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My Quest for a Bigger, Louder, Manlier Car Horn

“Nice horn, Mary,” a dickish SoCal teen mocked to the delight of his snickering copilot. Moments earlier in a Costco parking lot, what looked to be the elder Hanson brother cut me off in his black Range Rover, nearly swiping my passenger side mirror. I leaned on the horn attempting to convey my fury, but my Ford Focus sounded like a suffocating baby goat. The chortling teens MMMBopped out of sight — with enviable pickup, I might add — but their scornful derision remained.

I gotta man up my horn, I resolved.

There’s an endless array of antidotes for emasculation — steroids, penis pumps, paintball, etc. — so I figured there must be something for guys who get cucked by their car horns. After all, I’m hardly the only one:

  • “I hate my wussy horn,” confesses Flipipino on “I get crap from everyone I know about it and have to remember to not hit the door lock twice on my fob so it doesn’t beep.”
  • “The horn on my mangina (Honda CRV) drives me nuts,” commiserates filmyak on The Straight Dope message boards. “It’s sooooo freakin’ lame.”
  • “I was stuck in traffic a couple years ago on a hill,” adds Magiver. “The 18-wheeler in front of me started to roll backwards, but the driver couldn’t hear my weak-ass horn and crushed the front end!”

My first instinct was to reach out to Ford and ask why a company that prides itself on being so tough employs such a delicate alert signal on their economy sedans, which they’ve recently announced will be discontinued, incidentally. Disappointingly, though, Ford’s West Coast communications director must have mistook me for a seventh grader and sent me an evolution of car horns from horseless carriages to automobiles along with specs on the original Model T.

Patricia Seashore, Ford’s electronic modules supervisor, was slightly more helpful and explained that preferences for horn loudness varies widely around the world. In India, for example, a blaring disc horn is used to help drivers navigate through congested traffic on less developed roads. (Save for pacifist Dipak Das, a taxi driver in Kolkata who recently received a humanitarian award for not honking once in the past 18 years.) In China, where motorists drive with one hand on the steering wheel and the other on the horn, Seashore says they use something called an electronic trumpet. North American drivers, on the other hand, have adapted their horn usage to be more of a friendly greeting. “We’re getting away from using horns strictly as a warning,” she explains. “You’ll hear them, of course, when someone gets cut off or is mistakenly driving down a one-way street. But mostly people honk at a neighbor to say, ‘Hi,’ or when they pull in a driveway to pick someone up.”

Not me, though — or not anymore at least. The next time one of those smug surfer bros cuts me off, I’ll be looking to blast their vanilla locks off. And so, I’ve spent the last couple of days consulting a trio of mechanics on best practices for giving my horn some growl. “We have guys come in all the time asking for more powerful horns,” Paul from Al & Ed’s Autosound in L.A. says, adding that he carries double and triple horns from Hella, “which the Armenians prefer.” He looks over his shoulder a couple time before leaning in and whispering, “I can get you a Kleinn train horn with a separate compressor, but it’s against the law in L.A.” While it’s tempting to illegally transform my Focus into a freight train, I’m not ready to drop the $1,500 Paul needs to install it. Alternatively, he takes me out to the parking lot and proudy demos a simple Hella two-horn trumpet kit he’s got on his BMW that runs about $400 all-in. “I put one of these on a Tesla yesterday,” he says.

Harvey at Precision Motorsports in Burbank cautions that it’s a hefty fine if you get caught with air horns on your car in L.A. Instead, he recommends going to the junkyard (or eBay) to search for a vintage Mercedes Bosch horn from the 1960s, which are legal since they came from the factory. Nowadays, Harvey says, carmakers are just trying to save money and install cheap horns (like mine). “The quality of cars is just shit now,” he explains. “Back in the day, people would hold on to a car for 20 or 30 years; now they change them every five.” In general, though, Harvey says cityfolk don’t really mess with their horns due to the illegality of it all. He suggests going way out of town, so I take a ride down to North Carolina. (Okay, I called North Carolina.)

“The most popular horn we have is Big Bubba,” Sam at BoomBlasters in Raleigh tells me. Big Bubba is three times the size of a regular horn and customizable with any MP3 you want. (Sam says most opt for Jay-Z, Metallica or gunshots.) Not surprisingly, the Duke Dixie horn is also a top-seller, as is BoomBlasters’ donkey, cow and pig horns. The loudest is The Shocker, which travels up to five miles. Ninety percent of Sam’s customers are men, and the other 10 percent are women buying a more clamorous horn for their men. “Guys don’t want to settle for a wimpy beep beep beep,” he says. “They’re looking for something more powerful. More manly.” For example, he recently had a Jaguar owner who wanted his horn to sound like an actual jaguar. Others are looking to support their team (Alabama fans go with an elephant; South Carolina fans, a rooster; and so on). Sam’s favorite request? Guys who want their car to sound like Rodney Dangerfield’s convertible in Caddyshack.

Despite the shame surrounding my beep beep beep, though, ultimately I’ve decided the Big Bubba, Shocker or Dangerfield aren’t for me. Mainly, because of the price. I’m simply too cheap to pay a few hundred dollars for a full-throated horn. But also, because deep down, I’m a pacifist. And so, from here on out, I’m resolving to keep my hands away from my horn at all times (and no matter the surfer dude dickheads I might cross). Such quiet calm is more my style anyway — especially when it hides my cuck horn from the rest of the world.