patricia seashore


You'd think designing a car horn would be easy. Press the wheel, make it beep, and call it a day. It's more complicated than that, as Ford's Patricia Seashore can explain.

Ford adapts its horns to suit the needs of drivers around the world. Different cultures use the horn in different ways . As a result, vehicle horns must be tuned for the amount of use they'll receive, as well as the tone they produce.

In North America, the horn is used less for warning others ("Hey, watch it, pal!") than it is for friendlier communication ("Hey, I'm outside to pick you up!"). Ford tunes our horns to emit richer, more pleasing tones than past horns, but they're still designed to get your attention. South American drivers, on the other hand, get a horn tuned for short, rapid bursts of sound. In India, Ford installs disc horns that have a longer life than our trumpet horns, which is necessitated by Indian drivers' heavy horn usage.

Beyond cultural differences, Seashore's team also studies different environments and how they'll affect horn performance. Chinese drivers are serious horn users, so horn longevity is important. Chinese cars also need horns that can handle extreme heat and cold, plus a wide range of altitudes. Seashore says, "Altitude and temperatures affect the way sound waves travel – that's just physics."

Like we said, a lot of thought goes into your car's horn. Click past the jump for a short car horn quiz and some b-roll of horn engineers at work.

Ford Horn Quiz


Ford Horn Engineer


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Touting Our Own Horns: Humble Honker Far More Than Just a Beep or Blast at Ford

Around the world, Ford customers have unique horn-blowing behaviors
In North America, customers use their horns less often than elsewhere in the world – typically as a way to greet neighbors and locate their vehicles in parking lots
In other parts of the world, horns get more use – often as a traffic signal – and are made of disc horns, which have a longer life


DEARBORN, Mich., May 17, 2011 – Patricia Seashore doesn't like to sound off about it, but she knows better than most that there's more to a vehicle horn than a simple beep-beep or honk-honk.

In fact, this deceptively simple device actually takes into consideration customer horn-blowing behavior and its impact on the horn itself, including the amount of use, tonality and, sometimes, even physics.

"As Ford has expanded globally, we now have an increased awareness of what a horn is used for in all of our markets," said Seashore, Design & Release supervisor. "It's not the same all over the world."

In some parts of Europe, vehicles get two horns – on the steering wheel for traffic and on the back of the vehicle as an anti-theft system.

In North America, more and more customers are adapting their horn usage into a friendly greeting, and they want the horn to sound that way.

"We're getting away from using horns strictly as a warning," she said. "You'll hear them, of course, when someone gets cut off, or when something aggressive is happening in traffic. But you hear them, too, when people honk at a neighbor to say 'Hi,' or when they pull in a driveway to pick someone up."

Also in North America, owners use their horns as a locking confirmation to make sure their car is locked before they walk away, as well as a locator to find their vehicle in a crowded parking lot.

As a result, North American customers want a richer tone in their horns. That's why they are trumpet horns, named for the plastic trumpet on them that attenuates the sound and makes it more melodic. Most vehicles have dual trumpet horns, tuned to frequencies that are not unpleasant, but are just slightly discordant.

"While we don't want the sound to be too bristly, we don't want it to be too pleasant either," Seashore said. "We want it to, you know, grab people's attention a little."

Trumpet horns aren't the best solution for all vehicles. In South America, customers want a horn they can honk frequently in short stints, like a quick beep-beep.

In India, horns get far heavier use as drivers use them to help navigate through congested traffic and on less developed roads.

"We use a disc horn, which has a longer life, in a vehicle where the horn is part of daily driving," Seashore said.

Then there are customers who want both.

"In China, customers drive with one hand on the steering wheel and one hand on the horn. The horn is huge," said Seashore. "They use their horn extensively – but they want it to sound nice. So there we use something we call an electronic trumpet. It's a technology solution."

Global markets also bring climate concerns.

"China has one of the most extreme set of conditions, including cold temperatures and roads at 15,000-feet altitude," said Seashore. "So we're not only looking at customers' preferences, we must look at the physical environment of where the car is being driven.

"Altitude and temperatures affect the way sound waves travel – that's just physics."