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Why Horn Tones Matter

By Edward A. Sanchez | August 23, 2010
The other day, I read a story on another automotive blog about owner complaints about the 2010 Hyundai Sonata's horn tone. Basically, that the single-note, disc horn was not sufficiently loud to be heard by other motorists. Many of them have resorted to installing aftermarket horn kits in their cars for a more authoritative honker. These kits range from $20-40, and can be done by anyone with some basic electrical and mechanical knowledge. I have some personal experience in this area, as two out of the three cars I've owned, I've upgraded the horns. Both vehicles in question were Japanese-brand subcompacts. I can attest that the single-note disc horns are practically inaudible to many motorists, espeically those in sound-insulated luxury cars and SUVs, distracted by cell phones, iPods, and screaming kids. I know every vehicle is built to a price, and manufacturers have learned to cut costs in areas that will not be noticed by the consumer, while spending a little more money on features owners will interact with on a regular basis. For whatever reason, it seems a lot of the time, the horn is a neglected feature. Now, if the "premium" horns retail for $20-40, figure they cost about $4-8 at the OEM level, maybe even less. That may not seem like a lot of money. But multiply that by 100,000+ units, and you're talking about hundreds of thousands, if not millions of dollars. That could be the difference between a quarterly profit or loss. In this age of "shareholder value" trumping everything, the bottom line rules, and the cheapo horns get the nod. But the horn tone has long been a subliminal symbol of a car's relative status. I remember my first experience with this back in 1989, when the Lexus brand launched in the U.S. Curious about the then brand-new LS 400, my father took a test drive. Upon my urging, he sounded the horn. In typical Japanese fashion, it was a squeaky, high-pitched tone, although in Lexus' defense, a dual-note. I commented to the salesman along for the ride that it sounded cheap. He said, "Hmm, that's a good point." Barely a year later, one of the running upgrades to the Lexus line was a deeper-tone horn. Did my snarky teen commentary singlehandedly prompt this change? We may never know. But considering how sensitive Lexus was at establishing itself as a reputable luxury brand in the early days, I'm sure the observation worked its way up the corporate food chain. Also, considering what positive reviews the new Sonata has otherwise received from critics and customers alike, it's interesting that Hyundai would scrimp on the horn. When initally confronted with this perceived shortcoming, the official company line was that "no changes were planned." But as the chorus of dissatisfied owners grew, the company revised its statement, saying models going into production in September 2010 would have an upgraded, dual-note horn. On entry-level models like the Accent, Yaris, Aveo and others, a weak horn is not unexpected. After all, you're buying the "entry-level" model. But considering the new Sonata is marking Hyundai's decisive move up-market, customers are likely to be more discerning and demanding than they would be for "basic transportation." We want to know...would a weak horn influence your purchasing decision on a new car one way or the other? And have you ever done a DIY horn upgrade on a car you've owned? (Besides aftermarket air horns or train horns.)
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2 comments
NeilReeve
NeilReeve

Dual tone horns are proven to add additional safety. It's widely known that security systems sirens are set to dual tone.

newstartautoloans
newstartautoloans

If that's the worst thing to complain about on the new 11 Hyundai Sonata then they must be doing something right

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