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What is an automotive horn and where is it located?

Honk, honk! That sure got your attention. Well, that’s what your vehicle’s horn is for; sending a warning to others nearby. It communicates other sentiments too, but most states the warning of danger is the only legally acceptable use of the horn.

People have been putting noisemaking devices on their automobiles from the very beginning. Some of the earliest ones were like bicycle horns, and some people even hung gongs on their cars. Modern automobile horns are electric and a bit more sophisticated; another type of horn, an air horn that is driven by air from a compressor, can be found on heavy duty trucks and customized automobiles. With electric horns, when you press the horn button, an electrical signal is sent to your horn relay, which in turn sends a signal to an electromagnet in the horn. The horn has a metal diaphragm that is attracted by the electromagnet. When it gets close enough, the magnet turns off and the diaphragm moves away. The magnet then turns on and pulls the diaphragm back. This happens rapidly and repeatedly as long as you press the horn button. The vibration of the diaphragm vibrates the air, which produces a loud sound. 

The sound of the horn varies from one car or truck to another. Some cars and trucks come with high output horns that make them easier to hear. It’s also possible to install high output horns on automobiles that did not come equipped with them. The horns that come with a vehicle are supposed to be higher or lower in pitch depending on the size of the car or truck. So, a classic Volkswagen Beetle might let out a cheery beep-beep, while a big, modern SUV lets out a throatier sound. That lets other drivers know roughly what’s coming. These rules do not necessarily have to hold true for replacement horns, though. 

Many automobiles use two horns, a high tone and a low tone. They both sound together, and the combination of the two is easier for people’s ears to pick up than one loud horn would be. Typically, vehicles that have only one horn will use the high tone horn. The horns usually mount to the radiator support behind the grille. Some cars, older Volkswagens and Porsches mainly, have the horn surrounded with a rubber boot to protect it to moisture and corrosion.

How do I know if my horn needs to be replaced?

You might not even know you have a problem with your horn until you go to use it and it doesn’t work. It might be a lot quieter than you expected, or it might not sound at all. That’s not good if you need to get the attention of that driver who didn’t see you in his blind spot. You also need a working horn to pass a vehicle safety inspection in most states. 

There are many reasons you may need to fix or repair a broken car or truck horn. There may be a problem with the switch or button. There could be a break in the wiring from the switch or button to the horn relay or from the relay to the horn itself. All of these problems can cause the horn not to sound. The horn diaphragm can get damaged, corroded, or misaligned. If that happens, it won’t vibrate sufficiently and your horn won’t be loud enough.

Another possible problem with the vehicle’s horn could be the result of a bad clock spring. This is what connects anything electrical on the steering wheel to the rest of the vehicle. Lastly, horn boots can get worn out or torn. This is not a critical problem, but it may lead to damage to the horn down the line. 

Can I replace an automobile horn myself?

Replacing your horn or installing a new, louder one can be done easily. Replacement horns tend to be pretty universal and simple to wire up, so that shouldn't scare many would be do-it-yourselfers away. Before you do so, though, you’ll want to make sure that the horn is really your problem. Test all the wiring, fuses, and relays. You’ll want to disconnect the battery before working on anything in the horn system. If the problem really is the horn, you’ll have to unbolt the old horn from the radiator support, disconnect the wires and connect the new replacement one and bolt it into place. You can put a new horn boot into place during this process as well, if you need to. 

If the problem is with the horn relay. You may be able to find it in your fuse box, in which case you can pull it out and push on the new one. If the relay is not in your fuse box, your owner’s manual will tell you where to find the relay. If you can’t find that information, finding the relay may be tricky. It will probably be somewhere along the engine firewall. If you disconnect the horn and have a partner press the horn button, you will be able to hear a clicking sound from the relay. Once you’ve located the relay, just unbolt it, disconnect the wires, connect the replacement horn, and bolt it on. 

When you’re all done, you can reconnect the battery and test the horn. If the horn still doesn’t work, check that everything is wired correctly. 

Need a replacement horn for your car or truck?

Your car or truck horn is your "voice" to the outside world. It is important because you can use it to warn other motorists of potential danger, like if someone is about to switch lanes and ram right into you, or if a pedestrian is about to run out right in front of your vehicle, for example. Horns are a safety feature you don’t want to be without, if at all possible. That’s why if your vehicle’s horn has failed and needs to be replaced, you should do so as soon as you can. Luckily, 1A Auto carries a large selection of electric horns – both low and high tone – for many makes and models, and at great prices. If your car or truck is looking to gain its voice back, look no further than 1A Auto for a replacement horn!

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