Horn Buyer's Guide
- Drivers benefited from the full convenience brought about by the invention of the electric car horns in the early 1900s in England.
- To produce sound, the horn needs to generate vibration through the oscillation of a flexible metal diaphragm. It needs to oscillate at incredible speeds and the best way to achieve that is with the use of an electromagnetic system.
- The standard decibel level for car horns is anywhere between 100 to 110 dB.
- Rain, bugs, and road debris can damage the horns as they can easily enter the unprotected assembly.
- Watch out for changes in beep pitch, beep fading, and irregularities in operation if you suspect a failing horn.
- OE car horn replacements on CarParts.com could cost you around $9 to $93.
A car horn is a wonderful, sound-making device used to audibly warn other drivers and pedestrians—at least, that’s its main purpose. However, it’s also used to casually communicate with drivers, such as giving courtesy or alerting them from hazards around the area. It has been useful throughout the years ever since its introduction and it continues to be so despite major technological advancements.
If you are in the market for car horn replacements, here are the things you need to know.
The Introduction of Car Horns
The car horn has gone a long way from the whistles, bells, and the bulb horn used in the mid-1800s. However, did you know that prior to those, steam-powered cars were required to be “preceded by a man on foot waving a red flag and blowing a horn.” As weird as it sounds, this was a reality in the early-1800’s UK. Thanks to car horns, we don’t have to employ someone to hold a flag and run at 80 miles per hour in front of our vehicles nowadays.
As the automotive industry transitions from steam-powered to internal combustion engines, cars have gotten faster. The British law became obsolete and the birth of manually rung bells and whistles gave drivers some convenience. But drivers enjoyed more convenience after the invention of the electric car horns in the early 1900s in England. Since then, it has been an instrument for helping or warning other drivers on the road with ease.
How Does a Car Horn Work?
When you try to take a look at your car horn, which is typically mounted on the radiator support of your vehicle, it will look like two tiny drums (flat horn)—or snail shells (trumpet horn) in other cars. This pair of sound-making devices has a simple mechanism made up of various components necessary to achieve electromechanical operation.
To produce sound, the horn needs to generate vibration through the oscillation of a flexible metal diaphragm. It needs to oscillate at incredible speeds and the best way to achieve that is through the use of an electromagnetic system. Inside a car horn, there are coils, an armature or a plunger, a core, and a metal diaphragm.
When the horn button is pressed, an electric charge from the battery travels to the solenoid core found in the external contact breaker. This excites the core and closes the high-current circuit breaker. The high-current charge then flows from the battery to the internal contact breaker through the closed relay contact breaker and activates the solenoid inside the horn, causing it to attract the armature attached to the diaphragm.
The diaphragm returns to its original position after being deflected by the separation as the armature gets closer to the solenoid and connects the contact breakers again. This cycle continues as long as the horn switch is pressed. The oscillation of the diaphragm creates the beeping sound on modern cars.
How Loud Is a Car Horn?
If you think you can just shove any car horn you like into your car that easily, then you’re mistaken. While there are aftermarket car horns with cranked up decibel levels, you have to check with your local state regulation before fitting one in your car. Car horns need to be loud so cars and pedestrians from several feet can hear it. However, installing a train horn on your car can be considered as a violation of the law. The standard decibel level for car horns is anywhere between 100 to 110 dB.
What Causes the Car Horn to Fail?
Due to its location of installation, your car horns are exposed to external elements. Rain, bugs, and road debris can damage the horns as they can easily enter the unprotected assembly. Beyond elements, a failing horn switch, busted relay, and other electric issues can cause a malfunctioning horn. To accurately pinpoint the problem, let a mechanic check your vehicle.
Symptoms of a Failing Car Horn
Issues with your car horn are often unnoticeable in their early stages and only get apparent when the problem turns severe. However, you can trace a problem by being more aware of slight changes in operation and pitch. Here are the symptoms to watch out for if you suspect a car horn fail.
Change in the beep tone
A healthy car horn maintains a consistent pitch every time you press the horn switch. Changes in pitch is a clear indication that the oscillation of the diaphragm is compromised. A failing horn may produce different sound pitches that change every time it’s operated as well as even while it’s activated.
Horn sound fades
Another way to easily trace horn failure is if the sound fades when operated for longer periods of time. The horn is designed to beep for as long as you hold on the switch. If the beep sound begins to fade after a few seconds despite pressing on the switch, it could mean that there’s a ground somewhere in the electric lines or a possible component failure inside the car horn assembly.
Erratic horn operation is often caused by a bad relay, which sporadically cuts the electric current passing along the high-current lines. It can also be due to malfunctioning contact breakers.
Some people are bothered when the horn doesn’t beep when they lock the car. As suspicious as it sounds, it may be due to an accidental change in the car alarm settings. The default setting in most car alarms is to sound the horn when locking and unlocking the car. This can be configured by pressing the lock and unlock buttons on your keyfob for two seconds. It will trigger the indicator lights to flash three times, disabling the “honking when locking” feature.
How Much Is an OE Car Horn Replacement?
The cost of car horn replacements varies depending on where you’re shopping. OE car horn replacements on CarParts.com could cost you around $9 to $93. These are sold individually, in sets, and as part of a kit. Make sure you pick the right side of installation by selecting it in the “Refine By” section.
Finding the Right Fit
A wide range of car horns should fit your car without any problem. However, if you want to be sure, you may indicate your vehicle’s year, make, and model in the filter tab under the search menu. This will narrow the list to the products labeled to fit your specific model year.
Types of Car Horns
Here are the types of horns available in the market these days, as well as the pros and cons of every type to help you get the horn that's right for your vehicle and for your needs:
To amplify sound, electromagnetic horns use a flexible metal diaphragm, an electromagnetic coil, a switch, and a housing. When you honk, an electrical current will run through the coil, making the diaphragm move back and forth, which then causes the air to go through the acoustical housing and produce a loud sound. Unlike other types of horn, these use more electrical power to make a sound that usually exceeds 90 decibels.
These horns make a loud noise that can reach up to 135dB compared to the 115dB stock standard. Decibels may vary per air horn. Though this type is often used in large vehicles, fire trucks, and ambulances, anyone who wants a louder horn can get this for his car.
Considered automotive accessories, musical horns replace the standard "beep" sound produced by your stock horn with music or customized sound. But before you consider getting one, check first if it's legal in your state. If it is, find out the maximum decibel level allowed.
These horns were used in earlier models of automobiles. They feature a squeezable bulb that gives off sound via a metal reed. Today, this type of horn is mostly of ornamental value because it can't produce a noise that's as loud as what modern car horns emit.
Fixing a Malfunctioning Car Horn in Eight Easy Steps
In most places, a well-functioning horn is necessary to pass a vehicle inspection. If you're starting to experience problems with your car's horn or if it has lost its beep, fix it right away.
Difficulty level: Easy
Things you'll need:
- Fuse puller or needle nose pliers
- Phillips screwdriver
- Ratchet wrench or adjustable wrench
- Replacement fuse (if necessary)
Step 1: Find the vehicle's fuse box and open it. Using a fuse puller or needle nose pliers, take off the fuse corresponding to the car horn.
Step 2: Inspect the fuse to know if it's in good working condition. Inside its clear plastic housing, you'll find a strip of metal running from one prong to the other. If such strip is burned or broken, you need to replace the fuse.
Step 3: Using a Phillips screwdriver, loosen and remove the screws that secure the cover of the steering wheel assembly in place. Take the cover off.
Step 4: Examine the horn button for dislodged or missing screws, cracks or broken pieces of plastic or any type of damage that can affect the button's function. Get rid of dirt or any obstruction before putting the cover and screws back.
Step 5: Open your car's hood and disconnect the battery with a ratchet wrench or an adjustable wrench.
Step 6: Locate your car's horn. If you don't know where it is positioned, consult your car's manual. With a ratchet wrench or an adjustable wrench, disengage the two wires connected to the horn.
Step 7: Clean the horn's contact points. Use a piece of folded sandpaper to eliminate corrosion or dirt buildup.
Step 8: Connect the wires to the horn and hook up the car battery. Test the horn.
It's a good thing that repairing a broken or a defective car horn is a simple do-it-yourself project that can be done even by a beginner in less than an hour. If the horn still doesn't work after doing these steps, then it's now time to replace it.