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Cars with Fake Engine Sounds: Is the Vroom a Sham?

Updated on January 9, 2017
CatherineGiordano profile image

Catherine Giordano is the author of a book of essays and her poems, essays, and short fiction have appeared in magazines and anthologies.

Are you missing the Vroom Vroom?

Since the invention of the automobile, the aim has been to reduce engine noise, for example with mufflers. Today the research is all for the opposite effect. Car makers want to boost the engine noise.

Does your car need enhanced engine noise?
Does your car need enhanced engine noise? | Source

It turns out, car buyers want cars with engines that make noise. A car enthusiast or a true gear–head (a slang term for someone who is very into cars and who likes to tinker under the hood) can gauge the performance of his car by the sound of the engine. The newer fuel-efficient cars—electric cars or hybrids—are virtually noiseless.

A car that runs silently or emits barely a purr is disconcerting, so car makers are putting the roar back into cars by simulating the engine sounds. It is like lip-syncing, only for cars instead of singers. Engine noises give a sense of power and sexiness to the car—attributes which many drivers feel are magically transferred to them because they own and drive the car.

It turns out that drivers want all the benefits of new engine technology such as better fuel efficiencycars, but they still want the excitement of their old gas-guzzler.

Presumably, the vroom you hear at the racetrack is the real thing.
Presumably, the vroom you hear at the racetrack is the real thing. | Source

How is the vroom produced?

Stomp on the gas pedal of your new Ford Mustang or your Toyota Prius and you hear the familiar roar, but it is a sham. The sound isn’t coming from the engine. It is coming from the speaker system or the special noise-boosting mechanisms that are designed to amplify the engine’s sound.

There are a variety of mechanisms by which different car manufacturers give the driver his vroom back. In some cases, the sound-generation system is simply a recording that is synced with the gas pedal; in others, actual engine noises are amplified.

Volkswagen uses a “Soundakator” in cars like the GTI, GLI, and Beetle Turbo. It looks like a hockey puck and it plays engine sounds. It plays sound from an audio file that is triggered by the car’s actual engine performance.

The Sounds of the Soundakator

Porsche has a “Sound Symposer” for its GTS car series. It consists of a tube housing a diaphragm and a valve to amplify the mechanical sounds made while the car is being driven.

Lexus went to Yamaha’s Center for Advanced Sound Technologies to give drivers the full experience of the LFA’s V-10 engines. They treated the engine as a sound generator and played the “music” back into the car’s cabin. They call their system “Advanced Sound Control.”

The BMW F5 records the car noises from outside of the car and amplifies them for playback through the car’s stereo system. It’s like a back-up track. It samples the exterior noise based upon engine load and rpm enabling the driver to “drive by ear.” BMW calls their system “Active Sound Design.”

With the best systems, the vroom is synchronized to the car’s actual performance. The fake noises should mimic the sounds that an engine naturally makes in the same circumstances.

The classic Porshe is using a "Sound Symposer" to enhance the engine sound.
The classic Porshe is using a "Sound Symposer" to enhance the engine sound. | Source

Is the enhanced vroom something new?

Enhanced engine sounds aren’t entirely new.

Popular Mechanics reported in 2012 that many automobiles included noise-amplifying components, the forerunners of the more sophisticated systems being used in today’s cars.

The Corvette had a system of valves that opened under full throttle, bypassing the muffler.

The Ford Mustang had “noise pipes” that linked the vehicles intake system with the cabin.

Even Volkswagen's iconic Beetle is now available as an electric vehicle which has enhanced engine sound.
Even Volkswagen's iconic Beetle is now available as an electric vehicle which has enhanced engine sound. | Source

Is faked vroom cheating?

When a musician lip-syncs, you think you are hearing him performing the song live, but what you are actually hearing is a playback of a pre-recorded rendition of the song. When the deception is exposed, the audience feels cheated. (Remember the Milli Vanilli scandal back in 1990---the band was stripped of their Grammy when it was discovered that they were lip-syncing to someone else’s vocals.

For a while, the practice of enhancing the sound of a car’s engine was the auto-industry's “dirty-little secret.” Car-makers have been reluctant to talk about how they are electronically souping-up the sound of the engines because, for many, the sound of an engine revving is part of the driving experience. If the driver knows the sound is a sham, he might feel deceived or tricked.

Some people feel that it doesn’t matter if the engine sounds are fake. If the driver doesn’t know the difference, he is still getting the same experience. He can enjoy the sound of thundering horse-power while at the same time getting the benefits of a better engine.

Others feel that car-makers should not be lying to their customers. They are purists. If you want the sexy rumble of a V-8 engine, then you should have the real thing—even if you have to have higher gas costs and live with the knowledge that you are polluting the planet. It is about being authentic.

I don’t buy that argument. Maybe I don’t care about enhancing a car’s sexiness by amping up the sound because I’m a woman. I enhance my sexiness all the time with cosmetics, push-up bras, and perfume. And there is nothing wrong with that!

Besides the fake Vroom is important for safety.

The engine sounds are important for the blind.
The engine sounds are important for the blind. | Source

How is the vroom important for safety?

Adding a roar to an engine that purrs is not all about catering to vanity, ego, and nostalgia. Adding engine noise is done for safety.

Other drivers, cyclists, and pedestrians need to be able to hear a car approaching and need to be able to discern from what direction the vehicle is coming. This is particularly important to the blind who might otherwise step off the curb into the path of a car.

The U.S. government is working on finalizing rules that will require all hybrid and electric cars to play fake engine sounds. In Europe, the European Parliament passed legislation that mandates the use of "Acoustic Vehicle Alerting Systems" for all new hybrid and electric vehicles.

It is estimated that this could prevent thousands of fatalities on the roads. So like it or not, if you buy a hybrid or all electric car, you will have to put up with the fake engine sounds.

Are there any other benefits to sham vroom?

Some automakers are trying to sell sham engine noises as a benefit instead of a deception.

They claim that a totally silent car could be unnerving to a driver used to the vroom. Additionally, the fake vroom masks unwanted road noise like coming from bumps in the road or the whoosh of the wind.

Additionally, those of us who drive like the proverbial "little old lady in tennis shoes" can now sound like dare-devil race car driver. Vroom. Vroom. Eat my dust.

The History and Future of the Automobile

The Great Race: The Global Quest for the Car of the Future
The Great Race: The Global Quest for the Car of the Future

Read about the century-long battle between automakers for market share, profit, and technological dominance,

The $2 trillion automotive industry is now in a race for future in which cars will drive themselves, won’t consume oil, and will come in radical shapes and sizes.

 

Are you ready for the future?

In the future we may have cars that will drive themselves. What is your opinion of this?

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© 2015 Catherine Giordano

I welcome your comments.

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    • CatherineGiordano profile image
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      Catherine Giordano 2 years ago from Orlando Florida

      sujaya venkatesh: Nothing is what is seems anymore. Thanks for your comment.

    • sujaya venkatesh profile image

      sujaya venkatesh 2 years ago

      something strange of course

    • CatherineGiordano profile image
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      Catherine Giordano 2 years ago from Orlando Florida

      Thanks Kristen Howe: I only learned about it recently, and I was so amazed that I immediately sat down and wrote about. I think not too far off a car without fake engine sounds will be met with amazement.

    • Kristen Howe profile image

      Kristen Howe 2 years ago from Northeast Ohio

      Catherine, this was an interesting hub about fake car engine sounds. I never thought of that. Voted up!

    • CatherineGiordano profile image
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      Catherine Giordano 2 years ago from Orlando Florida

      Vellur: Thanks for your comment. I think fake engine noise is new because electric and hybrid cars run too quietly.

    • Vellur profile image

      Nithya Venkat 2 years ago from Dubai

      Interesting and informative hub. I never knew the vroom sound could be shammed, I always thought the engine was the culprit giving out the sound.

    • CatherineGiordano profile image
      Author

      Catherine Giordano 2 years ago from Orlando Florida

      Thank you Heidi for your votes and shares. I'm with you. A car is just transportation. I'm excited about those driverless car of the future. Teleportation sounds good also. I think silent cars would be great, but there is the safety issue of being able to hear a car approaching. I think they add the vroom to some motorcycles too.

    • heidithorne profile image

      Heidi Thorne 2 years ago from Chicago Area

      It's the same issue with motorcycles. Do some of them need to be that loud? Well, not technically. But it's all part of the persona. And there is some justification, as for the cars, that "loud pipes save lives."

      I do appreciate the safety aspect of it. But the emotional kick? Could not care less. If I had my druthers, I'd never drive. I just like driving because it gives me freedom to go places when and how I want. For me, it's the destination, not the journey. Just waiting for Star Trek teleportation tech to be perfected. :)

      Voted up, interesting and sharing!

    • CatherineGiordano profile image
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      Catherine Giordano 2 years ago from Orlando Florida

      Kevin--thanks for the share and pin. Like you, I found the idea about fake engine sounds on cars very interesting. As soon as I heard about it, I knew I had to research it and write about it.

    • The Examiner-1 profile image

      The Examiner-1 2 years ago

      That was fascinating Catherine. I have been wondering why this little (new) car makes more noise sitting at the corner for a few minutes than the bigger, souped-up (older) cars that drive by. If I drove I would disconnect the 'Soundakator' because I would not want that.

      I enjoyed this and learned from it, I shared and pinned it.

      Kevin

    • CatherineGiordano profile image
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      Catherine Giordano 2 years ago from Orlando Florida

      Easy Exercise: As a classic car enthusiast, you probably know a lot about cars. I'm so glad you found my article interesting enough to want to share it. Many thanks.

    • Easy Exercise profile image

      Kelly A Burnett 2 years ago from United States

      As a classic car enthusist loved this hub and will be certain to share. Thank you!

    • CatherineGiordano profile image
      Author

      Catherine Giordano 2 years ago from Orlando Florida

      I did not know that you were legally blind. I assume you use technology that turns voice to text and vice versa to read and write. I'm so glad you read and commented on my hub about amplifying the engine sounds in electric cars. Your comments have added value to my piece. I appreciate it.

    • profile image

      Ibidii 2 years ago

      As a legally blind person and friends with many totally blind individuals who regularly walk around and have to cross the street, it is imperative to have sound for hybrid vehicles! I did not know about the hyped up noises in these cars! Thank you for doing a story on the car noises.

    • CatherineGiordano profile image
      Author

      Catherine Giordano 2 years ago from Orlando Florida

      Thanks billybuc for providing more info on this subject. unlike you I am looking forward to a car that parks and drives itself. Once I left NYC, I forgot how to parallel park. Thank you for letting me you how much you loved my piece about the auto industry. I learned a lot writing it.

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Most people don't know this, but most of my customers, for whom I write blogs, are in the car industry. I write about cars two days a week, so I've become pretty knowledgeable about them. Wonderful article. I don't like hybrids for this reason....no sound. And I will never own a car that parks itself....takes all the joy out of parallel parking. LOL