LAS VEGAS, NV Aug 6, 2015/ Troy Media/ – You slide into your brand-new BMW, and the car’s engine roars to life. You step on the pedal and hear a meaty growl that satisfies every inch of your auto-loving soul. There’s just one problem: That sound is completely, utterly fake.
More and more car manufacturers have been falsifying their engine sounds, through amplification, augmentation, or straight-up substitution, and car lovers around the world are furious. To find out if your precious automobile isn’t purring like you want it to, read on.
How your car makes sound (or doesn’t)
Before we can discuss car noises, we must first explain how noise works. Our environment – including our car engines – creates vibrations that transmit through the air and beat against our eardrums. The frequency of those vibrations per second, called the Hertz of the sound wave, determines the pitch of the noise: higher Hertz sounds are higher in pitch, and vice versa.
When a car engine purrs pleasantly, the sound vibrations come from the combustion in each cylinder reverberating through the intake and exhaust systems. The pitch of your engine is dependent on its rotational speed, so as you press the pedal the pitch should rise. A satisfyingly aggressive engine noise is comprised of various frequencies, most of which require many cylinders, fast firing speeds, and well-tuned exhausts – which is why most people don’t expect a Porsche and a Subaru to sound the same.
However, even in high-end sports cars that boast real, adrenaline-pumping growls, the engine sounds are carefully curated by a noise, vibration, and harshness (NVH) engineer. This highly-trained technician is tasked with muting unpleasant frequencies and letting others sing loud to create the most harmonious engine noises possible. It is this practice – carefully selecting and amplifying certain engine tones – that has many car enthusiasts heated.
Automobile technology has progressed by leaps and bounds in recent years, and most engine cylinders simply do not produce the vibrations they once did. On one hand, this news is outstanding: It means fuel efficiency continues to improve. On the other hand, quieter engines aren’t nearly as much fun to drive, which is a major selling point for many sportier American cars and trucks. Thus, because car buyers want both amazing fuel economy and exhilarating driving experiences, many car manufacturers have taken to inauthentic enhancement.
Guilty car manufacturers
Most drivers might expect false engine sounds from purely practical cars like the Toyota Prius. Cars such as the Prius are bought primarily for their utility and economy, and drivers rarely expect a throaty roar from their hybrid engines. In these cars, NVH engineers work to prevent the cars from being eerily quiet, as no engine noise whatsoever makes most drivers uneasy.
Additionally, most drivers wouldn’t be surprised that cheap cars in the sports car market, like the Volkswagen GTI or Beetle Turbo, rely on special speakers (in Volkswagen, they are called “Soundaktors”) for their purring engine, as their low expense requires cutbacks.
However, beloved American muscle car brands are obviously not above some sound augmentation as well. Here are some surprising culprits of the great engine noise farce of 2015:
- BMW M5
- Ford Mustang
- Ford F-150
- Lexus LFA
- Porsche Panamera GTS
If you are supremely disappointed with your current car’s natural noise output, there are a few ways you can pump up the volume without resorting to speakers and sound clips like car manufacturers. There are various aftermarket performance parts that help cars generate a substantial purr, and most of these parts are easy to substitute at home with the proper tools.
Here are four ways you can try to boost your engine’s roar:
- Muffler. This swap is by far the easiest, and usually it produces the most pleasing result. However, you may need to sample multiple mufflers before you find one that resonates with you, so it is best to find a forgiving and friendly muffler shop.
- Pipes. To pass emissions testing, you must have efficient catalytic converters on your car – but unfortunately, these often mitigate your engine’s roar. However, if you live in a state without emissions laws, you can substitute in pipes with high-flow catalytic converters or even off-road pipes with no cats at all.
- Camshafts. If worse comes to worst, you can generate a loud, if lumpy, sound by changing your camshafts. Sometimes different cams don’t play well with certain engine components, like turbo systems, so you absolutely must do research on your parts before committing to a purchase.
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