The primary purpose of a vehicle (car, locomotive, etc.) horn is to warn other traffic units that something potentially dangerous is about to happen. And so, others must pay attention to the signal.

So, why not to tune the horns to dissonant intervals or chords (for example, several notes semitone or even quarter-tone apart, e.g. C natural, C half-sharp and C sharp sounding simultaneously), which are much more unpleasant to listen and so more "attention-payable"?

Maybe this is not a proper place for the question, but I've unfortunately not found a better one, since is more related to engineering and design (than to, for example, music).

  • $\begingroup$ So they can play La Cucaracha? $\endgroup$
    – Solar Mike
    Apr 2 '19 at 8:47
  • $\begingroup$ It might be that there is no money, or more money, to be made in doing what you suggest. A system is in place, it serves a purpose, it may not be ideal but it is usable & effective. It could also be that the matter was given "some" thought in the past, a "reasonable" solution, not necessarily the best solution, was implemented & everyone moves on to other issues & projects & the status quo simply gets perpetuated - the path of least resistance or least effort. $\endgroup$
    – Fred
    Apr 2 '19 at 9:23

Tuning car horn pairs to a major third seems to be a tradition, better suited for discussion on the automotive stack exchange than here. But it is definitely not the only option, and it boils down to cost versus benefit.

For example, the horn in my 1965 Cadillac hearse had three trumpets, two of which were tuned to a minor interval, which created dissonance. The sales literature described that horn as being "oddly compelling", and it was, and the extra expense of furnishing a three-trumpet horn was small in comparison to the cost of the car, which was about $12000 in 1965 money- or about twice the price of a base model Caddy at the time.

In comparison, my 1960 VW Bug had a single-tone horn, because it was a cheap car.


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