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Car horns are a country choice, says Ford

Posted by Bill Griffith  May 24, 2011 05:05 PM

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We pretty much take the horn on our vehicles for granted — until the day they don't work.

That happened on my motorcycle the other day. The button that used to create either a light beep or a prodigious HONK barely managed a pathetic blaap, and that only after a lot of static.

It's going to be fixed, but the failing made some observations by Ford's Patricia Seashore resonate as she talks about the differences in horn-blowing behavior around the world.

It seems that we in North America use our horns less than drivers elsewhere in the world, mostly as a light toot to greet neighbors, a quick chirp when we arm our alarms after parking, or another one to help find our vehicles in big lots.

"We're getting away from using the horn strictly as a warning," Seashore says. "Of course you'll hear them when someone gets cut off or when things are happening in traffic, but you hear them when people say 'Hi' to a neighbor or pull into a driveway to pick someone up."

That's why most cars in this market have trumpet horns with frequencies that, while not truly unpleasant, are slightly discordant.

South Americans want a horn they can honk frequently in short bursts.

In India, horns get heavier use from drivers on congested roads in urban areas and unimproved roads in rural areas. "There we use a disc horn, which has a longer life," she says.

"In China, customers drive with one hand on the wheel and one on the horn. The horn is huge," Seashore says. "Still, they want it to sound nice. So there we use an electronic trumpet."

This blog is not written or edited by or the Boston Globe.
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Clifford Atiyeh is an automotive writer and car enthusiast . He has spent his entire life driving cars he doesn't own.
In the garage: 1995 21-speed Iron Horse, 2002 Jeep Wrangler X (by association)
Bill Griffith is a veteran Boston Globe reporter, having reviewed cars for more than 10 years and serving as assistant sports editor for 25 years. He was also the paper's sports media columnist.
In the garage: 2006 Subaru Baja
AAA's Car Doctor, John Paul John Paul is public affairs manager for AAA Southern New England, a certified mechanic, and a Globe columnist. He hosts a weekly radio show on WROL.
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