Essay update: The case of the beeping horn

Six months ago, I wrote of my experience with a car horn that beeped at odd times on its own. (See "Honk if you love doing car repair," Nov. 29, 2001 Home Forum.)

Sometimes, I'd be driving down the road and, for no apparent reason, the horn would start to toot uncontrollably. Whenever this happened, I would try to disarm my fellow drivers by smiling and waving at them. Perhaps they would think that mine was a friendly beep. Thankfully, most drivers smiled and waved in return.

My mechanic was mystified. He couldn't find a short in the electrical system, and he couldn't simply disconnect the horn to put an end to the problem. He suggested that I either live with it or have the horn replaced. His recommendation was to live with it.

Some readers who saw my essay very kindly e-mailed the Monitor with their own suggestions as to what I could do. Nothing worked.

But here's what finally happened:

My mechanic was about to drive my car away to do some other mechanical work when I mentioned the horn problem again. He asked me to tell him again what I was experiencing. The horn was beeping at odd times, I told him. But this time I added that I'd noticed that it tended to beep uncontrollably only when I was making a right turn.

His face brightened. "Oh!" he said. "It's not an electrical problem – it's a mechanical problem." He slid into the driver's seat and took the cover off the center of the steering wheel, the part that housed the horn button.

He looked down and started to grin. "I see your problem," he said. "Your screw came undone, and it's just rattling around." (If you've never seen this part of your car, it turns out that there's a little rod in the underside of the center of your steering wheel. When the rod is depressed, it closes an electrical circuit that makes the horn beep.)

"Oh," I responded. "So it's not the nut behind the wheel, I just have a screw loose."

It was suddenly very quiet. I had no idea what I'd just said, but my mechanic's face looked a little peculiar (he was trying to keep from bursting out laughing). He quickly drove off with my car to fix it.

It took me half an hour to realize what I'd said. Then I began to laugh and laugh and laugh. When my mechanic returned, I told him how surprised I was that he had not laughed, too. He said he knew I hadn't realized what I'd said, and he didn't want me to feel foolish.

The horn is fixed; it beeps only when it should. I'm so grateful not to have drivers glaring at me anymore! At least not when I don't deserve it.

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