Car Talk: Each EV car maker gets to decide on its own annoying sound

Dear Car Talk:

I bought a 2023 Honda CR-V hybrid sports touring car last month.

I immediately noticed the sound the car makes whenever it backs up. It sounded to me like something could be wrong with the engine, so I took the car back to the dealership and talked to the service department manager. He listened as I backed up and “assured” me the sound is to let pedestrians know I was backing up.

I’ve heard other cars and trucks make an audible beeping sound, and I would think that makes more sense. Did Honda goof with this model and they’re claiming the noise is by design in order to avoid a recall? BTW, I find the sound really annoying.

P. S. My husband and I listen to your NPR podcast every week and never find that annoying. Thank you. — Kathy

Keep listening to the podcast, Kathy. It’ll get more annoying. I promise.

Your dealer is correct. Electric vehicles (and hybrids like yours operating under electric power) can be so quiet at low speeds, that pedestrians don’t hear them.

Now, you could argue that if they just looked up from their phones while crossing the street, that would solve the problem. But it’s not just street crossing that’s the issue. Cars mix with pedestrians in parking lots or when a vehicle is backing out of a driveway and crossing a sidewalk.

So, NHTSA (the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration) made a rule that any vehicle operating on electric power has to make an audible noise when it’s traveling below about 19 mph — to make sure that pedestrians can hear it coming. Above that speed, tire noise announces a car’s arrival.

And while they set certain parameters for the noise, like how loud it has to be, they left it up to each car maker to decide exactly what sound to use.

Most have settled for a vaguely “futuristic electric motor-like” sound. But I guess, in your opinion, Honda shopped in the Annoying Sound bin. Hey, it could be worse, Kathy. They could have played our podcast as a pedestrian warning.

It’d be nice if everyone could choose their own sound, like you choose the ringtone on your phone. But, somehow, I don’t see government regulators approving my son’s AC/DC “Highway to Hell” backup sound.

Got a question about cars? Write to Car Talk write to Ray in care of King Features, 628 Virginia Drive, Orlando, FL 32803, or email by visiting the Car Talk website at