they actually wore out. He also said that GM changed the copper wire in its horns to lighter aluminum, to improve fuel economy.

Jason Wong, General Motors' lead global engineer for hooters, said eventually all hooters would sound more similar.

Wong said: "Generally speaking, people want the loudest, best-sounding, horn they can have, regardless of the region."

Listen to classic hooters: 1976 Fleetwood Seventy-Five Limousine and 1969 Fleetwood Brougham

Vintage car noises


  • Blixum - 2012-09-12 14:16

    Hahahaha The Yanks will never allow anyone to prescribe to them anything about car horns. So the Euros will have to comply to their regs. Also, why can't the manufacturers agree on something much more important like the position of the indicator stalk. You never know on which side it is when you rent or borrow a car you are not used to. Indicators are much more important than horns. Except if you are a taxi driver of course.

  • ryan.heuvel.9 - 2012-09-12 14:36

    I love HOOTERS ... wait ... uh-oh ...

      firstseed.mbeva - 2012-09-13 17:16

      Taxis ones?

  • achmad.osman - 2012-09-12 15:08

    My 1971 Alfa Berlinetta 1750 had an incredible hooter sound. If you can get hold of an old Alfa one, replace the generic one your car with it.

  • zionpercival.pay - 2012-09-13 17:04

    Changing the wires in a hooters from copper to lighter aluminium is preposterous. The difference is so small it would hardly be picked up by weigh instruments.

  • henk.vanrensburg.31 - 2012-09-13 18:49

    The whole car has remained untouched over the years. Just not the hooter. Just some fancy added fuel management systems and better suspensions. Otherwise not much change....

  • theMichaelHawthorne - 2012-09-25 20:32

    "Rangel said car owners in Asia replaced their horn often - they got so much use they actually wore out. He also said that GM changed the copper wire in its horns to lighter aluminum, to improve fuel economy." LOL seriously the impact of of 1 gram if it's even so much will not impact fuel economy. He's the who in charge of the what?

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