Dear Car Talk:
I’d like a car horn that emits a friendly little beep — like, “Look up, you have a green light.” Or “Careful, bud, you’re about to back into me.”
Does such a horn exist? Something that doesn’t sound threatening, that lets people know I need their attention but I’m not angry? — Connie
Aren’t you nice, Connie.
You’re absolutely right in identifying a problem — that car horns only have one note, and it’s “HEY!!!!!!! JERK!!!!!”
Even when I try to tap the horn lightly, to let the guy in front of me know that he’s been sitting through half a greenlight cycle while texting with his mistress, sometimes it still comes out full blast, and I feel like I’ve overreacted. He also feels like I overreacted, based on the hand gesture he gave me in his rearview mirror.
The problem is that the horn’s primary role is to get someone’s attention in an emergency. So you don’t want to compromise that. If you switched to a sweet little Fiat Cinquecento horn when you actually have a guy in a Chevy Tahoe bearing down on you while rocking Metallica on his 16-speaker Bose system, he wouldn’t hear you.
It’d be nice if you could have a two-way switch, kind of like what a lot of modern toilets have. You push half the button when it’s not so serious, and the whole button when it’s “Whoa, Nellie!”
In your case, Connie, my suggestion would be to install a separate, auxiliary, “excuse me” horn. Car horns are actually comprised of two horns. So you get two notes, and they sound very dissonant and unpleasant — on purpose.
If you have a friendly regular mechanic, I’m sure he can help you find a single horn, perhaps a higher note, that sounds like what you’re looking for. He can even audition a few of them for you using a car battery. If you find one you like, you can have him wire it up with a push button on your dashboard.
You want to leave your primary horn switch exactly where it is, in the middle of your steering wheel. That’s where you’ll instinctively reach in an emergency, and I wouldn’t mess with that horn, or its switch, at all.
I’d just add the second one. And in a non-emergency — when someone doesn’t notice the light has turned green or someone is about to drive away with a caramel macchiato on their roof — you’ll have time to reach for the switch on your dashboard and give a friendly little beep. And if anyone notices it, I’m sure they’ll greatly appreciate your effort, Connie.
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